Friday, November 13, 2015

The Lucky Child, by Marianne Apostolides

If you read Marianne Apostolides first book, Inner Hunger, you can see connections to her family history novel, The Lucky Child. In Inner Hunger, the narrator is completely innocent of her world, her history, and her place within her largely silent family.  This is one of the factors which contributes to the narrator’s struggles with eating disorders.

If Inner Hunger is about personal and family ignorance, The Lucky Child is about the unflinching investigation of clan and self.  Apostolides tells the story of her family during the Greek Italian War of 1940, through the Nazi occupation of Greece starting in 1941,  into the post-war period and Greece's costly civil war, and well until the narrator’s father leaves Greece for the United States.

The Lucky Child is written in spare yet beautiful prose, as if Apostolides does not wish to hide her intentions behind florid words.  Here and there we get glimpse of both the promise and impossibility of writing history.  In one part, a teacher is guiding student’s through Homer, explaining origins of The Odyssey as oral tales, sung by traveling bards.  With the arrival of the written word, the Homeric stories became forever framed by the written word.  The teacher explains: “It is a tragedy… the tragedy of the written word.  To get this work of art, we must end its evolution.  We must deny the complexities of its past, and seal it from whatever future interpretations might possibly have developed.”

In Inner Hunger there is pain and ignorance, but the promise of a story unfolding and evolving.  In The Lucky Child Apostolides performs a Homeric act, finally writing down the saga of her family.  She provides the version that will become canonical for all time ­– but there is a sense of sadness in this necessary act.  For to write her family story is to seal off its evolution.  But not to write is to lose that history entirely. 

The Lucky Child is the result of this uneasy comprise between memory and writing.  The result is a great success.  The novel charts a course through history that combines a gripping story with a complex set of questions about the art of storytelling itself.

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