The woman who gives voice to Jo Nesbo’s stories in Greek is a poet, with the curriculum vitae and the academic studies of an all-around polymath, and an exuberant personality that’s hard to hide, even if – like me – you’ve never met her in person. In a state of constant leave-taking, due to her “conscious craving for adventure”, she’s managed to shrink the Globe, as only true cosmopolitans can. And yet she travels not only in space, but in time as well: in an acrobatic, quantum-like manner, she reconstructs historical events from denervated information she finds in historical archives and other sources, and uses her penetrative poetic perspective to turn them into relevant, timeless stories, essential for our understanding of the world. A few years short of 40, Krystalli Glyniadakis heralds that kind of Greek identity that some may consider gone, or at least degenerated, within Greek borders. She meanders endlessly around the world, in humanity’s storerooms of knowledge and experience, without losing sight of her centre of gravity – her Ithaca – and propounds a code of value based on harmonious coexistence, constant self-development, and philosophical meditation on the mystery of Life.
How many languages do you speak? Which ones?
Four and a half: Greek, English, French, Norwegian, and some Turkish
How many languages would you like to be able to speak?
As many as possible! Hebrew, Russian, Italian, German possibly. Occitan (a personal craze).
And the next language you would like to learn?
Let me perfect my Turkish first; then, Hebrew.
How did you happen to learn Norwegian?
Between the sheets.
Have you ever met Jo Nesbo? How would you describe him?
He’s a truly intelligent interlocutor and a true professional who knows his audience and his market. He is the opposite of haughty; he makes no claims to grandness. Like your average Norwegian, he is rather undemonstrative, quite polite, full of confidence, and unquestionaby self-sufficient.
What do you think makes Harry Hole into such a well-loved literary detective?
His weaknesses: the fact that he was once an alcoholic, that he’s not extremely good-looking, that he has a soft spot for women and a deep love for his wife; the fact he’s an introvert.
If you were to cast someone as Harry, who would that be?
Are you curious to watch The Snowman on the big screen?
Do you enjoy translating Jo Nesbo’s books? Or is it something you do for financial gain?
I started translating his books because I needed the work. But having worked whithin his idiom for so long now, translating Jo Nesbo’s books has become enjoyable. I mostly enjoy translating his children’s books, where he can unfold his humour and intelligence, without the need for the usual crime novel clichés or the limitations imposed by Hole’s character.
What is the most difficult hurdle for a translator to overcome?
His/her own personal, linguistic rhythm. Inevitably, when you read Jo Nesbo in Greek say, you are constrained by my own linguistic range. And I am sometimes tempted to use words that are more seductive to the ear, rather than true to the original. You know, sometimes a writer can disappoint; as a translator, you want to “save” him/her. The hardest part is to stop oneself from such a rescue operation.
Do translators get enough credit for their work in Greece?
Yes and no; and this has to do with both the financial and the non-financial rewards from the job. It all depends on the publisher one’s working with, the readers’ and critics’ responses, etc. I find it a shame that books outside English, French, Spanish, German, and Italian are never truly considered for translation awards, for example. The biggest reward comes from the reader who approaches you to say “I loved your translation!”. Then, there’s also the opposite, of course: there are readers who complain about the translation. The fact that they often overlook that a text’s inferiority (or superiority) may be down to the author, rather than the translator, is in itself an indication that the translator’s work has beem done well.
Why, do you think, has Scandinavian noir dominated a traditionally English and American genre?
I credit the worthy translators working from Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish into English: what was once Jules Maigret’s and Hercule Poirot’s territory is now dominated by Kurt Wallander and Harry Hole. One should not forget, in addition, that Nordic noir has a sister product on TV: superb TV series, such as The Killing (who hasn’t fallen under the spell of Detective Sarah Lund?) and The Bridge. There’s also something very attractive that most Nordic literature exhibits, and that’s a sense of moral complexity: nothing is black and white; no one is just good, or just bad. To an international audience that lives in times of great moral turmoil, such complexities ring truer than any whodunit. In Nordic noir, everyone’s potentially and angel and a devil. And no one escapes Nemesis. Not even the main characters.
Do you read crime novels?
Sometimes. I’m not a huge fan.
What is your favourite crime novel?
I don’t have a favourite novel, I have favourite writers, or even characters. I like Elizabeth George, for example, for the thorough anthropological analysis of of the English countryside; Robert Van Gulik’s Judge Dee series, because they inhabit a world that’s geographical and ethically unknown to the western reader. As villains go, I’ve always had a soft spot for Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley, a sensitive and murderous character at the same time.
How many cities have you lived in?
A lot: Athens, London, Oslo, Norwich, Istanbul, New York, Bournemouth
What’s your favourite one? Why?
Istanbul. Because of that “heavy concentration of history” that David Boratav talks about in his Murmures à Beyoğlu. And because of that golden light in the afternoon, which makes the windows on the opposite shore of the Bosphorus look like they’re on fire.
