Tuesday, August 19, 2014

WITMonth Day 19 - Why I Killed My Best Friend | Review

I love this cover
Amanda Michalopoulou's Why I Killed My Best Friend (tr. Karen Emmerich) is another one of those books I sort of attacked, more than I technically read. While not an especially long book, somehow this long-titled novel managed to feel extremely packed - packed with humanity, with love, with hate, with friendship, with family, with politics and with history. To a certain degree, Why I Killed My Best Friend (henceforth referred to as WIKMBF) is a very old-fashioned, manly sort of novel. Except that in every case of the male friendship and male sexuality filling the story, you've got women.

The thing is, I feel like I've read a lot of books with the basic structural idea of WIKMBF. Once again, chapters alternate between the past and the present with little clumsiness in the switch. In Maria's past, we learn about how she and Anna (the referenced best friend) became friends, and how the two grew up. In the future, we see an Anna and Maria who have been apart for a few years, now becoming close again (or, as Maria often views it, falling into the trap again).

Maria's past-and-present view of her relationship with Anna is one of love and hatred. Their relationship is full of codependency and reliance, of jealousy and drama, of intimacy and isolation. These characteristics are also bound within Greece's political turmoil - the two girls are politically active, constantly spouting off different political beliefs. Truthfully, the two aren't particularly intelligent or consistent in their political/social views - whether this is an intentional reflection of Greece's constant state of quasi-democracy/occasional-anarchy or a mere indicator of their youthful idealism, I'm not sure. But it's there, and is certainly thought-provoking.

Michalopoulou also has a tendency to equate art with politics. While this is obviously true in many cases, she omits the option of art existing simply as art, or art that holds beliefs different from those radical views held by the main characters. For a novel that deals so much with art as a political statement, this seemed like a slight missed opportunity.

Michalopoulou also directly addresses female sexuality, showing not only Maria's personal experience (both in terms of sexual discovery and ultimately relationships), but also the context in which the two friends develop. Anna's dominance over Maria is shown more than once through the lens of the girls' sexual maturation, not least through "boyfriend stealing".

All of this history ultimately comes into contact with the present chapters, in which we're presented with a wholly different scenario: a Maria who has been isolated from Anna for several years. A Maria who views her friendship with Anna as something toxic. A Maria who sneers at Anna's new life and hypocrisy. A Maria who is changed, but ultimately exactly the same.

HIKMBF is well-written, and translated in a way that made me feel like it was being adjusted for an American audience. Indeed, in the translator's note, Emmerich implies that plot points may have been changed in translation (in accordance with Michalopoulou's wishes), something which I'm not capable of actually identifying just from the translation, but find quite interesting. It's a well-paced book that provides fascinating insight into Greece's recent history, and does a wonderful job of creating a realistic relationship between two young women coming into their own. One of my favorites by Open Letter so far.

2 comments:

  1. I'm fascinated by the implication that plot points were changed in the translation! I didn't know that was ever something that authors and translators would do together, to adapt the story for a new audience. I need details! :p

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    Replies
    1. Quick, do we know any Greek speakers/readers who can finish off both the original and the translation in the next hour???

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