A middle-aged matron undertakes an affair with a handsome young man whom she encounters on the Athens subway in this 1978 novella—its prizewinning Greek author’s first to reach English translation.
Koula, a married mother of two, works in a tax office and sleepwalks through a loveless marriage to her indifferent husband. Dimitri, a 21-year-old student of economics, dodges a female classmate who’s fixated on him, preferring the attentions (and, sometimes, money) offered him by more mature women. At first, Koula and Dimitri only exchange polite nods, but they gradually fall into nightly conversations, and when she expresses quasi-maternal concern for his health, he proposes a meeting. Koumandareas skillfully blends in glimpses of the quotidian world around them, as Dimitri inveigles Koula into a “working class taverna,” then his seedy basement room, and an overpowering infatuation. But he’s as much a “child” needing Koula’s admiration and reassurance as he is her seducer, and when the prospect of a scholarship abroad signals the inevitable end of their unlikely romance, she resolves to return to her “real” life—details of which are largely withheld until the point at which she resumes that life. This is a beautiful piece of work: a simple, familiar story with a lot to say about how passive submission to convention stifles and shortchanges us, and one that has more than a passing resemblance to Chekhov’s classic “The Lady with the Dog.” After Koula watches Dimitri pass out of her life, Koumandareas ends it perfectly: “The ride home seemed interminable, a long, arduous odyssey. Would this be what it would be like every evening from now on?”
What Henry James called “the beautiful and blest nouvelle” at its most engaging. A fine introduction to a first-rate writer’s work.