This is the first book of the ‘’Strange Days in Europe’’ translation series that consists of a total of eight books; five of them are written by authors from five different European countries and three were originally published in Greek by “strange days books’’ and will be translated into Spanish. This book series is co-financed by the European Union’s “Creative Europe’’ platform. As a matter of fact, it would not have been possible without it, especially for a small cooperative publishing house in the region of Greece. When your ambition exceeds the reality of the publishing landscape in your country, you ought to seek a way to fulfill it outside its borders. And if you’re lucky, you may find it. So thanks to the Creative Europe translation program, which awarded a fund to the proposal of Strange Days Books in 2019 (the only publisher from Greece to receive such an honour), we can now offer to Greek readers some excellent books to which they wouldn’t have been introduced otherwise.
The first one to be published is «The Spinning Heart,» by Irish author Donal Ryan, a book that has won many awards including the European Union Literary Prize. All the books in this series were not chosen at random. We believe you will find a piece of your own «heart» in each of them. “The Spinning Heart” is one of those books that set their seal on their era. It was initially rejected by 47 publishers – who were reluctant to publish it (apparently because it was too realistic for their liking) – yet thankfully found its way to the public and swept awards and distinctions in Donal Ryan’s country and across Europe.
It is a devastating book, one of the most important literary works of our time and a book that is also “ours”. You will immediately realize this when you get engrossed in it and get to know its protagonists. You will recognize very familiar characters, very familiar voices, situations that are very close to us Greeks; not just because the plot unfolds in the years of the economic crisis of the past decade that hurt Ireland as bad as Greece. The similarities go much deeper and essentially extend to the roots of human tragicomedy; we are all the same when it comes to this. But we need a very special work like «The Spinning Heart» to feel it deep in our souls.
Coincidentally, the book was written during the time of a serious economic crisis that affected both Ireland and Greece (as well as many other countries, of course) and is to be released in our country amid a global crisis. It is, by analogy, the «Grapes of Wrath» of the 21st century. But that’s just one reason to read it; some of the rest are its unique literary value, the power of narration, the heartbreaking realism in the depiction of the lives of several human figures suffering the consequences of a world in crisis, the unique ingenuity of the way the author speaks through twenty one characters and his mastery of this technique reminiscent of theatrical monologues of different characters through whom he «speaks» to the reader.
The title’s “spinning heart”, as you will see while reading the book, is a rusty toy at the front door of a farmhouse that is blown away by the wind. Through this minimal symbol, Donal Ryan depicts the way our heart turns here and there, a prey to chance, the absurdities of fate and decisions that define our lives in absentia, only to let them drift in the winds of time. Our refuge, now and always, will be art, solidarity and love. The love that surrounds this book; thwarted love, desperate love, lost love and – against all odds – persistent love; love for what has been lost, love for what will never happen, love for what we hope will come. We invite you to this journey of self-knowledge, despair but also hope. “Spinning Heart” is one of those extraordinary books, which, as some reviews pointed out, “you remember forever”.
DONAL RYAN’S FOREWORD FOR THE GREEK EDITION OF SPINNING HEART
The Spinning Heart is a book of silence. Each character has a lot to say, about themselves, about the village they live in and their neighbours and friends and lovers, about the wider world and their place in it, but no one speaks aloud. There is no dialogue:each character delivers a confession in a way, and their confessor is never revealed. I think this structure was apposite to the context of the writing of the book: it was 2010 and the aftershocks of the financial crash were still booming in our ears. I was drowning in debt as I wrote The Spinning Heart, and watching people around me fall away, out of their sense of themselves, out of their livelihoods, and in some cases, out of their lives. The swagger and joy and brash optimism of the boom years had turned to a timorous, fearful retreat into shocked, embarrassed introspection. What had we been thinking? What kind of people were we really? What on earth were going to do now? There was a concerted attempt by powerful elites to convince us that we were the authors of our own downfall. We were told that bondholders and bankers and developers and investors had to be protected at all costs, that they were ‘too big to fail’ or that ‘they took risks on all our behalves’ and that now we had to show our appreciation by bailing them out, us ‘ordinary’ people, us workers, us units of economic activity.
