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Πέμπτη, 14 Δεκεμβρίου 2017

The Leonardo DiCaprio of Exarcheia, Translator's Note

This short story is one of thirteen that appear in Konstantinos Poulis’ acclaimed fiction debut  Θερμοστάτης [Thermostat] (Melani Editions, 2014). Poulis and I met on the remote Aegean island of Icaria in the heady Greek summer of 2015—the summer of the “Greferendum” and capital controls, when the fate of Europe seemed to hang in the hands of a tiny nation on the continent’s margins. When I passed through Athens on the way back to the United States, I made a point of stopping by Poulis’ favorite bookstore, Politeia, to pick up a copy of  Θερμοστάτης. On the plane ride home I read “The Leonardo DiCaprio of Exarcheia” and quickly realized that, without knowing it, I had just met one of the country’s most unique new creative voices.
Today Greece is best known for an illustrious antiquity and ongoing financial crisis. Traces of both appear in the stories collected in  Θερμοστάτης, yet in oblique and unexpected ways. In «Θρίαμβος» [“Triumph”], the narrator recounts a memory of how one teacher, a philologist, handled an awkward classroom moment by asking a student to read out loud from a piece of pornography—pornography written in the most elevated Greek literary style. In «Νά πῶς μὲ λὲν ἐμένα!» [“That’s what my name is!”], a man frustrated by his inability to understand conversations about the economy sets out to educate himself through impenetrable financial news articles—only to find true satisfaction between the covers of a poetry anthology.
But while these stories were written during the Greek crisis, they are not motivated by or about the crisis. They are stories, above all, about imagination, in the broadest, most thrilling and even perilous (as in the case of “The Leonardo DiCaprio of Exarcheia”) sense of the word. Throughout the collection, Poulis himself also imaginatively experiments with literary form: «Ἑνάμισι τετραγωνικὸ μέτρο» [“One and a half square meters”] is as short as the space it describes is small. In both architecture and dialogue, the stories also bear signs of their author’s decades spent as a theater practitioner: fresh from his degree (and to his mother’s dismay) Poulis first earned money by putting on impromptu performances in front of Athens’ Monastiraki metro station.
As the first piece in the collection, “The Leonardo DiCaprio in Exarcheia” is in many ways programmatic. Its main character, Takis, is a boy with a dream. But it is a wild, insistent dream that soon takes a life of its own—and Takis’ life along with it. The story steadily transforms into its own kind of dreamscape, its contours shaped by a narrator who, through digressive anecdotes and first- and second-person interjections, lures the reader into a contract of complicity in Takis’ fate. For unlike Takis, who is at first exhilarated, then baffled and imprisoned by, his dream, both narrator and reader know from the start that “this is just how dreams are—a land where 1 + 1 = 5 and dogs recite Milton.
Johanna Hanink

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