Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Diaspora Dialogues, with Marianne Apostolides

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The Diaspora Dialogues, with Marianne Apostolides

Maybe you've scavenged through a used book store in search of a favourite author, but at this year's The Word On The Street festival, you'll have the opportunity to be a literary scavenger—literally!

This Sunday, Sept. 26, The Diaspora Dialogues is hosting a literary scavenger hunt from one end of Queen's Park to the other. Stop by for a Sunday afternoon chase of literary clues, lines of poetry, personalized readings and other literary oddities. And of course, there are prizes! Intrigued? Visit the website for details.

In the meantime, Marianne Apostolides, one of the writers you'll find at the event, talks to Open Book about her own experience as a literary scavenger and her new book, The Lucky Child (Mansfield Press, 2010).

Open Book:

How does your writing take part in the "diaspora dialogue" of Toronto's diverse literary culture?

Marianne Apostolides:

My most recent book, The Lucky Child, concerns my father’s childhood in Greece during World War II and the Greek Civil War. On a deeper level, it explores the ways in which we create story, memory, history and identity. How do we come to know ourselves through the narrative we tell of our lives? How do we choose the identity of our nations? Who creates this national identity, and how? These questions are essential to literature, dialogue and diversity.
In short, no dialogue can take place without a desire to hear someone else’s version of reality, and without the capacity and willingness to question our own reality in turn. This idea guides my writing.


Can you think of a piece of writing you've done in which you've acted as a scavenger?


Every single one…! Writing is an act of compression. I take emotions, sensations, observations and dynamics from everywhere: my own experience, interviews with others, historical texts, literature, poetry—anything and everything! And then I give these stimuli to my writing, completely transformed and yet somehow the same.
For example, The Lucky Child contains a scene in which the protagonist is waiting on line for rationed bread. He is hungry—desperately, terrifyingly hungry. How do I describe this hunger? How do I understand this feeling within myself and convey it, through language, to a reader? In The Lucky Child, I did so by amalgamating several inputs: my father’s story about waiting in line for bread; historical information about people who died of starvation during the war; and my own physical experience of anorexia. I took these inputs and I sat at my desk with a pen in hand, and they became a fictional world. Is this an act of scavenging…? Scavenging, inspiration, channeling: you choose the metaphor!

BTW: I looked up “scavenger” in the dictionary and discovered that, in chemistry, this word means “a substance added to a mixture to remove impurities.” Perhaps that is what writing is: the additional of an element—language and narrative—to purify and distill the dynamics of life.


If you could travel to any place with the purpose of writing about it, where would it be and why?


I think I must qualify your question! I wouldn’t travel for the purpose of writing; life experience doesn’t follow from my writing interests. Instead, the impulse is reversed: my writing emerges from my life—from the issues, emotions, struggles, and situations that engage me, as a person. As a mother, lover, thinker, daughter, citizen. If I had the ability to travel anywhere right now, I’d travel to Japan. I’ve become deeply involved in the practice of aikido; as the birthplace of that martial art, Japan compels me as a place. If I were to travel there, I’m sure my writing would be affected. Not necessarily in terms of content: I wouldn’t necessarily write about Japan, its history or culture. Rather, my writing would change stylistically. My physical experience would alter how I write: the rhythms, the metaphors, the moments that would arise in the physical act of composition.


What do you most enjoy about being a writer in Toronto?


I love that Toronto is a culturally sophisticated city that isn’t hostile to family life… I can live here as a writer and a mother. I can complete a writing session, then dash to Queen West to check out some art galleries, then bike to pick up my kids at school; I can take the kids to a world-class dance performance then walk home through city streets, stopping to buy ice cream on the way… This city’s ability to foster both art and family—creation and nurturance—is a rarity, and a gift.


Tell us about your new book, The Lucky Child (Mansfield Press, 2010).


In this novel, the reader follows the experience of war through the mind and emotions of a child, Taki Apostolides. As I mentioned, this book is based on my father’s life. Over the course of eight years, I interviewed my dad about his past, asking him to tell me the stories he’d never recounted to anyone. This past was “finished,” he said, on the day he boarded the boat that would take him across the Atlantic. But, of course, his past wasn’t finished. Even though he didn’t acknowledge his wartime experiences, they continued to drive his decisions, actions, and emotions. And they drove those of his daughter, too…

The book was a difficult emotional process for my father, and a deepening of the relationship between us. I feel unending gratitude to him for allowing me to ask him about his past—to ask for his story, which he willingly gave despite the difficulty. This is an act of courage, I think. Courage and love, which go hand in hand….

Finally, this book was the work through which I became a writer. I lived with this material for twelve years, writing a draft, then deleting it completely and starting again. And again…!
I struggled with how to tell this story, how to convey the truth of my father’s childhood. Somehow, I needed to create a cohesive, powerful narrative from a collection of sensations: the sound of bombers approaching, the colour of a dead woman’s shoes, the smell of burning flesh. From these sensual memories, I had to create the fullness of my father’s childhood. I then had to offer this creation back to him—an offering of love and humility. And so: I became a writer through this book. Even though I’d published one book beforehand and another in the interim, this was the work through which I became a writer. Through which I came into possession of my craft, and released myself into my essential desire—the desire to grapple with language, narrative, story, creation.

Marianne Apostolides is the author of three books. Her most recent novel, The Lucky Child (Mansfield Press, 2010), follows the life of Taki Apostolides as he grows up in war-torn Greece. Through its controlled confusion of fiction and non-fiction, this book asks deeper questions about identity, history, memory and the search for "truth." Apostolides’ earlier novel, Swim, explores the eroticism of language and story; The Globe & Mail says this book is "handled with assured grace and dynamic lucidity." Her first book, Inner Hunger: A Young Woman’s Struggle Through Anorexia and Bulimia, was published by W.W. Norton and translated into Spanish and Swedish. She lives in Toronto with her two children.

For more information about The Lucky Child please visit the Mansfield Press website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

And don't forget to head to Queen's Park anytime between 11 a.m and 5 p.m this Sunday, Sept. 26th for The Word On The Street's Diaspora Dialogues Literary Scavenger Hunt!

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