SOFRONIS SOFRONIOU

Kyriakou Matsi 28, Palechori, 2740, Nicosia | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | 00357-96536207

PUBLICATIONS

  • Crude Iron (Αργός Σίδηρος), NOVEL, 2017 - Editions Antipodes, Athens

 Translations:

2023: Fonte Brute - Éditions Zulma, Paris / Translator: Nicolas Pallier

2019: Crude Iron - Inventory #9, the Princeton University Comparative

Literature Journal of Literary Translation - Excerpt / Translator: Argyro

Nicolaou

  • The Progenitors (Οι Πρωτόπλαστοι), NOVEL, 2015 - Editions To Rodakio,

Athens

 Translations:

2021: Të Pamëkatët" - Editions Dituria, Tirana / Translator: Romeo Collaku

2020: Ilk Yaratilanlar - Editions Istos, Istanbul / Translator: Hasan Özgür

Tuna

AWARDS

2016: Cyprus National Prize in Literature

2016: Best New Novelist, Athens Academy & Greek Writers’ Association

EDUCATION / WORK EXPERIENCE

2010-2012: Research Coordinator, University of Cyprus, Psychology Department

2007-2010: Clinical Research Coordinator, Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York,

Neurology Department

2005-2007: Master of Arts in Experimental Psychology, City University Of New York

(Fulbright Scholarship)

2000-2004: Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, The University of Cyprus

RESIDENCIES / BOOK FESTIVALS

2023 (Pending because of Covid19): Author-in-residence, Shanghai Writing Program

2019: EU-China International Literary Festival, Beijing https://www.thebeijinger.com/

blog/2019/05/17/4th-eu-china-literary-festival

2018: Author-in-residence, Columbia University, New York

2018: Book Festival, Thessaloniki

ACADEMIC PUBLICATIONS

Dai, M & Sofroniou, S. et al (2010). "Motion Sickness Induced by Off-Vertical Axis

Rotation". Experimental Brain Research, 204(2) 207-222. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/

pmc/articles/PMC3181161/

Avraamides, M. & Sofroniou, S. (2005). "Spatial Frameworks in Imagined Navigation".

Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 13(3) 510-515. https://www.academia.edu/4842216/

Spatial_frameworks_in_imagined_navigation

MEDIA PROJECTS

Argos Sidiros (2021) - Opera (September 2021)

Edited the libretto for an adaptation of my novel “Crude Iron” as an opera for the

“Kypria Festival”, Cyprus / Composer: Antis Skordis, Stage Director: Thanos

Papakonstantinou

Website: https://argossidiros.wordpress.com

 Sofronis Sofroniou

Crude Iron

Pages: 336

Paperback, 12x20 cm.

ISBN: 978-618-5267-10-0

Κάλβου 8-10, 11473, Αθήνα. Τηλ. 210 6471188 - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - www.antipodes.gr

αντίποδες

SUMMARY

When a chess player is fatally shot in New York’s Union Square, he

is transferred to the planet of Little Life, where he gets, like everyone there, ten more years to live. Shortly after his arrival, he is

tasked with reconstructing 4001, a novel by Austrian author Robert

Krauss, and embarks on a search to find out whether Krauss has

ended up in Little Life. Through a series of striking episodes, Crude

Iron takes the reader on a delirious journey spun in the vertigo of

memory, literature, and cinema.

BRIEF BIO

REVIEW EXCERPTS

Crude Iron is one of the most uncanny novels you will ever read. Sofroniou’s mosaicesque narrative

format of references, symbols, themes, philosophical pondering come and go and then come back

unannounced and improbable as they draw the great picture little by little. The sheer force of constituent images, photographic precision, and the very audacity of specific scenes are spectacular; the

density of connotations and overall potency of the vision go well beyond the well-trodden path of the

Greek-speaking novel. […] Crude Iron is an ideal literary metaphor for the raw material of what we

have learned to call memory (i.e., of what remains and is treasured), and which, far from being “objective,” is (perhaps) dangerously tendentious and (beyond doubt) supremely susceptible to distortion,

decline, and ultimately annihilation.