Is it some sort of inner need that drives you to move around so much? A latent adventurism? Luck?
It’s adventurism; and it’s entirely conscious.
Has your being away from Greece for long stretches of time taught you anything?
1) That Greeks often judge a person by their cover. That’s pretty handy when you must categorise people and situations, but it’s a disaster when you want to understand them and lastingly resolve conflicts. When you only listen to what you think the other person is saying – judging by the way they look, or by their reputation – you’ve lost your chance at harmoniously coexisting with and trusting the other, let alone the Other.
2) That I am hard pressed to live for more than 6 months away from the life-sustaining light of the Mediterranean.
You’ve now published three collections of poetry. Could we say that poetry is your natural habitat? If so, when did you first realised it was so?
It was during my first, unsuccessful attempt at a PhD in Philosophy, when I realised that I was tired of trying to convince others about my theories and ideas. I accepted the idea that each of us will understand only what they want to understand. Now, poetry – which, up until then, was a leisurely pursuit – is an elliptic vehicle that allows multiple interpretations. So I let it liberate me. And I jumped from the purity and austerity of rationalism, to the ever-changing nature art –ever-changing like the sea, both to itself and to others. Moreover, rhythm and musicality are two things that spring quite effortlessly from within me, so it wasn’t that difficult for me to see poetry as a serious and invaluable expressive outlet.
So how does a poem come about? What is the stimulus that begets it? And why does it then turn into a poem? And when it does, does your experience of it change?
This is a long conversation. But I’ll say that, lately, my poems often come about as a result of my readings, mainly in history. I often talk about an event so as to stop Time from erasing it. I want to highlight the fact that it’s worth remembering. This wish turns into a poem because this is my vehicle of expression – were I a painter, I’d paint it, I guess; a musician, I’d compose something about it. From the moment a poem is printed, it no longer belongs to me. It’s a child that’s weaned off and must now follow its own course. I emotionally dissociate myself from my printed poems and so, yes, my experience of them changes because they almost don’t belong to me anymore.
Who reads your first drafts?
It depends. There are three or four people I respect a lot and whom I trust to be completely ruthless in their critique.
Do you value their opinion, do their reactions make you reconsider?
Yes, of course I value it. I always listen carefully to what they have to say. I am not under the illusion of being infallible, nor am I narcissistic enough to write confessional poetry. The poem has to speak to others too, not just to me.
So you do care about what others say.
Yes, if what they have to say will make me a better human being and a better artist. Spitefulness saddens me, but it has never stopped me.
Are there people you know and admire that don’t read?
No. Even my friends who are not into literature read books for their professional self-improvement or non-fiction books that expand their horizons of knowledge. I might have loved, or wanted, people who did not read – but it would be difficult for me to admire them. There’s nothing more beautiful than nurturing your personal growth through reading.
What’s the difference between those who read and those who don’t?
What I’ve just referred to: people who read have their antennae, so to speak, ready to receive new signals, and their doors open to allow for a view of life that’s radically different from their own. They are ready to be shocked in a novel way.
What is the one trait your nearest and dearest most often complain about?
My last-minute attitude to things. It stresses me out and drives them crazy.
Take us on a quick tour of your home library. What would we see?
You’d find the collected works of Philip Roth, Jeanette Winterson, Paul Auster, Ian McEwan, W G Sebald, Friedrich Nietzsche, Baruch Spinoza, Carol Ann Duffy, Frank O’Hara, Patrick Modiano, Peter Høeg, and Jens Christian Grøndahl. You’d find books upon books on the poet Dionysios Solomos – esp. different analyses of his Woman of Zante – and an ever-increasing pile of books by poet Andreas Empeirikos. You’d find works by Knut Hamsun, Ernest Hemingway, and Mikhail Bulgakov next to Elias Venezis, George Theotokas, Blaise Cendrars, and Jan Morris. You’d see lots of books on Ottoman history, the Turkish Republic, and the anthropology and sociology of Turkey; also, lots of travel literature about the Mediterranean, Sicily, Occitanie. Books on the life and art of Jackson Pollock, Francis Bacon, and Wilhelm Hammershøi; books about bookstores; books of maps – real or fantastical; books about explorers and adventurers, about Ernest Shackleton, Roald Amundsen, Robert F. Scott, and Fridtjof Nansen. Books on political liberalism and value pluralism (my favourite remnants from the aforementioned, unsuccessful PhD). Books about the fall of the Ottoman empire and the ethnic pogroms that took place within it (for the current PhD). You’ll find lots of poetry in Greek, more in English. Books on the philosophy of time, history books, books on historiography, dictionaries, early C20 city guides from second-hand and antique bookshops, as well as a considerable reading list on psychogeography. And many more.
Your favourite writer? Why?
