Vangelis Raptopoulos’ books I
IN PIECES (1979), a novel composed of thirteen interconnected short stories
Pieces from the life of an adolescent. Truthful like a documentary film, crazy like cartoons. When Sofia leaves him, he throws himself into the path of a train, which cuts him into pieces. Except that this train is in a film. With his best friend, Odysseus, they take part in a rock concert, that ends up in a big failure. Maybe because more than a musician, he wants to become a writer. Another friend of his, Vassilis, dies mysteriously. Correspondence with Sofia, who is abroad for studies. He always misses her and is jealous of her even in his dreams. Until he gets on a real train going off to somewhere in the provinces to do his own studies. Now he is headed for absolute solitude. If only he were with Sofia, along with his friends, he wouldn’t mind if his book never came out. But then, what is this that you are holding? And the price of publishing it? Was it to lose everything ― to end up in pieces?
In Pieces, Vangelis Raptopoulos’s first book, came out when the author was only 20 years old. The critics welcomed it with appraisals, while excerpts were translated into English, French, German and Swedish. In 1988, four stories of the book were made into a teleplay, directed by Freddie Vianellis, under the general title: Sea Train.
They wrote about «In Pieces»
«Only an absolute assimilation of contemporary ― and not only Greek ― prose would allow the harmonious conjunction of reality with the intense surreal elements found in the book. The completeness of everyday’s language fascinates». «Tomes», literary magazine
Summer. A group of adolescents are preparing for university entrance exams. Tuition center, fights with parents, dates with Maro and Katia, the amateur radio station on Dimitri’s roof terrace, swimming, summer cinemas and a bit of study. After the exams, as if in an old-style dance, the couples separate and join up again in new combinations and the group dissolves before the friendships can fade. The heroes pay up at the toll gates that mark the end of adolescence. And the journey goes on…
Toll Gates were first published in 1982, when Vangelis Raptopoulos was almost at the same age with his heroes. The book was immediately praised by critics. Excerpts have been translated into English, German and Serb. In 1988 it was successfully adapted for television (mini series of four 45´episodes). The screenplay was written by the author and directed by Kostas Mazanis, with amateur actors in the leading roles.
They wrote about «Toll Gates»
«Paraphrasing Heinrich Bll, one could talk for a «group portrait with a generation». Turning the pages of «Toll Gates» is like travelling through the everyday life of a group of young people. Nothing of what happens seems invented. As if some episodes from their lives slide in the pages of the book by themselves, unhurriedly, imperceptibly. A text that stands up, simply and solidly, on its feet. Good architecture does not need fancy materials». «I lexi», literary magazine
«Full of truth and optimism, naive as only reality can make it, tender and unspeakably sensitive, it is a book-identity of a generation». «Mia» magazine
THE CICADAS (1985), a novel
Based on a true incident, the novel unfolds the story of an attempted robbery by a group of boys and girls coming from the poor suburbs of Athens. This is the book with which the author completed the trilogy My Generation. In 1996, The Cicadas were translated into English by Fred A. Reed and published by «Kedros», in the series «Modern Greek Writers». An extensive excerpt has been translated into French.
They’ re the gang that can’t shoot straight: tough-guy wannabes straight out of a Greek-subtitled version of Thieves Like Us, down-market motorcycle punks (no Hell’s angels these), dead-end kids from the urban depths with foulmouthed girlfriends and parents as remote as prosperity. Innocents with attitude.
Stamati, the bumbling ringleader, his faithful side-kick Takouli, and Foti, a self-styled strong, silent type who falls for a horny journalist, form a threesome with no past, no future, and a present as insouciant and short-lived as a cicada. Armed with little more than an empty shotgun and plenty of bravado, the three blow their big chance: a hold-up at a district tax office.
Their Technicolor dream comes unraveled on a furious motorcycle ride north, in a comic brawl on a deserted beach, and in the final ignominy of capture under the flashing lights of a provincial disco.
Life, suggests The Cicadas, is as tough, nasty and indifferent as a B thriller. Vangelis Raptopoulos’ characters, sketched with sure-handed empathy, and with a knife-edged ear for the hard humor of the street, throb with the fervid intensity of cicadas buzzing in the noonday heat. Nothing in their voice intimated how soon they will die.
