Two girls, entranced with each other and hopelessly intertwined, grow up in the political chaos of Greece.
Another fine entry in the University of Rochester’s Open Letter series of literary translations, this cerebral novel by prizewinning novelist Michalopoulou (I’d Like, 2008, etc.) recounts a friendship of the kind that marks us for life. Maria is just a child in the late 1970s when she's uprooted from the home she treasures in Nigeria and returns with her parents to crowded, unstable Athens. Her life is changed forever when she meets Anna, an angelic-looking classmate who is also a refugee, albeit from vogue Paris and not the wilds of Africa. Anna is a strange creature whose outer beauty disguises a passionate, ruthless and politically volatile mind. The novel tracks their unpredictable relationship through their adolescence in the 1980s to one character's untimely end (though it should be fairly obvious that the provocative title—Maria’s chosen title for the novel she imagines writing about Anna—is metaphorical rather than literal). It does take decades for Maria to see past Anna’s many betrayals, childish tests and impulsive leaps into their country’s radical politics and take her for what she really is. Here’s a notable moment in Maria’s blooming self-awareness: “I’m beginning to understand the mechanism behind her charm: she does something insane, something out of keeping with her beauty, her image, the way she dresses. Then she uses that conspicuous act like a blanket: she wraps herself up in it, becomes that act. In the eyes of others, Anna is an allegory for generosity, courage, resourcefulness. She does things that occur to other people only fleetingly, enacts scenarios from the realm of instinct. She charms, she torments, she curses, she kills.” A deft translation from the Greek by Emmerich helps Michalopoulou bring this emotional love-hate relationship to life.
A spare but affecting novel about love and war during the restless decades.