Christos Kythreotis was born in Nicosia in 1979 and grew up in Athens. His first book, the short story collection Μια χαρά [Just fine] (Patakis, 2014), was awarded with the National Book Award for Debut Book, and was also shortlisted for the Literature Awards of the online magazine Anagnostis (Debut Book) and of the magazine Klepsydra (Young Author]). The novel Εκεί που ζούμε [Where we live] (Patakis, 2019) is his second book.
Christos Kythreotis spoke to Reading Greece* about his short story collection Just Fine, “six stories taking place in Athens during the first decade of the twentieth-first century” as well as his novel Where we live, which aspires to “capture, in literature’s way, the mental atmosphere of the past decade”. Asked about whether Athens is a literary city, he comments that “every city could be a literary city”, adding that for him Athens is the city he has lived a lot in and this certainly has something to do with the fact that almost every story he has published takes place there.
As for the main challenges new writers are faced with nowadays and the role social media can play in the promotion of their work, he notes that although the social media “cannot create the impact or add any value to the book, they can accelerate its influence”, and concludes that since making a living through writing is not a realistic goal for most writers, what a writer can do is “to choose his/her compromises…adjusting our lives in a way that can support our writing and balance it with the most pressing of our other needs”.
Your first writing venture, a short story collection titled Just fine received the National Book Award for Best Newcomer Author, while your second, the novel Where we live, was quite favorably reviewed upon publication. Tell us a few things about both books.
Just fine consists of six stories taking place in Athens during the first decade of twentieth-first century. Although written under a single concept (which actually has to do with the way their protagonists often undermine their own shelves, or challenge the fundamental decisions upon which they have based their lives), the stories are of a big variety, in regard with the writing style. This is because, in the process of writing the book, I discovered that what intrigued me more about it was the challenge to apply the aforementioned concept in very different people, in a variety of situations.
With Where we live, on the other hand, I tried to explore a more complexed variety of issues, unified by the protagonist’s specific perspective, their relevance to the Greek reality of the decade that just expired, and also by a tight concept concerning space and time unity of the action. My main ambition was actually to capture, in literature’s way, the mental atmosphere of this period, a slice of the experience of being alive in Athens during the past decade, which is also known as the decade of crisis.
Where we live is a circadian novel, extending over a 24-hour period. How challenging is to write a novel in which time plays the predominant role?
I would say that it is as challenging as writing any other kind of novel. For me, this structure became somewhat obvious for this specific book once I realized that the main character’s (Antonis Spetsiotis) deepest concern was his inability to actually tell a story, in the broadest sense of the term “story”: to organize his life in a “storylike” structure, and find himself involved in long term plans and decisions. The question which really underlies the book is: “What do we tell if we cannot tell a story. Are we supposed to say nothing? Well, not quite. We might as well “tell” the time.
In his review of the book, literary critic Christos Papageorgiou praises your writing skills, the successful alternations of style and rhythm. What role does language play in your writings?
I start from the language. I have this feeling, that good qualities in a piece of fiction have a kind of gravitational power – a good quality actually draws all the narrative around it, given that it exists at least in one element of the story. An interesting, well-structured plot might help you create interesting, attractive characters, and this also works the other way around. It is possible that a certain atmosphere or setting will dictate the kind of characters you need and the things that will happen to them. And so on. All you need is a starting point. For me, this starting point is the language, and more specifically the way a character talks – his voice. Everything is already in there.
Your stories take place within the Athenian urban landscape. Would you say that Athens is a literary city? Are there autobiographical elements in your books?
Every city could be a literary city. Of course, there are various circumstances that might make a certain place or a certain time more fertile for fiction. For sure, having lived in this place or time is one of them, not the only one – I would say that its importance depends on each writer’s view or mindset. For me, Athens is a city I have lived a lot in, and this certainly has something to do with the fact that almost every story I have published takes place in Athens. I would say that a great deal of my writing is based on personal experience, but my books are in no way autobiographical – the vast majority of the facts in there are fictional.
Which are the main challenges that new writers face nowadays in order to have their work published? What role do the social media play in the promotion of new literary voices?
Social media work as an amplifier of a book’s impact. They cannot create the impact or add any value to the book, but they can accelerate its influence, by taking to another level the role of traditional “word of mouth”. Larger and more interactive and interconnected reading communities have been formed, actually promoting vivid discussion on books and authors. Writers should not be afraid of this kind of transparent and direct publicity, and at the same time they should take it as no more than it is: an enjoyable way to share your work and get the feedback you need.
For the majority of Greek writers, writing is not a main profession but rather a leisure activity. Would you agree that in a country stricken by the crisis, earning a living through writing is the exception rather than the rule? Could things be otherwise?
I don’t think that making a living through writing is a realistic goal for most of us. Even if we forget about the crisis, Greece’s book market just isn’t big enough, and it never was. Very rarely was the case, even in older days, that a writer could live by only writing and publishing his/her work. So, the only thing a writer can do is to choose his/her compomises: like finding a day job compatible with our writing projects, or further adjusting our lives in a way that can support our writing and balance it with the most pressing of our other needs.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou