Recently translated into English, Christos Ikonomou’s novel, Something Will Happen, You’ll See, gives voice to the everyday struggles of the Greek economic crisis.
Meet Christos Ikonomou
Christos Ikonomou was born in Athens in 1970, and raised in Piraeus and Crete. He began writing at a young age. Christos recalls keeping a diary from as early as age 12. In his late teens, he made what he calls his “first serious attempt at writing”, though because he felt insecure about his writing, he didn’t seek publication for many years. He credits his wife, Julia, for encouraging him take that leap.
“She helped me overcome my doubts. Without her, I’d probably still be writing manuscripts.”
He said that he isn’t sure where his desire to be a writer comes from, but speaks poetically about it.
“It’s still a mystery to me. I guess I had that inexplicable, irresistible, and overwhelming impulse to create a world of my own, and tell the stories of the people who live it. After all these years, I’ve come to the conclusion that writing (and reading) gives me the fascinating pleasure of living more than one life.”
Something Will Happen, You’ll See (2010) is his second published work. The first, The Woman in the Rails (2003), is a collection of short stories that take place in different parts of Greece. He published All Good Things Come From the Sea in 2014. It’s the first part of a trilogy depicting the life of a group of ex-urbanite Greeks who, due to the economic crisis, are forced to relocate to an Aegean island. Christos’ books have been translated into six languages.
A work of fiction, this book tells stories of how the economic crisis in Greece has affected individuals, families, and communities.
“I’ve used my imagination to invent a ‘new’ world which is based of course, on my own experiences from the world I live in. After all, as Raymond Carver once said, stories don’t come out of thin air.”
Christos said he began writing these stories in 2003. This was of course, before the crisis, when Greece was preparing for its modern triumph, as host of the Olympic Games.
“Greece seemed to be at a fever pitch–the whole country was caught up in a state of excitement, fueled by the (superficial) economic prosperity, the then-upcoming Olympic Games, etc. I had the notion that something was wrong, that something elusive was laid beneath the surface. So, I tried to take a plunge into the darker corners of the world around me and see what lies there and write about it.”
Something Will Happen You’ll See has been very well-received, and is the recipient of Greece’s prestigious Best Short-Story Collection State Awards, and was the most-reviewed Greek book of 2011.Though some of his stories have been translated and published by American and British literary journals, this is the first time an entire work has been translated to English.
Meet Translator Karen Emmerich
Karen has translated works by Greek authors Amanda Michalopoulou and Sophia Nikolaidou, among others. The Princeton professor who speaks Greek, English, and Turkish, is also the recipient of the 2014 PEN Award for Poetry, for her translation of “Diaries of Exile” by Yannis Ritsos.
Karen said a friend recommended the book to her.
“It struck me immediately for its gorgeous language and its mixture of a sort of social realism with a very subtle way of gesturing toward characters’ interior states without psychologizing, per se. I got totally absorbed in the book, and knew immediately that I wanted to translate it. It’s both beautiful and important — not just in the way it reflects how a prolonged crisis can affect the everyday lives and central relationships of ordinary individuals, but also in the way it shows characters acting against that reality, fighting it, in a way, often with stories of their own. The book makes some argument, I think, about the imagination being one thing that helps us keep going even in the darkest of times.”
I took the liberty to ask Karen why good translations are really hard to come by.
“This year I’m one of the judges for the National Translation Award in the prose category, and every day more and more amazing books arrive at my office, translated by very talented people. To be sure, Greek literature doesn’t often get a lot of attention, so we don’t have a huge community of translators working from Greek, but the ones who are out there are great. There is the older generation, people like Peter Bien and Edmund Keeley. Peter Constantine‘s attention has moved to other languages, for the most part, but we need to get him back to Greek!”
She said there is a wealth of excellent translators, including Peter Mackridge, Patricia Barbeito, Karen Van Dyck, Theodoros Chiotis, David Connolly, and Josh Barley; and suggested that we all get the word out about all the fantastic writers coming out of Greece, to create demand for publishing and reading their works.
Review of Something Will Happen, You’ll See
Something Will Happen You’ll See reveals the stories of a broken people — the faces of the crisis. These people pledged their allegiance to their leaders; they voted in exchange for the promises of a guaranteed job, an early retirement, and free things that in reality, are not free. These are things that politicians shouldn’t promise — since they know full well it’s not sustainable — but blinded by greed and power, they often do. It’s inevitable that reality will set in, and the people will suffer.
In this book, we meet people who’ve lost everything — homes, dreams, and worst of all, hope. In these stories, the effects of the crisis are truly revealed. The structure of society is broken. People are pushed to the edge, and you wonder, when will these people snap? And when things happen, you understand why. Something Will Happen You’ll See is a work of fiction, but people like these do exist. We meet them, and we ache for them. Christos Ikonomou has given the people a voice, and brings the crisis to human terms. Be ready to see the crisis from a different perspective — from the people most affected. It’s difficult to believe this is a translation. Thanks to Karen Emmerich’s masterful translation, these stories are now accessible to a much bigger audience.
Christos isn’t ready to divulge what’s next, but leaves the door open to the possibilities.
“Well, who knows? I just pray to God to give me the strength to keep on hoping, loving, reading, and writing.”
Publisher: Archipelago (March 15, 2016)