Zigzag through the Bitter-Orange Trees
Ersi Sotiropoulos; translated by Peter Green
5 1/4" x 8" • 234 pages
Winner of the Greek State Prize for Literature and the Book Critics' Award
"A delightful read... it grabs the reader immediately... the writing is beautiful, evocative, deeply moving... brilliantly translated by a distinguished American professor emeritus of classics."
— Martin Rubin, Los Angeles Times
"This is a Greece that few Americans see for themselves. In Zigzag through the Bitter-Orange Trees, Ersi Sotiropoulos gives us a wise, poignant, and often exuberantly funny portrait of a fragmented world that still retains the heat of the Mediterranean sun."
—Elizabeth Benedict, author of The Practice of Deceit and Almost
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Zigzag through the Bitter-Orange Trees was first published in Greece, where it was acclaimed as "the best novel of the decade" and became the first novel to win both the Greek State Prize for Literature and the prestigious Book Critics' Award.
Zigzag through the Bitter-Orange Trees weaves together the stories of four disparate young people in modern Greece: Lia, dying in the hospital from a mysterious virus; her brother Sid, the disaffected wanderer, her only remaining connection to the outside world; Lia's nurse Sotiris, an unstable blend of cowardice and desire; and the twelve-year-old rebel Nina, who dreams to break away from the humdrum life around her. Their four unforgettable voices mingle in a poignant black comedy of isolation and yearning, illusion and vengeance and the hunger for connection. With disarming power, Sotiropoulos portrays the conflicted world of the young-passionate and cynical, beautiful and grotesque.
This is the fifth novel by celebrated Greek novelist and short-story writer Ersi Sotiropoulos, and the first to be published in English. Sotiropoulos's striking originality and elegant natural style have won her audiences in many languages; she has been a fellow at the University of Iowa's International Writing Program, at Schloss Wiepersdorf in Germany, at Princeton University, as well as at numerous other programs around the world.
Translator, novelist, biographer, and historian Peter Green is Dougherty Centennial Professor emeritus of classics at the University of Texas-Austin and professor at the University of Iowa. His translations include the poetry of Catullus and Ovid; he is the author of a number of acclaimed works on ancient Greece and Alexander the Great.
"'Zigzag' works as a postmodern farce in two complementary ways. With its dark humor, the zigzagging narrative creates a dramatic comedy that twists and turns to resist settling into linear development. At the same time, an intense theatricality compensates for the absence of linear causality. ...enriches our understanding of today's most important Greek literary trend, post-modern fiction...gives us the strong sense of the stylistic and thematic breadth of this expansive body of work. There is no longer any excuse to identify Greek literature with poetry alone."
—Vassilis Lambropoulos, World Literature Today
"With her latest novel Ersi Sotiropoulos, one of Greece's most original and entertaining writers, creates a must-read for anyone wanting to think outside the tired oppositions of first and third world, high and low tech, post modernity and tradition. In her zigzag through contemporary Greek culture, sex, drugs and rock and roll coexist with the bitter orange trees of village life. Alienation is sent packing by the puns and winks of her Poprock prose."
—Karen van Dyck, Columbia University
"Zigzag through the Bitter-Orange Trees is.. a compellingly rich and readable story, which, thanks to the flawless translation of Peter Green, carries powerfully into English the stuff of life at its most poignant and revealing. Sotiropoulos is one of the most challenging, uncompromising, and original novelists writing today."
— Stratis Haviaras, founding editor, The Harvard Review
"Compelling and enthralling. Like a magical juggling act, a polyphonic, deftly elegant novel.. Beautiful language (in an excellent translation), lyrical at times, and always poignant and precise."
— Irini Spanidou, author of Fear and God's Snake
"What a pleasure to have Ersi Sotiropoulos in English at last. Zigzag through the Bitter-Orange Trees is vibrant and tart and a delight to read."
