Friday, March 30, 2012

Maria Polidouri - A Glimpse

Over the hair a wild
Darkness spreads
And just below, into the eyes
A raging storm.

A low light illuminates
Faintly the lips,
Just as my reflection
Is carried away and buried.

© For the translation: Lakis Fourouklas

Image taken from here

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Book Review: The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura


As the title suggests in this book we have the story of a thief; but not a thief like everybody else, but one with a conscience.
     The action begins straight away as we watch our protagonist and narrator pick the wallet from the pocket of a rich man at the train station, while his next victim, a not so rich man riding the train is soon to follow. When it comes to pick-pocketing he’s a master, however lately things don’t seem to go as smoothly as they used to go. He keeps following his mentor’s rules, stealing only cash and returning the wallets along with the credit cards to the rightful owners by mail, but somehow he now feels different, kind of unfulfilled, and he becomes really absent-minded. He also starts having short black-outs, during which he steals wallets without even realizing it, and he feels more sad by the day. It’s as if there’s a void inside of him that keeps growing and expanding, along with his loneliness: “I had built a wall around me and lived by sneaking into the gaps in the darkness of life,” he says.
    Well, that wall now seems to be coming tumbling down. But maybe he’s not to blame for what is happening, but just life and its harsh realities. His fall from grace starts when Ishikawa, his mentor, asks for his help for a job unlike any other they’ve ever been involved with: an armed robbery. They do manage to have the job done, but from that point on there seems to be no way for them to return to their previews lives, since their employer for that particular job was a ruthless and fearless mob boss who was not willing to let them go; at least not alive. The protagonist who now has to cope with this new reality, whether he likes it or not starts to contemplate his life and his choices, and where the latter now lead him. As a pick-pocket he’s great, but apart from that what else does he have or has he done in his life worth mentioning? Apparently nothing, or maybe just something, or somebody; somebody from the past, Saeko, a woman he used to love. However, the past is the past, now he needs to find something or someone to help him hold on to today. What, or who, could that be?
     As it turns out he’ll meet his new project in the faces of an unconventional team of thieves, a mother and her very young son. He’ll spot the two of them as they’ll be trying to steal some things from a supermarket and he’ll save them from certain catastrophe; the amateurs. From that day onwards he’ll feel like his life has finally found its purpose, or rather he’ll rediscover his will to live. In the face of the young kid he’s certain that he met a younger version of his own self and he’s determined to help him create a better future for himself. And even though, at the kid’s insistence he’ll teach him some of his tricks, at the same time he’ll try to save him from his miserable life. By saving the kid he saves himself, and by opposing and coming into conflict with his disgrace of a mother, in the end he becomes the person that he’s actually always been; a good man.
     This is a well-written novella, which even though it seems to belong under the crime fiction label, reads more like a psychological drama than a thriller.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Medea Unbound - excerpt

I’ve once heard someone say that some people come forth into this world if only but to suffer; to be consumed in a colorless and joyless life before passing away. One could point out that also I am one of these unfortunate souls, someone cursed by the gods, and one could be no farther away from the truth. I’m talking about the real truth, not the one you know, not the one you’ve read in your school books and you saw performed time and again in theaters all over the world. My name is Medea, and those of you who expect to read here, through these lines, the confession of a woman who has a lot of apologies to offer, which bows down her head with fake humility and says she’s sorry, will be miserably disappointed. No, my darlings, I bare no guilts and have no crimes for which I wish to confess, and I’m definitely not going to waste my time in unwarranted tears in order to ask for your forgiveness and beg your sympathy, as a woman found guilty by a jury consisting of reasonable beings and not by a stupid man’s words. I will never become a human rag for your or for anybody else’s sake. I will never allow you to walk all over me and to steal the only things I am left with in this graceless world of yours, my voice and my dignity. The way you see me; how you perceive me; these things don’t matter. I’m certainly not as tragic a figure as you make me to be. No, a tragic figure I am not, but that of course you cannot see, since your tellingly beautiful eyes covers the mist of thousands of years of lies. Do you want to talk about tragedy? Then talk about Prometheus, for he, the gods’ pauper, has truly been a cursed and tragic being. But let him be. All I’m trying to say is that I’m not writing these lines, as on a papyrus leaf or some dusted paper of old, to say I’m sorry, but alas, to tell you my story, to make you learn, whether you like it or not, my own truth, the only truth; the one that the ancient authors with their rotten minds, did not write as it was, but as they wanted it to be. That’s exactly how I came to be, through their distortions and lies, the most hated woman in the world, an abomination of nature, somebody even worse than that idiot with the young Beatles' haircut, Cleopatra. The world, you know (do you?), was created by women; it has grown out of our collective womb. The only thing men did was write down its history and well, as you can all see, they did a great job of blowing things up and out of proportion. Their ancient lies became your modern truths. Their modern lies have become the dreams, or rather the nightmares, of tomorrow. Oh, I see that I’ve managed to get you upset or excited? Which one is it? Does it really matter? Calm down now, just calm down. Relax. This is only the beginning. There’s a lot left for you to read yet, a lot to learn. Some of these things will sound crazy, paranoid, in some peoples’ ears, but these at least should know that the walls that stand between logic and folly are way too thin, too transparent, just like those that separate truths and lies. Do you really think that it’s purely by chance that for centuries on end they kept, and still keep, teaching you the same false myth? Do you? But, just before I start pouring into your souls the venom of truth I’ll have to take a moment to pause and to warn you: beware, during my so-called apology there’ll be times that I’ll make you angry and indignant, while at others I’ll make you form on your now tight lips a bitter or even ironic smile. While you’ll be reading all that I’ve written, time and again you’ll think of me as a common liar, a blasphemous creature, as the first and most famous of all the whores. But, hear me when I tell you this, no matter what you feel and what you think, please do not give up the reading of this manuscript, which has crossed eons of pain and pleasure to reach your hands, before the very end. Because it is exactly at that point that the light of truth will shine through and illuminate your senses, and that all the myths, or at least most of them, will come tumbling down. If some of you can already feel in your blood your forefathers’ past exploding like a glass-tower and falling to pieces, worry not; for where there was naught, naught there will still be, whether you believe me or not.

To be continued

Monday, March 26, 2012

Maria Polidouri – Evening

Welcomed came the lightless night
As smooth as a caress to touch me
And to carry my thoughts away
Into the dark and endless byway,

There where all my joys await
In silence my passing by,
Beautiful, attractive and elusive, as if
Dressed in the golden wings of dreams.

Welcomed it came, full of kindness
To wipe away my weary gaze
And to set my soul at long last free
To reach out far and away in serenity.

© For the translation: Lakis Fourouklas

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Book Review: Of Thee I Sing by Barack Obama


I wasn’t planning on reading of THEE I SING, but since it found its way into my hands, I thought I could just as well take a look. Besides, it’s but a short read and it took me no more than a few minutes to go through it.
     So, what is it that the American president speaks or rather sings about, in this slim volume that he’s written for his daughters? Well, for the USA, of course. He starts by asking “Have I ever told you…?” and then goes on and answers the questions he poses himself, and thus teaches his girls and the reader, in a simple and straightforward way, about the history of the land. He talks about all there is to know about the American nation and the people who helped build it in one way or another and about the creation of the multicultural society of today: about Georgia O’ Keefe, the painter, who “helped us see big beauty in what is small”, about Albert Einstein, who gave the world a wealth of knowledge, about Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player, about the revolutionary and healer Sitting Bull, about Billie Holiday, the singer, about Helen Keller, who managed, even deaf and blind, to give the people lessons in strength and in courage, about Maya Lin, who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, about the social reformer and Nobel Prize winner Jane Addams, who did everything within her powers to change this world of ours for the better, about the man who said to the people never to give up and changed forever the way of life of people in America, Martin Luther King, about Neil Armstrong, the explorer, and about  Cezar Chavez, who fought for the rights of the farmers, about Abraham Lincoln, who said that all Americans are part of a big family and about George Washington, who declared that: “America is made up of people of every kind… They are all part of you…”
     Is this a book that intends to teach the reader? Yes it is. Is it patriotic? That’s for sure. But it is not nationalistic. And it is well-written. Loren Long’s beautiful illustrations seem to bring the words to life in their own special way, while sentiment is not at all absent from the text as it opens with the line: “Have I told you lately how wonderful you are?” and closes with the following: “And have I told you that I love you?”
     I guess Barack Obama’s daughters will be proud of him, while for my part I can simply say: Not bad for a politician. Maybe, if not elected, he should take writing books as a full-time job. At least that way he’ll finally be able to get rid of the various lobbyists; or not…

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Maria Polidouri - Before Dawn

Today just before the light came out and alighted the sky
Some bells I’ve heard toll in a town far and away.
Bells; why have I noticed them? I felt as if the last breaths of the night
Were setting out in dismay to spread hatred all over the land.

