God’s Wife by Amanda Michalopoulou, originally published in Greek in 2014, is now available in English, translated by Patricia Felisa Barbeito. “It may sound like a lie: I am His wife,” is the arresting opening declaration made by God’s Wife’s unnamed narrator, who will always be known through her role as an appendage, “at His side.”
This premise immediately raises issues of power, domination, truth and belief. God’s Wife is ultimately a meditation on the power of literature to create a space of imaginative play. It is a love story, a philosophical treatise on the nature of faith and divinity, a self-conscious meditation on the nature of writing and creativity, and a feminist tract, all held together by the compelling authenticity of the narrator’s voice. Her voice is, of course, shaped by Michalopoulou’s inimitably spare and masterfully evocative prose, which, like the narrator’s mother’s brand of storytelling, uses few words and eschews didacticism.
The author spoke about the book in a press release featuring questions and answers. When asked about how the book’s concept came to her, Michalopoulou replied, “I honestly don’t know. The idea of the Virgin Mary obviously played a role in it, though. From a very young age I was puzzled by the concept of the Immaculate Conception, a woman who is chosen for reproduction through an accelerated, mechanical procedure presented as Grace. I thought that God deserved another kind of woman, one who is probably naive and obedient in the beginning—this is how she is at 17 after all, when they meet in the book—but grows older and stranger because of her peculiar fate to be God’s Wife, and then reclaims her right to happiness ever after.”
Of written testimonies that influenced her while working on the novel, she said, “Marguerite Porete, mainly, this medieval mystic who was burned for heresy in 1310 after refusing to withdraw her book, The Mirror Of Simple Souls, from circulation. And Simone Weil, for her idea that creation occurred when God withdrew. Anne Carson brilliantly spoke about the same thing, ‘that emptiness where God would be if God was available, but God isn’t.’ A frustrating, nauseating idea of abandonment.”
When asked about what she would like readers to take away from the book or if the act of writing is the point, Michalopoulou replied, “I hope there are many things that work simultaneously, subplots that work in unison in the mind of the reader, the same way an orchestra produces sounds, and, hopefully, a melody. God’s wife wants to write her own version of the marriage and God is terrified by the idea of a testimony being written at all, as He is tremendously introspective and afraid of critique.
“I guess a writer will read the book as a metaphor about writing and responsibility, and someone who suffers from a broken heart will read more into the devastation of this archetypical love affair. A feminist would recognize the woman’s oppression, and a psychoanalyst would probably talk about hysterics—who knows? I am dreaming of a reader who would play with all of this, someone who is more like a juggler, really. Reading novels is, after all, a daring circus show for the mind and the soul. You do so many things simultaneously by reading, appropriating, interpreting, enjoying.”
Of the importance in the book of love, or if not love, marriage, and why the main character is God’s “wife” and not a friend or disciple, she said, “Oh, but this is about love, about falling in love in admiration. I was very tempted to describe this kind of love, which can’t be physical. God doesn’t have a body, He is only soul. If I chose to make the narrator a friend or disciple there wouldn’t be the kind of tension that is created by physical rejection. And then it was interesting to think about how that bitterness and dismay end up creating real existential resentment over the years. The marriage is obviously unhappy, and the wife’s way to survive is to write a book about it. But God has other plans.”
When asked about how long it took to write God’s Wife, she said, “I fully read for two years, it was an education! And afterwards, the writing was broken up into two parts. One part was written in Greece and Italy when I took part in the Bogliasco Residency in 2012, and the next one was written in China in 2013, thanks to a Shanghai Writers Association Residency. I mention these places because they are crucial settings in the novel. When God and His wife return to the world they go first to a place that resembles China, and then to a place in the Mediterranean that had a lot in common with the Italian coastline.”
God’s Wife by Amanda Michalopoulou is available online.