— Lynn Freed, author of The Curse of the Appropriate Man and House of Women
"Zigzag through the Bitter-Orange Trees is the perfect gateway for the reader into a modern Greece where the classical hero is forgotten and 'sits all alone in a yard, baking in the sun.' Part Marguerite Duras, part Faulkner, with a dash of Fellini's Amarcord thrown in for comic spice, Ersi Sotiropoulos's pungent novel will tug your heart and tease your intellect. [C]elebrate this writer's long-overdue first publication in America by reading her now."
— Benjamin Anastas, author of The Faithful Narrative of a Pastor's Disappearance
"Through a graceful use of language and an inner genius of communing between siblings, Ersi Sotiropoulos achieves a remarkable feat.. [S]he holds the reader always at ease through her uncanny easy-flowing tongue, a comforting language, which often amazingly comes into English with the same ease in Peter Green's translation. There is no doubt that this writer has raised the bar for contemporary Greek fiction..'"
— John Chioles, professor of comparative literature, New York University
"Ersi Sotiropoulos gives us a Greece we have never quite seen before, garishly tragic-comic, with moments of 'hidden grace.' In Peter Green's snappy translation, this is writing that deserves a wide, appreciative audience."
— David Mason, author of The Country I Remember and Arrivals
"This is not a novel for those interested in lyrical, many-colored evocations of the Greek landscape or folkloristic explorations of the Greek way of life as in some earlier Greek fiction. Nor can the reader expect a developing narrative focused on a coherent plot. Ersi Sotiropoulos deliberately, craftily, undercuts such expectations. Her effort is to make things new by offering fragments of description by various narrators that show things as they are, mostly in black and white, characters who sometimes tell the truth about themselves and their bizarre impulses through sharp interior monologue, actions that range from the tender to the absurd, in short, a zigzag pattern of seemingly casual connections and truncated dialogue that finally creates a plausible image of more or less related characters living a contemporary slice of life as it really is. The language of the novel-down-to earth and precise-and its approach to metaphor-unsentimental, provocative-are what make its individual parts convincing, aspects that Peter Green's translation has brilliantly captured. The author's strategy succeeds in creating many moments of bright irony and black humor, more than enough to keep the pages turning and to bring illumination to the gray characters-often bored, usually self-absorbed, persistently yearning-who inhabit this fragmented reality."
— Edmund Keeley, professor emeritus, Princeton University, author of Inventing Paradise: The Greek Journey, 1937-47
"Zigzag through the Bitter-Orange Trees is a haunting phantasmagoria of lives intersecting in a coastal resort during one summer in modern Greece. By turns surreal and comical, Ersi Sotiropoulos's novel is as sensual and piquant as its title-with a fresh sea breeze of innovation blowing through it."
— Robin Lippincott, author of Our Arcadia
"A darkly comic story told in four quirky voices...Increasingly intricate parallels and connections among the characters become political, cultural, outrageous and, ultimately, hopeful...the story, aided by Green's fluid translation, moves quickly. Sotiropoulos describes shame and alienation so effectively that the narration feels voyeuristic-in a good way."
— Publishers Weekly
"If the last Greek literature you read came out 2,500 years ago, check out the dark comedy of Ersi Sotiropoulos, a household name in contemporary Greece who's been publishing fierce work for the past 25 years. ... Zigzag's narrative entwines four lives: Lia, hospitalized with an imaginary fatal disease; her disaffected brother Sid; her nemesis, a male nurse named Sotiris; and adolescent Nina, who meanders through, sulking and dreaming away her disappointing summer. Sotiropoulos's toothy wit and skill at understated, sharp description draw you easily into the strange, unlikely intersections of the plot..."
"Sotiropoulos possesses that most prized of literary gifts, a unique 'voice'. It's a novel characterized by brilliance, black humor, flashes of poetry, with the reader occasionally stopped short by scenes that appear gratuitously grotesque, and literary practical jokes.
—Penelope Karageorge, Odyssey
"Zigzag Through the Bitter Orange Trees is a fine performance- psychologically subtle, structurally unpredictable, and always driven by a strong flow of verbal and imaginative energy."