–Antonis Κ. Petridis (Professor, Open University of Cyprus)

! !

9

Sofronis Sofroniou was born in Palechori, Cyprus. He studied

Psychology at the University of Cyprus and Neuroscience at the

City University of New York. He worked as a researcher at Mount

Sinai Hospital, Department of Neurology. His rst novel, e

Progenitors (Rodakio), received the National Award of Literature

in Cyprus and the Best Newcomer Novelist Award from the

Hellenic Authors’ Society (2016). His second novel, Crude

Iron, was published by Antipodes. Translations: Editions

Zulma, Paris (2022) and Princeton University Translation

Magazine (Inventory, 201 ). The novel has been presented as a

full scale opera, Kypria Festival, Cyprus (2021). https://

argossidiros.wordpress.com

 

Κάλβου 8-10, 11473, Αθήνα. Τηλ. 210 6471188 - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - www.antipodes.gr

 αντίποδες

SUMMARY

When a chess player is fatally shot in New York’s Union Square, he

is transferred to the planet of Little Life, where he gets, like everyone there, ten more years to live. Shortly after his arrival, he is

tasked with reconstructing 4001, a novel by Austrian author Robert

Krauss, and embarks on a search to find out whether Krauss has

ended up in Little Life. Through a series of striking episodes, Crude

Iron takes the reader on a delirious journey spun in the vertigo of

memory, literature, and cinema.

BRIEF BIO

REVIEW EXCERPTS

Crude Iron is one of the most uncanny novels you will ever read. Sofroniou’s mosaicesque narrative

format of references, symbols, themes, philosophical pondering come and go and then come back

unannounced and improbable as they draw the great picture little by little. The sheer force of constituent images, photographic precision, and the very audacity of specific scenes are spectacular; the

density of connotations and overall potency of the vision go well beyond the well-trodden path of the

Greek-speaking novel. […] Crude Iron is an ideal literary metaphor for the raw material of what we

have learned to call memory (i.e., of what remains and is treasured), and which, far from being “objective,” is (perhaps) dangerously tendentious and (beyond doubt) supremely susceptible to distortion,

decline, and ultimately annihilation.

–Antonis Κ. Petridis (Professor, Open University of Cyprus)

Κάλβου 8-10, 11473, Αθήνα. Τηλ. 210 6471188 - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - www.antipodes.gr

 αντίποδες

Sofronis Sofroniou’s Crude Iron is, it seems to me, unlike any other novel written in the Greek language. What makes it so special? A concise answer would be threefold: its style, its use of intertextuality and the breadth of its scope. […] The plot pivots around a daring yet perfectly articulate case in

point: after death, all –or perhaps some– of us are taken to another planet where we experience Little

Life, a physical postmortem life spanning ten years. The book follows part of a New York chess player’s

trajectory in Little Life, after he meets his violent death in 1948. […] Whether describing inhospitable

jungles, flatlands filled with giant statues, or inconceivable architectures, whether telling of innumerable bundles of bed linen being set ablaze, or speaking of acts under gunpoint or sudden disappearances, the book maintains an uninterrupted “matter-of-fact” tone. Irrespective of the improbable or

uncanny events that take place there, the planet of Little Life is but yet another place as are, for instance, the the East Coast of US or any place in Europe.

–Foivos Panagiotidis (University of Cyprus, Chair of the Department of English Studies)

The language is extremely idiosyncratic, fragmentary even; the narration creates expressionistic images of combustible fervor with a wealth of intertextual references placed within the work. Sofroniou

has no qualms about transgressing the limits of narrativity and conjoining disjointed times, places,

and stories funnelled down through History. In effect, in Crude Iron Sofroniou dives into a darkness

that only Hieronymus Bosch could ever have visualized.

–Dionysis Marinos, bookpress.gr

The literary world eagerly awaited his next step, and it came with Crude Iron, a novel that is different

in structure, style, and language than his first one. It challenges the boundaries of narrativity and

probes into memory and its fragmentation by the contemporary forms of technology through the

prism of neurosciences.

