Literary critic Kyriaki Ganiti (Dominica Amat) writes about the collection of short stories This is not America (or ... is it?)
In Greece, nothing reminds us of America. Here, there is no Hollywood, Las Vegas, or Route 66 with motels built in the middle of nowhere. Here, everything seems different. Well, this is not America (or . . . is it?)
One thing that gives me a break while reading books is switching between the genres they belong to. This not only helps me not to fall into a reading quagmire but renews my appetite every day to get to know great authors through their work, nd to continue looking for books by those who declare that they are satisfied with their way of writing.
My suggestion for you today is the book by the author Georgios Andritsos, entitled This is not America (or ... it is?) which was recently published by Angelakis Publications in Greece. It is a collection of 16 short stories with the common denominator of the difficult reality and everything that concerns us both as citizens and as a society.
The phrase This is not America (or ... is it?) that the author chooses as the title of this collection, is familiar to our ears, as we often use it ourselves, or someone around us to either reinforce what is being said, or to put more emphasis on them, or to make them more convincing by comparing various situations with each other that take place at that moment. So, when I first read the title, it didn’t seem that special to me, but it intrigued me. Yes, I was captivated by the title and wanted to read the book. But was that enough to get me started reading? The answer was, yes. I took the risk and dived into its pages, without looking at the back cover summary as I usually do.
For me, my introduction to the world of the book’s characters began by looking at the image on the cover. A penetrating and highly realistic, in my opinion, image that placed me directly in the space where the noise, the smoke, and the rain rapped my face and senses causing me not only fear, insecurity, and despair, but also the feeling of being alive. As oxymoronic as it sounds to you, that’s how I felt. How all this destruction that prevailed around me meant that I am present, and it concerns me in one way or another. Like the author, together with the heroes and heroines of his stories, he wanted to put us, readers, on the same wavelength of thought, and possibly the same behavior.
Common features of the stories are the authenticity of the characters, as well as the way they think and act. All of them are trying to survive in modern cities (larger and smaller) and by extension in a country where the economic, political, and social crisis, instead of easing and finally being eliminated, is spreading its tentacles more and more with its victims ordinary, innocent citizens.
The author deliberately chooses to push his heroes and heroines to their limits. As if taking an informal aptitude test. And this concerns many aspects of human relationships and our relationship with ourselves. So, in the foreground is the institution of the family and the relationships that develop between its members, love and shaky sexual relationships, friendship, and finally, the need for survival at any cost which often does not run into moral barriers.
My favorite part of the book is the sketching of the characters that you will meet in the stories and the way they try to survive while fighting against the unfair and painful reality. At the same time, they go to extremes by either accepting or not accepting themselves. And all this is offered to us thanks to the direct and understandable style of the author’s pen. His speech stands out for its succinct and consistent storytelling, vivid depiction of scenes, realistic dialogue, and the profusion of emotions evoked in each story, leaving a prevailing sense of justice, balance, and ultimately, optimism.
This is not America (or ... is it?) asks the author and uses this question as a title which is finally answered within the pages of the book. No, this is not America, but in many ways, for better or for worse, our country is very similar to it. No, it’s not only the fault of all the foreigners and immigrants that end up here. Let’s not put the blame solely on them. We bear a small or large share of the responsibility for this situation.
THE AUTHOR GEORGOS ANDRITSOS
Interview by Kyriaki Ganiti (Dominica Amat)
My guest today is the writer Georgios Andritsos. I would like to thank him very much for his time. Angelakis Publishers has published his book entitled This is not America (or...is it?). I wish him a safe journey. For those who wish to read it, they can buy it either from the publisher’s official website or from a bookstore.
What motivated you to take up writing?
If someone told me thirty years ago that I would become a writer one day, I would say, you got to be kidding me. But my woman at the time had a different opinion. From the day she met me, she knew, in a strange way, that one day I would become a writer. And the reason was that from time to time she saw me writing down words, phrases, idioms, and thoughts in my notepads.
At school I wasn’t one of the best students; neither writing nor reading interested me. I found school boring and the only thing I was interested in was hanging out with my friends, smoking cigarettes, playing pool, going to discos, drinking cocktails, and flirting with girls.
Becoming a writer was in the realm of fantasy. Back then my passions were of a different nature. Every time I watched an interesting movie, my passions took different forms, shapes, and colors. For example, when I watched the movie Top Gun, I wanted to become a pilot.
Very soon, after watching Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, my desire to become a pilot went up in smoke. Now I wanted to be like Travis the taxi driver to roam the city at night and cleanse it of all filth and fraud. A few months later, when I watched America Gigolo... well, you get the picture.
