"Zigzag Through The Bitter-Orange Trees" by Ersi Satiropoulos

I loved this book and I love Sotiropoulos’s writing. This is a writer - and a book - I came upon by chance and it’s often that I find some of my favorite reads by chance. Sotiropoulos is a very well known writer in her native Greece and this novel is her first to be translated into English. 

 

It’s a strange story - set in Athens in the present day - concerning four main characters. Lia, who lies in the hospital, dying of a mysterious disease (a fictional disease, which acts as “the opposite of AIDS"); her bother Sid, a disaffected young man, with seemingly no direction and his sister’s only contact with the outside world; Sotiris, Lia’s nurse, and a truly disturbed individual; and 12 year old Nina, who seeks to get out of her boring life away from her small seaside town and become something - perhaps a writer. 

 

Each character has their own story but they all interconnect in very imaginative and sometimes very bizarre ways. Sotiropoulos plays on coincidence very heavily as these character lives bump into one another, seemingly randomly. Sid (also known as Thanasi) has only one friend - Sotiris. Sotiris doesn’t know that his best friend’s sister is the one he is caring for at the hospital. He doesn’t know that the reason why his friend enacted “revenge” on him (by dumping his annoying Mynah bird on him) was because of the way he’d been treating her at the hospital. Sid also meets a young girl named Julia, and they have a brief affair before it inexplicably ends (it’s never explained why). Sotiris, meanwhile, stalks a young girl in his hometown, often hiding behind the bushes and masturbating while watching her. That young girl is the 12 year old Nina. He thinks up a very disturbing plan and wants his friend Sid (or Thanasi) to help him carry it out. Sotiris is one of the more interesting characters of the novel - a sort of bi-polar figure - fluctuating between his desire and his cowardice. 12 year old Nina mainly hangs out with her sister Zoe and is obsessing on a young boy who is vacationing in her town - all the while being aware of this strange man who had been stalking her. And Lia - who spends the entire novel in her hospital bed - slips further and further away, reminiscing with her brother, raging against her annoying roommates and the way the doctors and nurses treat her as if she is nothing but a medical curiosity. 

 

Sotiropoulos is known to be a more avant-garde novelist in her homeland and there are signs of that here - her imagery, its non-linear structure, the unique metaphors and use of language, the sense that something dark is always bubbling under the surface but not quite coming to fruition, the dark humor and a basic deregulation of the senses. It is truly a multi-layered novel that sometimes borders on the surreal. But it’s the stress on coincidence that makes this novel interesting to me - as if the small world in which we live is somehow ruled by some kind of bizarre fate. It can be a little bit of a disorienting read at times but well worth the time and effort. Hopefully, this novel will open the doors to her other works being translated for the English reading/speaking audience. She’s a truly gifted author and I recommend this one very highly. 

Source: http://www.juliangallo66.blogspot.com