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Koula Paperback – January 1, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Dimitri, a handsome 21-year-old attracted to older women, sometimes sleeps with them for pocket money. But in this first of the three-time Greek National Book Award–winner's works to find an American publisher, insistent desire trumps calculated commerce. Dimitri encounters Koula, a mature married woman, sitting across from him one evening on an Athens subway car. Over the course of their regular 20-minute journeys together, their connection escalates: his furtive gaze meets her faltering smile, and soon they are flirting openly. Finally, their tumultuous physical and turbulent emotional affair takes wing—a scant few weeks of lust consummated at a seedy gay taverna, several discreet tearooms and, most centrally, a rundown one-room apartment plastered with photographs of nude women. Koumandareas chronicles the mix of a young man's boldness, an older woman's desire and their urgent need for each other with elegiac precision and subtlety, packing a full novel's worth of drama, passion and sex into a novella. Based on the excellence of this slim book, Koumandareas's other novels (Two Times Greek; The Glass Factory; etc.) could well be worthy of American publication. (Dec. 20)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* This is a story that has been told many times before--that of an affair between two on-the-surface unlikely partners for "hooking up." In this case, the individuals involved are a rather ordinary-looking, middle-aged wife, mother, and office worker, whose life up to this point has been marked--unmarked--by regularity and predictability and a much-younger man, an attractive and offbeat student who has a penchant for older women. They introduce themselves after mutual "sightings" on the Athens subway, each going home at day's end. But the reader quickly forgets the cliched nature of the novel's premise when relishing the author's especially lyrical version. In spare, immaculate prose, this celebrated contemporary Greek novelist eschews reducing the couple's inherently problematic relationship to its essence of sex; he chooses, instead, to elevate it to its essence of psychology--the point at which the mind short-circuits and is overridden by the heart. His story line follows the usual arc, the natural rise and fall of an affair, but the ending here is logical, appropriate, and poignant without being cheaply bittersweet. A short novel as perfectly structured and luminescent as a gemstone. Brad Hooper
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Top Customer Reviews
KOULA(1978), a novella, is set in modern-day Athens. Its principal characters and only direct speakers are introduced as "a mature woman" and "a young man", who habitually encounter each other on an underground, commuter train, get to know each other, and glide into an affair. Koula, married to Haris, has two, nearly adolescent daughters in a nice suburb. An accountant by day, she laments the "dreary" routine and habit of work, home, and family, but by story's end relishes its secure familiarity .
Between the first and last is the relationship of Koula and Dimitri, which brings out surprising emotional and physical changes in Koula. Through their closeness and separation, she becomes aware of a humanitarian connection to self and others--coworkers, family, strangers--and to world events. Her future will be "a long, arduous odyssey"(88), in other words, both uneventful and eventful.
Koula has two children herself, girls of ten and thirteen. Dimitri's only 21 herself, but he seems to be attracted to her. What's a woman to do? Little by little Koula finds herself giving in, as she sees him daily. Once she catches him crying. It's absurd, but she feels twinges of love for him! Author Menes Koumantareas knows women from the inside out, or so it seems, how would I know? She, Koula, seems real to me, and her quandaries seem like those of a person entering middle age and, perhaps, hoping for one last tryst with life itself. "Girls of my age bore me to death," he confesses, although she's seem him with her own eyes huddled intimately with a young girl. Somehow she believes him. This is sort of a Greek version of Summer of 42 or Brief Encounter.
Anyone who's been on the Athenian underground will understand the intimate allegory Koumantareas proposes, first the progress between stations, cutting deep through the belly of the ancient city, and the sexual impulse growing ever stronger with the subway's ambient musics. Out on the street, "a few bitter-orange trees gave out a faint, wintry scent."
Translator Kay Cicellis provides us with a open sesame into Koumantareas' electrically charged universe. She is especially good at catching the mood of his story. How it veers from comic to melancholy, sometimes by the end of a sentence. I won't spoil the story for you any more, just urge you to give it a try. Friends in Greece have long urged me to try reading some of Menes' Koumantareas's work. He is like the Reynolds Price of Greece, they say. Now I can, and you can too.
This novel is stylistically moody and makes you wonder about all of those awkward glances you get from those you see everyday but will never speak to.