Vol. XXX, #1 Writing From Postcommunist Romania
Volume editor Ehren Schimmel
Review of Contemporary Fiction
Margarita Karapanou. Kassandra and the Wolf. Trans. N. C. Germanacos. Clockroot Books, 2009. 130 pp. Paper: $15.00. (Reprint)
Margarita Karapanou. Rien Ne Va Plus. Trans. Karen Emmerich. Clockroot Books, 2009. 184 pp. Paper: $15.00.
To read these two experimental works is to realize the magnitude of the loss when Greek novelist Margarita Karapanou died quite suddenly in 2008. Kasssanda offers a disturbing portrait of childhood. A six year old girl, a stutterer, is victimized by sexual abuse she cannot begin to fathom, her vocabulary drawn from the lurid imagery of fairy tales (the wolf). So brutalized, Kassandra cannot express emotions: given a doll to love, she cuts off its legs and arms; given a kitten to tend, she beats it, drowns it, and then wraps it lovingly in a blanket. The novel disquiets, un-eases, disturbs, but intrigues. There is a coolness to its execution, Karapanou's testing of the limited perceptions of an emotionally damaged child who cannot speak for herself compels focus less on those harrowing events and more on their translation into lyric story. The same is true of the later work, Rien Ne Va Plus. Karapanou executes a deft experiment that suspends events between experience and their redesign into fiction. A passionate woman marries a gay veterinarian, falls precipitously out of love with him, samples the "exotic" spell of a lesbian relationship, and ultimately returns to her husband only to abort the child they conceive—well, maybe. Karapanou also works in, in an intriguing contrapuntal fashion, the story of a woman, a novelist, finishing a manuscript that renegotiates the reality of her own failed marriage by conceiving it as the freighted allegory of a woman who marries a gay vet, who falls precipitously out of love with him, etc. Which story is “the” story—the creation of a soon-to-be-published manuscript or the collapse of a relationship? Like Kassandra, the narrative is harrowing in its implications but cool to the touch, audacious in its uncompromising commitment to test the integrity of narrative itself. The title—the last call at a roulette table signaling the players are ready to hand their fortunes over to fate—reminds Karapanou’s reader of the privilege of narrative: rendering brutal event into elegant design.