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Zigzag Through the Bitter-Orange Trees by…
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Zigzag Through the Bitter-Orange Trees

by Ersi Sotiropoulos

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This is the first of Greek writer Sotiropoulos’s books to be translated into English. She weaves four stories together through chance meetings, revenge and coincidence. The characters are young adults, including a sister who is dying and her drifting brother, her male nurse, and an adolescent from his hometown. Their stories are alternately dark, sad, and funny. I found the writer’s sometimes lyrical quality easy to read with touches of the Greek culture shining through. It didn’t have a particularly interesting plot but the character development made it worth reading. ( )
  LynneMF | Aug 20, 2017 |
I first discovered Ersi Sotiroupolos through her acclaimed short story collection Landscape with Dog and my enthusiastic review of that perfect little volume held her up as an exemplar of the 21st century short form. I was in two minds as to whether or not to adventure into her novels since few modern writers handle both forms well: I was wrong, she is a master of both forms.

ZigZag is her fifth novel but the first to be translated into American, and I stress American rather than English, and in some palpable sense this makes reading the translation a double translation exercise for while Peter Green translates the words beautifully there is something not quite perfect about the translation and had I not read the short stories so wonderfully rendered by Karen Emmerich I would be hard pressed to put my finger on what it is. Put simply some of the essential contemporary Greekness of her characters seeps out of Green’s translation that Emmerich captures perfectly in her rendering of the short stories.

Quibble over, I must now turn to the more pleasurable task of reviewing the work itself. ZigZag is actually the motif that the author uses throughout the work and uses to great effect. Sotiropoulos is a master of character and here she gives us four memorable, fascinating characters whose lives in modern, pre-austerity Greece each zig and zag across the others’. She zigzags so cleverly that one almost misses the twists and turns that connect the four characters. In fact had I not previously noticed how Paul Auster often stitches three novellas together to make his most amusing and entertaining novels I might have missed it altogether. As a structure it is not entirely novel but it makes for a reading experience that challenges and rewards the attentive reader and entertains the casual reader.

Her prose is exact, colloquial. and entirely convincing and yet it yearns toward the poetic. Her characters are strong, flawed and often troubled. Her situations are challenging for both the characters and the reader. This is first class, top notch modern writing that restores my faith in modern literature. I look forward to reading more of her work as it is translated and am particularly to see how she portrays austerity Greece and its beleaguered citizenry - I have high hopes.
  papalaz | Jan 18, 2015 |
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