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“Dim Vardar” by Elena Houzouri is translated into Bulgarian

21 February 2010 / 11:02:31  GRReporter
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Zdravka Michailova

Exclusive for GRReporter

Elena Houzouri is an author of five books of poetry, published in the years between 1983 and 1999. From many years she has been working as a journalist and a literature critic in radio and TV shows, she is hostess of the culture program on Chanel three on the Greek radio. With “Dim Vardar” which is about to be published in Bulgarian by publishing house “Ciela” translated by Zdravka Michailova, she crosses for a first time the verge of romanticism.

One group picture of Greek refugees from Melnik after signing the peace contract in Bucharest in 1913 and the diary, which the uncle of the author of the novel has taken as young man, are the initial motivator, to tell the story of the blown Balkans during the period of the Balkan wars right before World War I.  The plot is famous and the atmosphere from those years is well known. A touch of the concretization of the storyline: all the youngsters in Melnik, Greeks as well as Bulgarians are in love with the bold and beautiful masters’ daughter Eleni. It is developing on the background of the demolishing Ottoman Empire, where the Balkan nations – Greeks, Bulgarians, Serbs, etc. with the blessing and intervention of the Great powers claim for parts of it, which will broaden their territories.
Time of Revolutions, great-state mirage, mobilizations, reforms of the Young Turks, military lanes and illegal organizations, which flail around Macedonia. Marizmatic Turk pashas, full of energy Bulgarian officers, wealthy Europeans, Greek refuges eradicated from their birth places. Mythically rich aristocrats and bourgeois are crowding in the crossroad city of the Balkans – Thessaloniki. Parallel with this are the discoveries of the new century – the tram, the automobile, the cinematograph and the phonograph enter impetuously in the life of the big cities. This is how the story told by Elena Houzouri starts, when in 1913 the French bank-visionary Alber Kan organizes and expedition in Macedonia with the purpose with the help of new technological means to be sealed the daily ground of the agricultural regions and the activities in the city centers of the local population.

One of those pictures is found by the author, isolated in the family archives, photography, which literally, with her words are making her feel like enchanted. The charming stylish man in the middle of the crowd of his Melnik countrymen is her grandfather Stephanos. Stephanos turns back to a child seen through the eyes of his own granddaughter in the city having its routs from the byzantine time in the deep defile between the mels. During his child years Stephanos is friend with George, his Bulgarian friend, in his teenage years he falls in love with Eleni, the daughter of a famous family in Melnik.
In the period of the decline of the Ottoman Empire political and religious unrests start, which outline the contradictions and difference in interests in the different Balkan nations have, which are awakening and are looking for their national consciousness and identity. Meanwhile Stephanos is studying in Thessaloniki and Eleni is searching her luck in Bucharest. Stephanos finds out the active social life in the loud and colorful Thessaloniki, make new friends, dress in „ala franga”, despite the fact that he is living in a city with sharply outlined oriental color.  He dreams to meet again with Eleni, but she will prefer George who is accompanying the Greek king Georgios the first in his official visit in Thessaloniki after the defeat of the Turks. The two of them will leave for Bulgaria while the Bulgarian army is withdrawing from Thessaloniki, which is signed to the Greeks. Who wouldn’t dream of such “bride” like the cosmopolitan crossroad harbor city on the Thermaic bay – the capital of Aegean Macedonia? But the history has judged otherwise.

The heroes of the book mature in a historical period when Macedonia – a flickered spot of nationalities on the European map – “looks like a boiling cauldron, ready to blow up in the air”, according to the favorite definition of journalists and correspondents from that time. This is a generation of underprivileged people who lived at the edge, changing countries, embracing new ideas, accepting new faith. The love of Eleni brings her to defection of her national identity, something not so uncommon in the Ottoman Empire, in which faith and nationality often are being chosen according to what the circumstances and the survival set.

In the review of the novel “Dim Vardar” the writer Thodoris Grigoriadis notes that as the theoretic of the neohistoricism Steven Greenblatt would say, Houzouri is trying to enter in a dialog with her dead ancestor, that is why she wrote the text-charm, the text-summon in second person singular, and in this way she is shaking of the weight of the tradition of the dead ancestors, burdening the consciousness of the living as a nightmare. She chooses the poetic and stylish manner, something which is not accidental having in mind her service in the temple of poetry. Her vision over jumps and will rove over areas and souls in one journey in history and memory, which final destination is to write one Balkan myth for love and loss.

Elena Houzouri does not resort to the realistic and linear narrative techniques. She is far from all kind of melodramatic and nostalgia laid from the point of view of the past, mobilizing the personal foreshortening towards the events, the effect of the camera lenses, since she well knows that the reconstruction of the historical events acts “decorating” to the memory, since according to Lyotard the mourning of someone’s death triggers the process of demythologization of the one who already has left life.

Tags: Novel Balkan wars Elena Houzouri Literature
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