–Giorgos Savvinidis, Phileleftheros newspaper

Sofroniou borrows the use of ‘intervals’, the transitions between frames, from early 20th century soviet cinema, which add movement between the episodes he describes. His writing gains kinetic and

thermal energy, changing rhythms and temperatures as it progresses creating worlds where the mind

is left to sway in volumes of text, memories and images. The form of the book seems to be mimicking

the content and its structure is modelled on the structures of the brain, an unusual achievement based

on the author’s experiences in neuroscience. In addition, accompanying this style, is a sustained musicality that permeates the text and its sonic elements accompany the reader throughout. The book

reads like a detailed musical score, sometimes generating an intentional cacophony of sounds and

memories and other times as a carefully orchestrated composition.

–Seta Ak, OKW Magazine

Crude Iron in its entirety deals with this obsession of the contemporary individual to be forever

young. This futile and conceited effort results in a time and a narrative capacity that are both disrupted and warped.

-Giorgos Pinakoulas, Neo Planodion

 αντίποδες

TRANSLATION SAMPLE

  1. 7-12

Translator: Argyro Nicolaou, Ph.D.

Translator’s introduction

When a chess player is fatally shot in New York’s Union Square, he is transferred to the planet of

Little Life, where he gets ten more years to live. Shortly after his arrival, he is tasked with reconstructing 4001, a novel by Austrian author Robert Krauss, and embarks on a search to find out

whether Krauss is on Little Life himself. Through a series of striking episodes, Crude Iron takes

the reader on a delirious journey spun in the vertigo of memory, literature, and cinema.

Part surrealist novel and part a science-fictive exploration of memory, Crude Iron “directly references a Kafkaesque penal colony” in the form of a gargantuan mnemonic construction “as chaotic as the flood of memory itself.” Sofroniou’s novel breaks with the dominant trend of historical

fiction in contemporary Greek literature, taking place instead in an environment untouched by

history or politics as we know it. On Little Life, the act of remembering is doomed to co-exist with

the inexorable progression of time and the anarchic transformation that human perspective,

technology, and art impose on the act of recollection. According to one critic, Crude Iron “is a

dystopian representation of a distant future: J. G. Ballard meets William S. Burroughs.”

Crude Iron confronts the translator with a writing style that is both naturalistic and stripped bare

of embellishments, even as the world it describes is complex, expansive, and unknowable. The

translation that follows is largely a literal one, since Sofroniou’s text is purposefully sparse with

figurative language, taking liberties only for the purpose of orienting the first-time reader (just

enough) within the unique world of Little Life. The real translation challenge lay in sustaining the

characteristic, matter-of-fact tone of the novel’s narrator, while simultaneously conveying the estranging, and often dizzying, situations that Sofroniou’s writing conjures so successfully.

Crude Iron was published in 2018 by Antipodes, an Athens-based, boutique publishing house

founded in 2014. It follows Sofroniou’s debut novel, Πρωτόπλαστοι [The First-Made] (Rodakio,

2015), which was awarded the State Prize for Literature by the Republic of Cyprus and the Menis

Koumandareas Prize for Best New Novelist by the Hellenic Authors’ Society in 2016. Argyro

Nicolaou is a Cypriot writer and filmmaker based in New York City. She received her Ph.D. in

Comparative Literature from Harvard University in November 2018.

The excerpt that follows is from the novel’s opening sections.

 αντίποδες

I was a chess player at Union Square. I can tell you with certainty that that was what I did, that

was my profession right before I left Earth. I would sit there for hours, trying to convince

passersby to join me for a game. To every person rushing past me who’d whisper they couldn’t

play chess well enough I’d say: “In ten minutes you will be at least two times better than you are

now. If you aren’t, I don’t deserve sitting at this table!” I wasn’t in it for the money; I had money.

The afternoon I was shot I was close to sixty-six; now I am twenty-nine. I intend to spend the last

few months I have left here, on Little Life, at a square similar to Union Square: Trines or Siècle.

I know they are looking for me. From what I understand they are using every means to find me,

but I think I might be able to get away from under their noses if I hide in plain sight, somewhere

outside, ideally seated in front of a chess board. How I would love to trick those who so shamelessly deceived us one last time before I go!