In short, for many years my passions led me astray, breaking my routine and making it more interesting. After a decade and after I had traveled the world, read books, and watched many movies, the idea of writing a story or a novel began to emerge from the darkness. Along the way, I realized that one of the reasons I wrote, still write, and will continue to write is because I love the elegance and the grace of letters. I love their rhythm and music, their geometry and magic. Letters are the building blocks of our emotional, spiritual, mental, and material world. It is a world shrouded in a veil of magic and mystery patiently waiting to be discovered.
Your book, This is not America (or... is it?) is published by Angelakis Publications. Can you tell us a little about it?
In my humble opinion, this deeply human collection of sixteen short stories unfolds against the backdrop of Greece’s economically and socially distressed society, unemployment, poverty, and violence. The subject matter of the stories concerns us as citizens as well as humanity and provides a spark for clever plots.
All the characters in the book are trying to survive in cities, towns, and villages where the economic, political, and social crisis, instead of easing its grip, tightens it around their necks even more. As daily dilemmas arise, the characters are pushed to the edge of a cliff, where their morals, virtues, principles, and values are put to the test.
There is plenty of action, mystery, tension, suspense, and humor that surely will enchant, intrigue, and hold the reader’s attention. The open ending of the stories will allow readers to reflect on what they have just read and decide for themselves what they would do if they were in the characters’ shoes.
I believe that each story carves a sincere, dynamic path ending with a sense of harmony, justice, and optimism. In Greece, nothing reminds us of America. Here, there is no Hollywood, Las Vegas, or Route 66 with motels built in the middle of nowhere. Here, everything seems different. Well, this is not America (or . . . is it?).
How did the phrase This is not America come to be chosen as the title of the book along with the subtitle (or … is it?)”?
When I was studying for my MA in creative writing in Bath, England, in 2013, where I lived for nine years, my main professor, award-winning poet, and novelist Gerard Woodward suggested that I write about the current economic crises in Greece.
If I had known then that it would be such a difficult mission, I really would never have started it. There were several times I wanted to throw in the towel, but I have learned in my life that when you make promises, you had better keep them.
And so, after a two-month research in Greece, I wrote five stories, submitted them, got a good grade, and in the following years and after thorough research out on the streets talking to many different people and reading as much as I could about the difficulties faced by my fellow citizens in their daily lives, I wrote another fifteen stories.
And I dare say that, looking through different prisms at the harsh reality of those years and with my antennae stretched for the slightest whisper, along the way I unfolded aspects of my character that I did not know existed and learned a lot of important things about life and death, things I want to believe make me glad I’m still breathing.
The title of the book, as the reader will realize, was chosen by my characters. As for the subtitle (or … is it?) my writing team and I chose it to pique the reader’s interest.
What are you aiming for in the meaning of each story contained in your book?
I believe that my short stories - though they are like living organisms because they all have as a background the economic and social crisis in Greece - have many levels of reading from which different meanings and ideas emerge. The stories are as multilayered as lasagna. The job of every writer, with absolutely no didacticism, is to manage to trouble and move the readers, to entertain them, and make them reflect at the end of each story on the different aspects of reality and on the problems that concern them.
If there was only one reason to recommend your book to the readers, what would that be and why?
As a Greek writer who lived for a few decades abroad and traveled to many countries, I think I am in an advantageous position to have a thorough opinion about the economic and social situation of my country and at the same time to compare them with those abroad. And I think this is of great importance because if people haven’t traveled and lived in other countries, they may never be able to appreciate or value what is in front of their eyes.
By reading the short stories, I believe that the readers, through the three-dimensional characters, will be able to distinguish and identify with the different and difficult areas of Greek reality, process them, filter them, and understand, what are the reasons that this beautiful country has been driven to the brink.
Do you have a vision as a writer? And if so, what is it?
Every artist has a vision. Of course. I would like to wake up one day and hear and see a better world where injustice, hatred, exploitation, and violence have been replaced by justice, kindness, happiness, and love.
Finally, how do you see your writing career from now on?
I would prefer the word envision. I think it will go very well. A few months ago, I signed a contract with an American publishing house. The collection of short stories will be available from June 2023, but the official release date will be on the 8th of August. The publisher Koehler Books and their team believe in my work and together we will do our best to make the book stand out in the U.S. market and beyond.
Now, I am translating into American English a literary treatise, And the Nobel Prize for Literature goes to ... Bob Dylan? The book is written by Dimitris P. Naskos. At the same time, I am finishing my first novel, Dark Paths, which will be published by the end of the year.
Kyriaki Ganitis from the Dominica Amat blog