ATHENS – Greek-American Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jeffrey Eugenides participated in a discussion with author Kallia Papadaki, and journalist and book critic Mikela Chartoulari, at the Greek National Opera’s Alternative Stage, at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC) on September 27. Eugenides’ visit to Athens was part of the Athens 2018 World Book Capital events organized by the Municipality of Athens, with the major support of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.
Chartoulari asked Eugenides to comment on the fact that in the three short stories of his new book, Fresh Complaint, the protagonists are people who are obsessed with “earning their first million.”
It is not just an American obsession, it is also happening in Greece, Eugenides said, adding jokingly that “Stavros Niarchos succeeded famously. It is quite widespread. Even many people in Communist China [are obsessed with it].”
He continued mocking himself about the fact that he ignores the laws of the stock market. “I bought a house two weeks before the crisis with the home loans broke out. You can contact me if you need advice,” he said, making the audience laugh.
The author spoke extensively about the city where he grew up, Detroit, whose decline influenced his writing. “It was the fourth largest city with the highest per capita income in the U.S.,” he said.
“Unlike Greece, where there are ancient monuments to recall the continuation of civilization and human life, Detroit followed a reverse course, as everything was lost within a moment,” the author of Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides said.
With regard to the fact that Eugenides addresses the issue of gender oppression in his work, including in Middlesex, the Deputy Mayor of Athens, Lefteris Papagiannakis, in his opening remarks also pointed out that what the Greek-American author has dealt with in his books, unfortunately, remains, in a dramatic way, topical, referring obviously to the recent death of the LGBTQ activist Zak Kostopoulos in the center of Athens.
Of course, Eugenides also referred to his Greek origins, saying that when he tried to write a short story about his family’s place of origin, Asia Minor, he struggled to do so. At that time, he accidentally came upon a book about the Asia Minor Catastrophe. “I did what I had to do from the beginning. I began to read about the history of Asia Minor,” finally forming “my personal Greek heritage,” he said.
He was particularly pleased with the fact that in Greece “everyone knows how to pronounce” his name and that he does not have to urge his fellow panelists every time “to pronounce it however they decide.”
Eugenides' bestselling novels, Middlesex, The Marriage Plot, and Fresh Complaint, are available in Greek by Pataki Publications and in the original English wherever books are sold.
Of Greek background on his father’s side and Irish on his mother’s, Eugenides was born in Detroit and studied at Brown and Stanford universities. In 2003, he received the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Middlesex, which was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and France's Prix Medicis. His novel The Marriage Plot (2011) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and received the Prix Fitzgerald as well as the Madame Figaro Literary Prize. Since 2014, Eugenides has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Eugenides visit to Greece took place with the collaboration of the Athens 2018 World Book Capital organized by the Municipality of Athens, the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Pataki Publications, and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center.