Where, alas, have I abandoned my sweet, childish soul?
At what time, with which bell’s sound have I left it knitted?
At what time… Alas, today to say my silent prayer
On bended knees I rested and in sorrow.

A prayer to beauty, I whispered, to the forgotten mother,
To ignorance, to smile, to a dream’s voice,
While listening to today’s sullen bell
That tolled in grief as if for an untimely death.

© For the translation: Lakis Fourouklas

Friday, March 9, 2012

Book Review: The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist

The Unit by the Swedish author Ninni Holmqvist is a dystopian novel that describes a world born, one would dare say, out of a Kafkaesque nightmare.
     The principal protagonist in this story is Dorrit Weger, a fifty year old woman that obviously has nothing more to offer to society, since she produces nothing, and thus she’s admitted into a unit, where she’s to donate her genetic material before she, less than more peacefully, passes away. The unit is housed in a huge luxurious building that looks like a microcosm that only exists in the eyes of the people who work, live and die there.
     Dorrit has no idea how much time she’s left to live, since all the inhabitants are at the end of the day nothing more than human guinea pigs. The administrators of the unit, in exchange for all the luxuries that they provide to their subjects, use them for many, different, and more or less scary experiments. Thus one man can find himself all of a sudden been exposed to chemotherapy, another one can become at any given moment an organ donor, while some poor soul, though completely healthy could end up dead, so that the doctors can prove a point or put a theory to practice.
     The world that Dorrit sees when she arrives there looks colorful and bright, she feels like she’s living in a tropical island in the middle of winter. Time though, as one after the other her friends will start dying, will turn this paradise into a living hell, and then she’ll be left with no other option but to escape,
     Everyone is dispensable; this seems to be the mantra of the people running the unit, and she’s determined to prove them wrong. But will she make it?
     This is a novel that touches a lot of the sensitive issues of our times and of the ones to come. Maybe this world is nothing but a prelude of tomorrow’s bleak certainties, the author seems to suggest, and I’m not going to disagree with her. There’s darkness all around us already. Who’s to say that there isn’t more to come?
     If you like Kafka’s work you’ll surely love this book.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Book Review: The Colorado Kid by Stephen King


To be honest this book I’ve read mostly out of curiosity, since one my favorite TV series, Haven, is based on it. The thing is though that after reading the book I’ve come to realize that its connection to the series is so light that if I didn’t already know it existed, I’d be really surprised if I ever found out about it. What the creators of the series did was take one of the many mysterious cases mentioned in the novel and built on it, while bringing at the same time to the forefront some of the secondary characters.
     But, let’s take things from the beginning. In 1980 a young couple discovers on the shores of an island in Maine, the corpse of a man, to whom the authorities bestow the nickname The Colorado Kid. No one seems to know who he is and how he ended up there, while at first even his death is a mystery of sorts.
     We learn about the story of the Kid, as well as about some other strange occurrences and phenomena that have taken place in the region, through the collaborative narration of the two elderly journalists, who run the local newspaper. Their audience is a young and beautiful intern, who thinks that she has a lot to learn from the two men. The question is though, can she believe them? Well, that’s not so easy to do since what they tell her, doesn’t really make any sense. According to them, strange things have always been happening around there, which over the years claimed an important role in the local folklore: once a group of people fell victims to mass poisoning from drinking tea, an adventure from which only two of them survived, with one of them showing no symptoms whatsoever; at some other time an utterly deserted ship washed to shore and as the locals have it, it was some ghosts that led it there; and after that, the really unexpected happened, an Unidentified Flying Object was spotted by many people in the sky over the town.
     Stephenie, the young woman, listens attentively to the two men, she absorbs their stories and tries to discover all by herself and within her own soul, the answers to the mysteries that her mentors talk about. The two of them seem not only to want to test her analytical capabilities, but also to challenge her logical mind, and thus open her eyes to the realities that she could never up to that moment believe to exist.
     While reading this book the reader gets the feeling that somehow, somewhere there’s a rational explanation for everything that’s happening, but the mystery keeps challenging his senses and the myth keeps his attention alive and alert. Some of the answers will come to light by the end, some won’t. But, one way or another, what matters most is the story, and this is a good one. The author is not interested in playing the fear card, he just wants to tell a story and that he does splendidly.
     If any of you have watched the series I’m sure that by reading this book you’ll only recognize but a few points of reference: the two journalists, the landscape, the female version of the Colorado Kid and maybe one or two of the stories. However, I’d like to congratulate the people behind it for managing to create a whole world, with a pantheon of great characters and plots full of mystery, taking their inspiration from a short novel like this. They really did a great job.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Book Review: Children of the Street by Kwei Quartey