I died on May 5th 1948. When I reached Little Life I found myself in a dim-lit room. I found a

door and opened it; it was light out. In my naked state, I awkwardly stopped a man walking by to

ask him where I was: a neighborhood in Brasceno. He turned towards a slim metal column and

pressed a button; in no time, three young women approached me. I was not embarrassed; I didn’t

even try to hide. After dressing me, they explained what was going on. I accepted everything

without resisting. One might even say I was excited, relieved. I was twenty again and – like everybody else upon arrival here – had ten whole years of life ahead of me.

They said that they would give me a place to live, but that first we had to visit some of the area’s

Committees. I followed them, confused. The first Committee we visited, which met in a green

lobby, was made up of ten people discussing the subdivisions of a protein. I didn’t understand

much of what they were saying. The second Committee was studying the mixture of polystyrene

and iron, while another was in the process of analyzing an economic system that would be applied – provisionally – on Little Life. Finally, we visited a Committee that was convening at the far

end of a park. Seven men were keeping busy with the re-composition of written works. I learnt

that their job was to collect evidence of various literary works from Earth, with the objective of

re-writing them, trying to be as faithful to the original as possible. That was when I heard the

name of Robert Krauss for the first time. One of the Committee’s members, he was almost thirty

at the time, was loudly proclaiming that Krauss had written the most important work of German

literature this century. Some of the other members responded with indignation. They argued that

their colleague’s assessment was an exaggeration to say the least; that it insulted Kafka, Mann,

Musil, Döblin. I knew more about Kafka than the rest. I had read his works in German while I was

still on Earth. Without realizing, I began mumbling the opening sentence of The Metamorphosis:

“One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from a troubled dream, not just any dream, he found

himself transformed in his bed, not the floor, into an enormous insect, not just a big insect!” one

of the men corrected me, a smug smile on his face.

I was deemed proficient enough to take up the recomposition of the novel 4001 by Robert Krauss.

The requirement was to train at Brasceno’s central university for six months. Most of the committee’s members claimed that I needed at least one year of training, but the man who corrected me,

whom the others referred to as ‘Professor’, insisted that the project was already delayed and reminded them that I also had to participate in Memory Restoration Month before starting. 4001

 αντίποδες

had a score of nine out of ten on the Literary Recomposition Scale of Difficulty. Before they let my

chaperones take me away, I heard them say that 4001 “is a text full of wisdom, an ocean of intellectual revelations, extremely hard to classify as a genre, more a work of philosophy – or science!”

I was then escorted to a house to get some rest.

I slept well, like most new arrivals do in Brasceno.

I suppose my experience of Memory Restoration Month was similar to that of most of you. I put

a lot of earnest effort into trying to remember as much as I could from my life on Earth. I don’t

think it was so strange for me to cooperate: those of us who were quite old when we died on Earth

have double the appetite to remember when we get here. Think about it: before leaving Earth our

skin was saggy, our bones and muscles weak. We arrived on Little Life to realize that our body was

young again. It is a heartening feeling, to say the least.

I would say that I even enjoyed myself during that month. Despite being incapable of thoughts

and emotional expressiveness – didn’t they say this is normal for newcomers? – I found many

things funny: for example, when they asked me about the kind of phonetic articulation used by

an actress in a specific chocolate advertisement on American TV. Other times, when they probed

me about my personal life, asking about my wife’s passing or my relationships with colleagues, I

felt something close to intimacy or nostalgia. One of the interviewers, who had a soft spot for big

cities and well-built women, often ignored protocol and – very discretely, I must admit – asked

me questions about those very subjects. Talking to him relaxed me: the effort of recollecting every

piece of memory from a sixty-year-long life on Earth is not easy.

By the end of the Month, they had assessed most of my memories with over seventy percent accuracy. They told me that the clarifications I had given with regards to certain events, such as the

positions of each of the important figures in Arthur Leipzig’s photograph capturing a game with

sticks and ball played on a New York street; the US President’s first public address during the

heatwave of 1936; and the length of the tunnel opened to the public a few short days before my

death, had helped them build on bits of general knowledge already in their Archive. I couldn’t for

the life of me tell why my mind had held onto these minutiae.

