A Review of:
by Adrianne Kalfopoulou
Plain View Press, 2006
Writers who live in Greece get urges to tell us about it. Usually what they have to say is predictable: Greek light, Barba Yanni dancing on the table with a glass of tsipouro on his head, the village whitewashed with hospitality, I discovered myself in Greece, where the people aren’t uptight – add your own to this mulch heap. (I admit to having scratched in it myself on occasion.)
Adrianne Kalfopoulou’s new book, “Broken Greek”, whose terrific title has multiple meanings, avoids the stale; instead it is energized by the freshly observed, the emotionally searing, the relentlessly personal, the joy and frustration of direct knowledge. Although it is all autobiographical, it is not merely that, and the vignettes add up to a portrait of a place as well as of a person in a strange but familiar environment. Instead of theorizing or rhapsodizing, we get minute particulars, how life is actually lived buying a house, getting a job, raising a child, dealing with officialdom.
An American whose paternal family is Greek, a poet (she read her poems here at the Archilochos Hall two years ago in celebration of the anthology “Kindled Terraces: American Poets in Greece”), an uninsistent feminist, a mother, a professor of literature, an anthropaki like us, she tells it as it is. In fact, she paints what is awry with Greece in such a way that you are glad to be here yourself, enduring the anxieties, stupidities, and contradictions of life, and unwilling to leave. Her style is rapid, insistent, often fretful, and the many details of daily life serve a narrative that is often moving, always profluent, and admirably lucid: art that is hidden is high art indeed. Her Greek relatives, friends, bureaucrats, colleagues, and chance acquaintances are deftly and sympathetically brought to life, even when they drive her crazy.
The book’s sections, set in Athens and Patmos, could be linked short stories – but these stories are real. As Adrianne, the heroine, negotiates her way through the mad maze of contemporary Greek life, exploring her identity, noting sometimes with anger how a lingering Levantine sensibility collides with headlong European development, negotiating with past and present, and often enough just trying to get by, she discovers how American she is, and why she also belongs here in Greece, even if it often feels alien.