A review of Zigzag through the Bitter-Orange Trees by Ersi Sotiropoulos

Sotiropoulos draws her minor characters sharply. The staff of the hospital with its charismatic Dr. Kalotychos, the nursing staff, and the patients – described unsympathetically but realistically as monsters – constitutes the closed, stifling world of the ill and their attendants and Sotiropoulos misses no detail to draw the minor hell of the
hospital world.

Reviewed by Bob Williams

Zigzag through the Bitter-Orange Trees
by Ersi Sotiropoulos
Interlink Books
2007, ISBN 1-56656-661-4, $24.95, 234 pages

Ersi Sotiropoulos has written many books, only a few of which have appeared in English. These have had little fanfare or general attention. This is a great loss to discriminating readers for she has a stature surpassing that of many better-known writers and she deserves a wider audience.

Zigzag is a freewheeling exercise in absurdity as told by the voices of a quartet of characters. Lia, dying from a rare disease – a disease invented by Sotiropoulos – enlists her brother Sid to revenge her on Sotiris, a male nurse with an unpleasant manner. Nina is a young girl to whom Sotiris exposes himself when he is on a home visit to his village. As a budding writer she becomes the spokesperson for Sotiropoulos. These four voices power the story in a plot that is disciplined but not ostentatiously purposive. It is Sotiropoulis’ great distinction that she can unfold the events of Zigzag suspensefully with each page a surprise for the reader.

She does not shun coincidence and the neat mesh of events creates its own statement on the nature of the novel and of writing fiction. Lia, Sid, Sotiris, and Nina are as carefully drawn as they need to be and no more. This gives them a flexibility that fits the requirements of Sotiropoulos’ plot gracefully as she progresses from relationship to relationship with shifting and showy results. Lia’s illness becomes the shifting ground on which the story slides feverishly from event to event and constitutes the background of insecurity and doubt that surrounds Sid’s every act.

Sid’s revenge on Sotiris is ingenious and consists in unloading on him a surly mynah bird. To do this he has to lead a double life and in the intensity with which he pursues his purpose, he loses Juliet who turns up in Sotiris’ life and becomes his fiancé.

Sotiropoulos draws her minor characters sharply. The staff of the hospital with its charismatic Dr. Kalotychos, the nursing staff, and the patients – described unsympathetically but realistically as monsters – constitutes the closed, stifling world of the ill and their attendants and Sotiropoulos misses no detail to draw the minor hell of the
hospital world.

Unlike many authors who come to us English speakers from relatively unknown parts of the earth, Sotiropoulos makes no attempt to bring before us in any obvious way the locale of her world. She makes no deliberate attempt at specificity of color and place, but the difference arises naturally from the story itself and the reader is vividly aware of the setting, partly like our own thanks (?) to global Americanization and partly and undeniably exotic.

This is a swiftly paced book that is easy to read but has a staying power in the reader’s mind that marks it as the work of an imaginative writer of genius. Unreservedly recommended.

About the Reviewer: Bob Williams is retired and lives in a small town with his wife, dogs and a cat. He has been collecting books all his life, and has done freelance writing, mostly on classical music. His principal interests are James Joyce, Jane Austen and Homer. His writings, two books and a number of short articles on Joyce, can be accessed at: http://www.grand-teton.com/service/Persons_Places

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