While I was testifying in front of the various committees, I often thought of that Hitchcock film

where a man nicknamed Mr. Memory stands in a room full of people claiming that he has memorized countless bits of every sorts of information. He wows the audience by displaying the far

reaches of his recollection. The committees are desperate for people with photographic memory.

This I would find out firsthand much later.

When Memory Restoration Month was over they sent me to a house near the place where I first

appeared. They asked me not to leave the neighborhood until a group that had already worked on

Krauss paid me a visit. The house, they added, was mine. It is a two-story building at the foot of

Deekam Hill, on Brasceno’s north side. Now, I’m in Brasceno again, in a basement I broke into a

 αντίποδες

few days ago. Here I am recording my final report – which must reach you at all costs - using a

tape recorder and thousands of meters of magnetic tape. I came back to Brasceno a week ago. Out

of the nine and a half years I have spent on Little Life, I only lived here for a year at most. I managed to drive the fear out from within me and made the choice early on – as I have already mentioned – to follow the adage that says you can hide better under your enemy’s very nose than in

the precarious calmness of an unknown place. It is almost 1958. I will die in May. The neighborhood has changed quite a bit, but it still resembles Berlin’s city center as it was before the war. I

believe they placed me here because when I first arrived on Little Life the same man that insisted

I join the Krauss project – the ‘Professor’ – had come to the conclusion that on Earth I was more

of a German than anything else.

I was born in America in 1882. My parents were from the South. They migrated to New York in

  1. I learnt German working with my father at a Chelsea slaughterhouse owned by two German families. I started working there when I was fifteen and went to high school in the same part

of town. At eighteen, I was admitted to New York University as an English Literature major, where

I continued learning German and took classes in Classical Greek and Latin. Between the wars, I

traveled to Germany several times. Eventually, I became Professor of Language and Literature at

my alma mater. When the committee picked me for the Krauss re-composition project, I thought

they did so based on my knowledge and professional experience.

Five days after my appearance on Little Life, I had a visit from two men and two women: Mikael,

Joachim, Bonadea and Andrema. The two men and Bonadea told me they were twenty-five, while

the other woman, Andrema, said she had passed twenty-nine. She had only eleven months left.

The four of them were part of a recomposition team. In the early days of their career on Little Life

they had completely recreated two short stories by Chekhov, Kant’s treatise On the Miscarriage of

All Philosophical Trials in Theodicy and a text by Bakunin. Krauss, they said, wasting no time, had

died on 15th April 1942, at age sixty-one, but his name was nowhere to be found in the official

records of Little Life. “He is considered a disparu. Whether this is because of some coincidence or

because of ideological reasons, we cannot be sure,” Mikael and Joachim said.

There is an unwritten rule that those who died on Earth but do not show up in Brasceno’s archives

should not be talked about. My visitors, however, had the courage to use terms such as “ideological reasons” and “coincidence”, and also to speak of something unfathomable: the possibility that

these people never got to Little Life. When I arrived here in 1948, they taught us that more and

more people coming from Earth would be located faster, even if they first appeared in the most

inaccessible and remote parts of our planet. Tracking down the new arrivals equals their automatic, and official, registration to the ten-year cycle of life here. They also taught us that in some

decades, the technology would exist that would allow the constant surveillance of eighty percent

of open and almost fifty-five percent of enclosed spaces on Little Life. It doesn’t seem to matter

that our planet’s surface area is more than four billion square kilometers – eight times bigger than

that of Earth.

My visitors then moved on to more practical matters: since Krauss died in April 1942, if he was

 living some place on Little Life, he would be twenty-six and would have four more years left. This

meant that we, bearing in mind that I had to be trained for six months, had less than three and a

half years to track him down and get as much information about his novel as possible. They emphasized that the Literary Recomposition Committee had put me in charge of the mission and

that the team had come to my home to plan our efforts for locating the author.