They wrote about «Τhe Cicadas»
«»The Cicadas» is a novel that has everything ― action, romance, a variety of characters, social issues ― but most of all, it centers on the lives of a group of young people, male and female, who are not satisfied with their fast cars and fast life, want even more. These desires lead to an attempted robbery that does not succeed and marks them out as «wanted» persons. The novel is framed at the beginning and the end with a love affair between Foti, one of «the gang», and Xenia, a divorcee, who seem to find time together in bed to be their best way of communication and consolation for the troubles each has.
»The actions of the characters are modeled after and motivated by characters in American gangster films, and in a way, «The Cicadas» is a film in prose form from beginning to end. Attention is centered on contemporary Athenian young people who do not seem to have a focus for their world other than ephemeral hedonism, with constant thrills and risks as characteristic of their lives and vulgar language as characteristic of their speech. Members of the older generation, whenever they do appear, mostly as critics and sticks-in-the-mud, do not have much influence on the young people’s behavior. Their urban life seems drab and dull without the dangerous thrill-seeking and fun-searching. Where this will all lead could be a serious question for any urban society, not just Greece.» «World Literature Today», The University of Oklahoma
«[…] Raptopoulos is able to develop what his characters lack in life by making obvious what the novel lacks: emotion, depth, introspection. As the reader longs for some insight into who these kids really are, what they are really about, he comes to understand that this is exactly what the kids are longing for themselves and are trying to create.
»Maybe Zits was crying… Could be he felt something for that mutt. Who knows? One thing’s for sure, I didn’t see him cry. Only saw his shoulders shaking in the dark… I think maybe I felt sorry for him. Can you beat that? All by himself, nobody wants him. And the zits on top of that. When you stop to think of it, it’s terrible.
»In this, the closest any character comes to introspection, the reader understands the truest tragedy in the lives of these kids: they never do stop to think of it.
»Where Raptopoulos’s gift as an author is evidenced in the words he doesn’t need to use, Reed’s skill as a translator is evidenced in the words he does use. The language is current, the meter appropriate, and the style… I mean, it, like, fits those that are, like, speaking. Raptopoulos has masterfully developed a different voice for each kid; Reed has made it possible to hear that voice, even across an ocean.
»»The Cicadas» will soften, if not break, your heart. Like the cicada that buzzes all day but is never truly noticed, Stamati, Takouli, and Foti use their clumsy burglary as a desperate call for attention. We never know how the story ends, whether their weak cry is ever heard. We can only hope, after reading their story, that the cries of other Stamatis, Takoulis, and Fotis around us will not be ignored.» Marcia Turner, «Harvard Review»
THE IMPERIAL MEMORY OF BLOOD (1992), a novel
An ambitious fictional synthesis which centers around the incestuous relationship between a brother and his sister.
A brilliant 33 year old in confessional mood unfolds his life from the age of 15 looking for «absolution», for himself, perhaps. Alienated, rational and extreme, sensitive and cynical, he relates his setbacks and failures in love until he makes a fatal but deliberate decision: to have a love-affair with his sister!
Emotion and punishment, moderation and the extreme, eroticism and thought exist side by side in V.R.’s novel The Imperial Memory of Blood. A massive work, subtitled «Who Am I and Where Did It All Start».
After seven years’ absence from writing, V. Raptopoulos returns with a completely different style from the austerity and simplicity of his previous works. In this book he seems to draw on the great originators of the western novel, using a baroque style (with long paragraphs, many adjectives, detailed description and so on) and philosophical dialogues between the hero and his mentor, a psychiatrist. They discuss and question beauty, pleasure, the irrational, ancient Greece, fate, death, Heraclitus, Dostoyevsky, Kundera, what it means today to be Greek and at the same time a citizen of the Global Village, and more.
They wrote about «Τhe Imperial Memory of Blood»
«A grandiose piece of work», «I Avgi», newspaper
«The writers’ skill to be ― at the same time and convincingly ― everyone, appointing thus himself to a writer of a thousand characters, is impressing.» Dimitris Nollas, «Eleftherotipia», newspaper
«So completely fierce in its mania. An «epic of hatred».» Evgenios Aranitsis, «Eleftherotipia», newspaper
«The first modern Greek novel, that is not of a peripheral type anymore, but sails together with the metropolitan type of the post-industrial era.» «Ιhneftis», literary magazine
HERODOTUS, HERAKLITUS, LUCIAN (1992 / 1993), translations
Eight small albums with translated excerpts from ancient Greek authors, illustrated by Manolis Zacharioudakis.
