We went to a charity bazarre the other morning, and came staggering out with a sack load of books. Before heading into the airy 1950s ‘salle communale’ across the road to load up on home baked cakes, scones and jams the International Women’s Club had churned out to raise money for girls in need. As an aside, we saw that the muffins and cupcakes came in three prices: 3Fr for ‘normal cakes’, 4Fr for ‘decorated’ and 6Fr for ‘exceptionally decorated’. The lady told us that the decoration is what takes the time, not the baking.
But to the books we bought. Though I have a growing collections of translations and adaptations of the Odyssey, I’d somehow missed this door-stopper by Nikos Kazantzakis, author of Zorba the Greek. A whopper of a book with a golden dust jacket and wonderful spare mid-20th century line drawings by the Greek artist Nicholas Ghika. I liked the breezy confidence of the title: The Odyssey: A modern sequel.
It’s about 800 pages long and rounds off at a neat 33,333 lines. When someone accused Kazantzakis of having padded out his poem to get to that magic sounding length, he pointed out he’d actually cut it back from well over 40,000 lines. Kimon Friar worked through this epic with the author to translate it into English, providing also an introduction and notes.
I’ve just started reading it, and it may be some time before I finish. But in the meantime, I was struck by this observation on the business of writing, particularly as I’ve recently started realizing the extent to which sitting in front of a blank page or screen is the surest way for a nascent tale and its characters to start telling you their story. Or perhaps just for you to hear them tell it.
‘Every morning when he sat down at his table to write the Odyssey, he was without a plan, nor did he know where his poem or his characters might lead him.’
Source: introduction to Nikos Kazantzakis, The Odyssey: A modern sequel, by Kimon Friar, illus. Ghika (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1958), p. xxxvi