Children of the Street is one of those novels that are not so easy to read. Not because of the writing, which is excellent, but because of the subject matter, which is as bleak as it can get.
     If I could use just one word to describe this book I would say that it’s a document; the document of a harsh and heart-breaking reality in a brutal place.
     The main protagonist in this story is Inspector Darko Dawson, who works for the police force of Ghana’s capital city, Accra. Darko is one of those rare or rather unconventional creatures that really care about what goes on around them, and who sees the world as it truly is and not as he wished it to be. And this world is cruel. Accra may be a big cosmopolitan city, but behind its sometimes bright picture lies a somewhat grim reality. And it’s exactly this reality that keeps him constantly on the move, which makes him walk time and again around the dangerous alleys and the most frightening neighborhoods of the city, trying to offer help and protection to the people who need it.
     Of course it’s not that easy to work under circumstances like these: of utter poverty, where contagious illnesses are all too common and where prostitution is for many people a way of life; the only means they have to survive.
     Darko is especially fond of the children of the street, kids with no hope and no future, and kids who are really trying to get themselves out of the gutter and live to see a better day. So when one of those kids is found dead outside a slum, killed in a brutal way, he’s more determined than ever to find out who the killer is.
     His investigations will lead him again and again from one dead end to the next, but during this arduous journey into the dark heart of the city, he’ll come to discover a lot of its heinous secrets; secrets that will trouble his soul for a long time to come. Accra, his city, seems to be nothing more than a desperate place, inhabited by desperate people. And it’s also a place where the men who have the means always get their way. During his search for the truth he will meet with young prostitutes and gang members, with pimps and black marketeers, and he will come in contact with a few philanthropists, who seem to hide too much evil and spite behind their bright smiles. Wherever the road leads him though, whatever he sees and finds out, he’ll never stop looking for the truth. The children of the street are his children and he’ll do anything to save them or at the very least protect them from the evil that lurks out there.
     A great novel about a country, or even a continent, that’s trying hard to resist the ill fortunes of the modern times, but which also, more than anything else, is in deep pain, always suffering from one hardship or another.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Book Review: The Train by Georges Simenon


Georges Simenon became famous for his crime novels, in which one of the most celebrated detectives of all times, Inspector Maigret was called upon to solve various mysteries time and again. The Train though is not a crime novel, but a kind of a love story that takes place during the Second World War.
     The protagonist Marcel Féron lives with his family in a small provincial town when the invasion by the German Army begins, so with the war at their doorstep they, like it or not, have to flee to safety.  Thus they board a train full of refugees that will hopefully bring them to the south of France.
     The family though is separated from the very beginning and his wife and kids end up in one carriage and him in another. They meet every now and then, but as the time goes by, that doesn’t happen too often anymore. And at some point they lose each other altogether.
     Marcel will continue his south bound journey, during which he will come to meet a beautiful and mysterious woman, all dressed in black, that goes by the name of Anna, and with whom he’ll begin a somewhat odd love affair, while his family is probably at some faraway place. Anna, who as the author points out, didn’t need words and did not like them, obviously has a lot of secrets, which she’s not willing to share, while he, on his part, is not that interested to find out. Besides he thinks that their meeting is nothing more than a secret rendezvous with fate.
     As they say though, all good things come to an end, and so will their relationship. Their roads will drift apart and he’ll go back to the place where he came from; feeling nor sad nor defeated, but glorious and happy, since he’s been able to live a big adventure and come out of it unscathed and, in a way, a better man. As for her, she’ll follow her own destiny; she’ll walk in beauty and in danger.
     This is a lovely book, with beautiful prose and a masterful analysis of the soul, which offers the reader a brief but fruitful journey into the landscapes of war and love.