AN EPIC TALE OF LOVE AND LOSS
03 MAY 2012
After two successful books, Eurydice Street: A Place in Athens and Red Princess: A Revolutionary Life, Sofka Zinovieff makes a triumphant foray into the realm of fiction with the riveting story of a young mother caught up in the tides of the Greek Civil War in her new book, The House on Paradise Street.
After reading the book in one sitting, Sudha Nair-Iliades speaks to Sofka Zinovieff at her beautiful apartment in Vouliagmeni overlooking the Saronic Bay.
Sofka, what prompted you to make the switch from writing
non-fiction to fiction and how intimidating was the experience?
I’ve always loved reading fiction; my favourite choice really. I always hoped I could write fiction but it seemed quite daunting. Its quite frightening for a writer to be let loose in huge wide open spaces – Its quite like a caged lion being set free. In non-fiction you’re held in line by the facts while in fiction you can run in any direction and that can be paralyzing or tricky. Writing fiction is like dancing naked in front of your friends…. It reveals your preoccupations.
Where do you look for inspiration for your characters and story-lines?
A lot that comes out is through the sub-conscious. In the end, things bubble up. Ideas come quite mysteriously.
Any personal similarities with the lead character, Maud, who like you, is English, an anthropologist by training, and is married to a Greek?
It was a way of exploring Englishness in the Greek context. The similarities we have in common are not in the character but in comparable experiences we both shared.
Why did you decide on a touchy, taboo subject like the Greek Civil War ?
The Civil War has always fascinated me for many reasons. The scars and divisions it has left, the fear and suspicion of powerful outsiders, and the way that it forces politics right into the heart of the individual and the family. You can’t ignore politics in Greece when it has been behind why people in your family were killed, imprisoned or exiled. Politics is in the blood, but because of all the bloodshed, it is a dangerous subject.
Does the book explore the disillusionment of the youth today and their mistrust of recent Greek history through Orestes’ character?
Orestes is a classic example of a disillusioned student, though his anarchism is also a kind of idealism, if in some ways, misguided. I hope that Tig, his younger half-sister is the person that gives us hope for the Greek youth of today. She does not pay too much attention to the mistakes of the past and so is freer, and she is looking to a better future.
Do you think your book will, in its own way, dispel some of the myths and even introduce foreigners to slices of Greek history that have remained obscure?
I hope that my book might contribute to the discussion of Greece’s modern “myths”, and because I do think that twentieth century Greek history remains amazingly opaque outside the country, I’d be delighted to introduce foreigners to the subject.
Your next book?
My next book takes me back to non fiction and back to another strand of my family (which is doing a great job so far providing material for my books!). This is the bizarre story of my English maternal grandparents and their ménage a trois with Lord Berners – an eccentric composer, painter and writer. The working title is Lord Berners, Mad Boy, My Grandmother and Me.
The House on Paradise Street was launched in March 2012 simultaneously in Greek and English. Published by Shortbooks, ISBN 978-1- 907595-69-1
Praise for the book include
The Guardian, “’A fiercely absorbing and passionate book’”
The Observer, “Sofka Zinovieff’s debut novel is an engrossing saga of a family riven by ideological conflict and fractured by war…..”
“Zinovieff’s historical gaze is scrupulously fair and does not shirk from uncomfortable truths.”
The Economist, “…with its breadth of historical detail, this novel offers compelling insight into the pathologies that Greeks still bring to their relations with outsiders.