Jeanette Winterson, for her palpable, bold language and her impeccable rhythm;
Paul Auster, for his metaphysically complex plots;
Ian McEwan, for his psychoanalytic intuition (which I totally lack);
W G Sebald for his divine (total, that is) view of things and his ability to render History topical;
Dionysios Solomos, for the explosives hiding in his poetry;
Odysseus Elytis, for his ability to articulate the ineffable.
You have worked in almost all levels of the publishing process. Which is the most interesting to you?
Not in all of them (I’ve never worked in production). But what’s most interesting and enjoyable to me is participating in international book fairs and conversing with the writers themselves.
Do Greek writers sell abroad? Is language an obstacle? Why isn’t this the case with the Norwegians, say?
There is no comparison between the two languages when it comes to their degree of difficulty. Modern Greek is as complex as German or Turkish – even more so, if one realises that the exceptions to the rules outnumber the regularities. The Norwegian language is pretty straight forward: its grammar and syntax is close to English and its vocabulary is Germanic. There’s no comparison. It’s easy for someone who already speaks English to learn Norwegian. So yes, language is definitely an obstacle in the transmission of Greek literature abroad.
If there were a Ministry of Books, what would you have it do to promote Greek books abroad?
Are we talking about an ideal budget here?
I’d have it establish subsidies for the translation of Greek books into foreign languages; also awards, residencies for Greek writers abroad and for Greek translators in Greece. I would like to see the establishment of a new National Book Centre, with an 8-year incumbency, which would be responsible for the physical and electronic presence of Greece in international book fairs. It would have very few – but very well-paid – posts, and strict rules that would discourage and disallow abuse of status, power, or money (and that includes by the writers themselves). I’d make the Centre subject to a yearly, independent performance evaluation. I’d have its employees spend time and learn from successful sister centres in foreign countries (such as NORLA).
Having worked in Rights, what sort of strategies have you seen major publishing houses adopt in the market place, or in international fora, that could be adopted by Greek publishing houses here?
We’re again in the realm of ideal budgets, here. Book series are always a good idea – and I am not referring to the Harry Hole series, for example, but to imprints of a sort, like the different series published by Crete University Press: high quality paper, high quality translations, high quality texts, an impeccable presentation overall, and a series that binds similar titles together. Other publishing houses simply go for aggressive promotion of their best-sellers-to-be: whatever suits your outlet. I like publishing houses that leave a mark, whose books’ physical aspects are distinct and the quality of their end product (both physically-wise and content-wise) is almost guaranteed: Archipelago and Europa in the US, Harvill Press (οnce upon a time) in the UK. Of course, these are all small outlets. I guess these are the publishing houses I like.
Which country has the mοst serious policy when it comes to book promotion?
Norway – about which I can informatively talk – has an excellent policy when it comes to books. I cannot possibly compare it to anyone else’s (apart from Greece), but its success can be judged on outcome: Norway is the Guest of Honour at the 2019 Frankfurt Book Fair. Manning the team, defining the programme, arranging promotional activities have all been in full swing since 2016 and are now almost completed tasks. The Norwegians can now sit back and wait for their turn to shine. Of course, this is a country with exceptional administrative order we’re talking. It’s also a country that practices the Fixed Book Price Agreement, which helps out with promoting new voices domestically.
What is the most comfortable reading position?
On a wingback armchair, sitting diagonally, with my legs over one arm.
Do you own an e-reader? What do you think about e-books?
No, I don’t own one; e-reading tires me. I don’t love or hate e-books, they’re mostly indifferent to me. I’d rather hold a printed book, underline, take notes, bend its pages, smell it. I’ve used e-books as university textbooks and for research, and I find them very useful. But outside work and research, the enjoyment of reading starts and ends with a printed book.
Would you ever listen to a book?
Of course. I’ve done it many times. It’s the best non-chemical way to sleep, whenever I’m upset.
Why, do you think, are private TV channels not interested in having book shows?
You’d have to ask them. Maybe they think that the Greek market is not fertile for such shows – and maybe they’re right. But sometimes, you know, the market is shaped by supply, not only by demand, and the real matter is to find the right target audience and the right promotional space.
What’s next for you? In publishing, translating, and writing?
Up until recently I was working as a Rights Manager at Hestia Publishers, which was a tremendous educational experience: it was an honour to hold such a key position in Greece’s oldest publishing house. I now work as a reader for an English publisher but, other than that, I have very little time for publishing work. I am translating a crime novel for Patakis, Nesbo’s retake on Macbeth for Metaichmio, a book on the 1923 Greco-Turkish exchange of populations for Hestia. When it comes to writing, I am still basking in the calmness that follows the publication of a new book. I write poems here and there – they mostly have historical subjects, yet again – and I am quite happy with them. So, I’m essentially waiting for the next creative hurricane to hit the shores.
Krystalli Glyniadakis’ latest poetry collection, entitled “The Return of the Dead”, is out from Polis Publishers.
The book will be presented at Pleiades Bookstore, Sp. Merkouri 62 in Pagkrati, on Wednesday, Sept. 27th 2017, at 8pm.