Interview by Zdravka Mihaylova
Exclusively for GRReporter
Ismini Kapandai was born in Athens in 1939. She was married to the sculptor Vassos Kapandais (1924-1990) and they have one son. She has been professionally engaged in ceramics since 1966. Her first book Seven Times the Ring, published in June 1989, had a very good feedback from literary criticism and has been repeatedly reprinted in the next years. Then follow her novels About Epirots and Turks, The Story of Iole, Alas There’s No More Time, At the Monastery School (for children), Floria of the Waters, The Salt of the Earth, We, we Have Ourselves, A Cynical Story, With a View to Life. Her books have been translated into English, Serbian, Bulgarian, Italian. She is also the author of the albums Ionia (the Greeks in Asia Minor) and The Churches of Constantinople, she has published stories in various literary journals and has written scripts for television documentaries.
According to the academician Alkis Angelou, the seven novels which comprise Seven Times the Ring represent a bold experiment. He describes the author as a mature and rich word-painting talent that often follows the game of a “light-heeled” camera, and her literary work as daring, as “she does not hesitate to confront an uneven bibliography going through the difficult and unexplored territories of four hundred years of the most disadvantaged of the three major periods of our historical past, including ancient and modern history – the one from the Fall of Constantinople to the Asia Minor catastrophe. The author says that she has studied for many years the history of Ottoman rule in Greece and has dived so deeply into its atmosphere that she feels quite at ease with this dark period. That is how the seven unrelated stories of her first book Seven Times the Ring have been written united by a ring that accidentally and consistently ends up in the hands of one of the characters.
The chronological framework of each of the stories is one of the countless uprisings of the Greeks against the oppressors. These moments inspire awe and respect and the task of those who try to "touch" them is extremely difficult. Not aiming to present the entire epic canvass of each of these uprisings, Kapandai describes only merely human moments and stories of everyday life. Without being a historian, what interests the author, because in her school years - as she says – not sufficient light was shed on the period of Ottoman rule in Greece -, is to comprehend how through historic developments modern Greek identity has been consolidated. In these quests of hers she concludes that generally people "are entrapped" into their own historical roles.
QUESTION: On the occasion of the Independence Day of Greece celebrated on 25 March, you were invited by the Sofia branch of the Hellenic Foundation for Culture for the opening of an exhibit of Greek award-winning books at the National Library there. You had an informal meeting with students at the Department of Modern Greek Studies at Sofia University. Would you share impressions of the three days you spent in Sofia, the people you met and the events you attended?
KAPANDAI: I met the students earlier in the same afternoon that preceded the opening of the book exhibition. I was astounded by the fact that a fair number of young Bulgarians study today Modern Greek and speak it fluently, astounded and very, very glad at the same time. I spent two hours at the University talking with the students, Prof. Dragomira Valtcheva and Dr. Georgia Katselou.
This was my first visit to Bulgaria (hope it will not be my last), and it strengthened my belief that we, the people of the Balkan peninsula who share centuries of a common historical past, in a way “belong” to each other. Walking in the streets of Sofia and watching passers-by around, a feeling of affinity prevailed in me. A notion that was enhanced later, at the opening of the exhibition, hearing people like the Director of the National Library Boriana Hristova, the Director of the Hellenic Foundation for Culture Demetrius Roumbos, the well known writer Kiril Topalov and others speak.
QUESTION: How would you give in a nutshell the main trends and traits of modern Greek literature?
KAPANDAI: I think that a proper answer to this question could only be given years later, by literary critics who would study the aforementioned trends and traits and issue their “verdicts”.
QUESTION: It’s a well-known fact that nation-state building on the Balkans had hindered to a great extent the free unprejudiced communication between the peoples in the region bringing to the fore for decades a stereotype image of the neighbour making almost all Balkan nations phobic of each other. Do you believe communicating through literature and arts, in a wider sense, could overcome age-long embedded stereotypes?
KAPANDAI: I think communicating is the “key” word, either through literature and arts or in any other way. Free communication destroys stereotypes; if not the only way, it nevertheless is a sure one, and one should try it. Let’s not forget that we, the people of our century, have been given in our hands a very powerful “tool”, and I mean, of course, the Internet, so it is up to us to search for the truth trying to figure out the real image of our neighbour in order to overcome our phobias.