This was an experience common to Greek and Irish people and to so-called ‘ordinary citizens’ the world over around the time of the financial crash: events far beyond our control and people wielding power far beyond our imagining conspired to reduce our image of ourselves to tiny cogs in a huge and broken machine; we were faulty somehow, defaulters, we’d spent the cheap money that had flowed from all angles, we’d lived it up, and now we’d never live it down. We felt a collective embarrassment at our burdens of debt, at our reduced positions, at our joblessness, at our sudden return to struggle and penury. Vulture funds were circling above, hedge trusts were cashing in their mountains of chips, commentators and opinion-formers and know-it-alls of all shades and stripes were pitting private sector workers against public sector workers, blaming nurses and teachers and carers and road-sweepers for the whole sorry mess, telling decent working people that it was their own fault, that it was the fault of their neighbours, that they should have known it could never last, that no one had forced them to take out mortgages, to buy cars, to eat in restaurants, to go on holiday. Ordinary life, it turned out, had been sinful, and our penance was to be austerity.
And so we were silent, for the most part. For all of our shouted protests and voluble grief and violent opposition to the regimes that had ruined us, there wasn’t actually much to be said. What could we say? What could we do? We were cast onto a hard road and all we could do, if we were able, was get up and walk on. And that’s what the ‘ordinary’ people of Greece and Ireland and every other stricken place did. We knew that no corporation or government or bank was going to extend its hand to us and so we walked on, and worked on, and most of us managed to survive, and we re-learnt life’s most valuable lesson: that family and friendship and human connection trump all other considerations, that love is the only true wealth.
The heart of this book is a wounded man, and the soul of this book is a marriage. It’s a source of great pride for me to haveit translated into Greek. My wife and I honeymooned in Crete in 2007 and we had the time of our lives. We learnt about the massive and indefatigable spirit and generosity of Greek people, their wonderful humour and gentle good nature. Thanks to Gregory Papadoyiannis and to Strange Days for allowing my work to be read in the mother tongue of the cradle of civilisation, and thanks to you, Reader, for holding this book in your hand.
Donal Ryan, June 2020
Donal Ryan was born near Nenagh, County Tipperary, in 1976. He was a civil servant for many years, and was only able to devote himself to writing from 2014, following the success of The Spinning Heart, the novel he wrote during the evenings of the summer of 2010. Ryan received 47 rejections before finding a publisher. His novels have gathered a great deal of critical acclaim and The Spinning Heart was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. He lives in County Limerick with his wife and two children.
2012: Irish Book Awards, winner, Newcomer of the Year (The Spinning Heart)
2012: Irish Book Awards, winner, Book of the Year (The Spinning Heart)
2013: Irish Book Awards, shortlist, Novel of the Year (The Thing About December)
2013: Booker Prize, longlist (The Spinning Heart)
2013: Guardian First Book Award, winner (The Spinning Heart)
2014: International Dublin Literary Award, shortlist (The Spinning Heart)
2015: European Union Prize for Literature (Ireland), winner (The Spinning Heart)
2015: Irish Book Awards, winner, Short Story of the Year (A Slanting Of The Sun)
2016: Irish Book Awards, shortlist, Novel of the Year (All We Shall Know)
2016: Dublin Book Festival, winner, Irish Book of the Decade (The Spinning Heart)
2018: Man Booker Prize, longlist (From a Low and Quiet Sea)
2018: Irish Book Awards, shortlist, Novel of the Year (From a Low and Quiet Sea)
2018: Costa Book Awards, shortlist (From a Low and Quiet Sea)
2019: Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje Prize, longlist (From a Low and Quiet Sea)
Η ΚΑΡΔΙΑ ΠΟΥ ΓΥΡΝΑΕΙ