Stories from Herodotus: «Kandavlis’s Wife» ~ «Polykrates’s Ring» ~ «Croesus and Solon» ~ «Croesus’s Mute Son» ~ «Rampsinetus or The Thieves» ~ «Amassis or The Arrows» || Fragments from Heraklitus: «The Dark Word» || Dialogues from Lucian: «Ixion»
THE BACHELOR (1993), a novel
Written with heavy sarcasm, this is a story of love, horror and madness.
Contemporary Athens… The wife of the 35 year old Theodore Dimitriadis disappears. A day or two later the abandoned husband discovers that his wife has become a prostitute of class. And the outrage of it all is that her very pimp appears and tries to convince Dimitriadis that he, in fact, belongs in a particular breed of human beings: «You cannot bear to be a bachelor, yet the women you choose ― or the ones that choose you ― are precisely the ones that are ideal for our purposes!».
And indeed it won’t be long before Dimitriadis meets a replacement for his wife, but, in the space of just a few months confirms to be bone the words of the pimp. Yet maybe, just maybe, nothing at all is confirmed, might it all be, simply, a string of hellish coincidences? For Dimitriadis, however, the world has begun to change and transform into a giant trap…
The Bachelor, Vangelis Raptopoulos’ fifth book, was adapted for the big screen in 1996, directed by Nikos Panayiotopoulos, screenplay in collaboration between the director and the author, staring Stratos Tzortzoglou and Kariofillia Karabeti. The film was a box-office hit; more than 150.000 viewers.
They wrote about «Τhe Bachelor»
«In «The Bachelor», V. Raptopoulos records with great skill, often with extremely great skill, the terror of someone condemned to look for his other half. The book does not leak anywhere. One could say that it is the result of an author’s bet with himself to create a world asphyxiatingly nightmarish. In «The Bachelor»’ s world even vodka tastes like shit.» Dimitris Nollas, «Revmata», literary magazine
«»The Bachelor» is a black comedy and an allegory at the same time. In our times of general prostitution, where money dominates buying out everything, surviving without selling out yourself, seems unachievable. Only a madman would, maybe, dare to resist. And then, temptation for an heroic exodus towards non-existence increases.» Nikos Panagiotopoulos, «I Avgi tis Kiriakis», newspaper
«Vangelis Raptopoulos (1959-), one of the main representatives of Greek fiction of the 1980s, places sex systematically at the heart of his preoccupations and themes: to a greater extent in his novels and to a lesser extent in his short stories. His originality (and for many the most interesting thing about his writing – he is a writer popular with a wide section of the public) lies in the fact that he attempts to assimilate the lessons he learned in his younger days from the writers of the so-called «Great Classics» with the corresponding lessons of contemporary American commercial writers, into whose work he was initiated at a more mature age: King, Crichton, Clancy, Grisham etc. The influences on Vangelis Raptopoulos are directly related to American cinema, mainly to the pulp fiction school of Quentin Tarantino.
»Moving steadily on the contemporary Greek scene, mainly urban, Raptopoulos tells stories which flirt with detective fiction, horror fiction and pure pornography. His novels «Loula» (1997) and «The Bachelor» (1993) are characteristic examples of his style. In the first, a beautiful young female student, who however is frigid, wildly seeks sexual fulfillment and finds it, along with death, when she meets a sick killer. In the second, a black comedy with overtones of Kafka’s «Metamorphosis», the women the book’s hero falls in love with all turn (by magic?) into prostitutes working for a mysterious pimp. His novella «The Game» (1998) is also indicative: moving the action out into the open air, the author shows us how the daring games between two children can end disastrously. With his fanatical insistence on realistic writing which reaches its apogee in the detailed descriptions of the sexual scenes, Vangelis Raptopoulos depicts people in the process of falling apart; the more they seek adventure and pleasure, the more they sink into an existential void which simply confirms the inability of contemporary man to exist essentially and authentically». From the article: «Extremes of Eroticism in Modern Greek Literature», by Elias Maglinis, «Ιthaca», Books from Greece No 23, February 2003