—Dora Tsimpouki, The Anglo-Hellenic Review
"Zigzag has an enormous amount of brilliance operating behind its creation, and the talent is evident on the page, as this is a story that both reads softly and speaks loudly."
—Elizabeth Whitmore, Women Writers
"To pick up 'Zigzag' is to be plunged into an initially unsettling world of changing narrators and fragmented narrative—yet I immediately wanted to know more about this world and its characters. Greek literature it may be, but this is post-modern Greek literature; no heroes here... Sotiropoulos's language is by turns poignant, evocative and mordantly funny, and Peter Green's translation reads beautifully"
Excerpts from reviews of the German language edition (Deutsher Taschenbuch Verlag):
"The mixture of dark humor, everyday absurdity, bold invention, and a revealing art of characterization displays high-ranking literary achievement."
— Harald Loch, Frankfurter Neue Presse
"For the second time, after Constantine Cavafy, a young new literature dares to break with the traditional, often overwrought Greek.
—Hanns-Josef Ortheil, Die Welt
"It's something for literary gourmets... "
—Hans Gärtner, Münchner Kurier
"I recommend the novel by Ersi Sotiropoulos (dtv). This Greek writer tells the story of Lia, who afflicted with a strange disease, gradually disintegrates; her nurse Sotiris; her brother Sid; and the 13-year-old Nina. Strange passions connect them, consume themselves, and form a dangerous rondo. A masterly text, light and transparent and yet full of riddles, oddly cheerful and yet full of threatening, fresh images."
— Elmar Krekeler
"The portrait of society that Ersi Sotiropoulos sketches in her novel displays features as desolate as the paintings of Edward Hopper and at the same time as absurd as those of René Magritte." —Ulrike Sarkany, NDR, Radio 3
"The most modern of the authors who can now be read in German is Ersi Sotiropoulos. In her book, she takes her language experiments to a boundary beyond which the texts dissolve. A delightful 12-year-old and a disturbed hospital orderly stand in the center - an absurd novel, told from the position of a cultural anthropologist."
— Harald Loch, Financial Times Deutschland
"She creates a network of the unrelated, of people incapable of relationships. And with her brilliant, sparklingly fresh, utterly overexposed images, she pulls off the trick of fascinatingly disconcerting the reader."
— Max Hermann, Die literarische Welt
"Ersi Sotiropoulos has chosen not only a highly poetic, but also a natural form of narrative for this novel: interior monologue or experienced speech. She lets the figures know, think, and feel more than they can express....As touchingly and masterfully rendered as if in pen-and-ink, the novel shows how most people manage to maintain a balance.... A novel whose mood lingers for a long time, one you gladly read several times; it grows richer each time."
— Alexander von Bormann, Frankfurter Rundschau
"The language blankets the protagonists' confused feelings and bizarre behavior with a sense of order. Light as a feather, without constraint or superfluous poetic adornment, devoid of any convolution, the words and sentences interlock effortlessly, like the paths of the protagonists.... The way she characterizes the figures in a few strokes and traces their zigzagging movements, bit by bit transforming the tragedy into what is almost a screwball comedy, is art at its most successful."
"The book's charm lies quite clearly in its language, for the 48-year-old author possesses outstanding powers of observation and great expressive command."
— Anne Koschade, Oldenburgische Volkszeitung
"The figures of the novel possess an astonishing amount of inner sympathy and humor. The inner monologues are full of lively, youthful jargon and a dense and artful reduction of language that exudes strong suggestive power. A novel of great poetic intensity and refreshing vibrancy..."
— Beate Mrohs, Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung
"The author exhibits a keen sense of dramatic comedy, through which she astonishingly manages-despite all the daft permutations of the absurd plot-to compose a text full of sadness, melancholy, and at times smoldering, often explosive violence. In some passages, the novel takes the forms of a psycho-thriller à la Patricia Highsmith and creates the same kind of suspense....The landscape descriptions radiate the same dazzling light as Albert Camus's Algerian prose scenes...."
— Stephan Maus, Süddeutsche Zeitung
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