“It’s very important how you say things, because the stories themselves are the same: love, death, sex, betrayal. Since Homer, we repeat the same stories.”
How does an artist make The Leap into greatness? In Ersi Sotiropoulos‘ wondrous new novel, What’s Left of the Night (New Vessel Press, tr. Karen Emmerich), we explore three days in the mid-life of the poet CP Cavafy and how they may have helped him become the most distinguished Greek poet of the 20th century. Ersi & I talk about how an off-the-cuff discovery of Cavafy’s 1897 trip to Paris led her to this novel over three decades, how she almost drowned in research before a poet browbeat her into writing the proemium of her novel, and how the book rebelled against itself until she had a dream of Cavafy that quelled the unrest. We also get into the universality of desire, her non-challenge of writing from the perspective of a gay man, the process of translation and Ersi’s tendency to over-edit translators when it’s a language she knows. Plus, she tells us why she considers me a pantophile (one who likes everything), and why she prefers hotels over being home in Greece, the Iliad over the Odyssey, and the daemon over the muses when it comes to the font of creativity. BONUS: You get to hear about the novel I never got around to writing, featuring Henry Miller and George Orwell! Give it a listen! And go buy What’s Left of the Night!
“Writing the book, with all the research that I went through, Cavafy became very close as a person. I enjoyed him and I enjoyed his flaws. He amuses me very much.”
“In a hotel room, I feel like life can start again.”
“For me, writing is discovery. Otherwise, it would be boring.”
“The image we have of Cavafy is someone who is already old, who possesses wisdom. But I was interested in what happened before, before becoming Cavafy.”
About our Guest
Ersi Sotiropoulos has written fifteen books of fiction and poetry. Her work has been translated into many languages, and has been twice awarded Greece’s National Book Prize as well as her country’s Book Critics’ Award and the Athens Academy Prize. What’s Left of the Night won the 2017 Prix Méditerranée Étranger in France.
Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at the home of Michael Z. Wise on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photos of Ersi and Michael Z. Wise by me. It’s on my instagram.