Bonadea said that she wanted to continue working on recompositions and that she would help

me with the Krauss project. She felt it was important that she shared a name with one of his novel’s characters. Andrema volunteered to train me. It would be her final mission before going to

spend her last five months on Little Life on an island somewhere west of the Cedar continent that

resembled the island on which she was born.

 [Για το βιβλίο “Αργός Σίδηρος” του Σωφρόνη Σωφρονίου , εκδόσεις Αντίποδες]

I understand that Sofronis Sofroniou’s Crude Iron (Antipodes, 2017) is

unlike any other novel written in Greek and that assigning Crude Iron

under any recognisable literary genre would be quite a daunting task. To

wit, classifying it as a work of science fiction does little to help the reader

form any useful expectations about the book. Actually, the said prospective

reader can hardly be warned about what to expect before opening the

book, and what follows here does not aim towards tampering with this

uncertainty.

The story is predicated of a daring yet perfectly articulate premise: after

death, all—or perhaps some—of us are taken to another planet where we

experience Little Life, a physical postmortem life spanning exactly ten

years. The book follows part of a New York chess player’s trajectory in

Little Life after he meets a violent death in 1948. I shall leave the rest to

the reader.

So, what makes Crude Iron so special? A concise answer would be

threefold: its style, its use of intertextuality and the breadth of its scope.

First of all it is worth noting that the book is written in an unpretentious

manner, eschewing syntactic acrobatics and free of sophisticated verbiage.

It may be read as what one might call a “regular story”, which flows

effortlessly. The otherworldly but deceitfully quotidian location in which

the plot unfolds, a planet not unlike Earth where the Earth’s deceased have

an additional term of ten years to live, is described in a sober and

unassuming manner, like one would talk of their own neighbourhood.

At the same time the narration of the otherworldly events that occur in the

above surroundings is straightforward, too; hence the style never becomes

contrived or densely ornamental, and the story paces as if it were about an

excursion or a weekend spent in a nearby town. In sum, both the

description and the narration are nonchalant, free from acrobatics and

pretence, while Sofroniou’s prose stays clear of linguistic or encyclopaedic

posing.

This simplicity is definitely deceitful. Better said, it is the product of

detailed and arduous artifice. The book owes part of its charm to the fact

that the Little Life it describes is not rendered as a magical land, as is the

case in Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz. Neither is it a utopian

 dreamland nor an Orwellian or Huxleyan dystopia, nor even an all-toofamiliar allegorical ‘elsewhere’ – as is often the case in science fiction.

Whether describing inhospitable jungles, flatlands sprouting giant statues

or inconceivable architectures, whether telling of setting ablaze

innumerable sheets on clothes lines, or speaking of cunnilingus under

gunpoint and sudden disappearances, the book maintains an uninterrupted

matter-of-fact tone. Irrespective of the improbable or uncanny events that

take place there, the planet of Little Life is just another ordinary place, as

are for instance the East Coast of US or Central Greece. The simplicity and

accessibility of the text, albeit emerging through a process that ultimately

aims to defamiliarize, are reminiscent of Bolaño’s 2666.

Having said that, the fineness of Sofroniou’s textual filigree technique and

its overall eloquence are also brought out on the intertextual level. Of

course contemporary literature is often manifestly intertextual and

sometimes blatantly so, unabashedly exposing its intertexts. Hence,

expansive works of fiction written in the manner of Joyce’s Ulysses are

common in today’s prose writing. In these texts a number of voices,

narrators, and narrative foci coexist while the texts themselves are often

compiled of fragments belonging to a variety of genres (letters, diaries,

press cuttings, ‘ordinary’ narratives, etc.), and narrative conventions are

often broken. Indeed, some of these features are encountered in The

Progenitors, Sofroniou’s kaleidoscopic and award-winning debut work of

fiction (The Progenitors, Rodakio, 2015).

However, Crude Iron moves beyond this method, which we often call

postmodern despite the fact that it is deeply rooted in modernism. Crude

Iron is a coherent and cohesive text although it contains some metadiegetic

narratives; it is a text in which intertexts are not just integrated but, on the

contrary, they are set in distinct threads to be weaved together with those

of other intertexts. Nevertheless following the story requires no familiarity

with these intertexts: the heroine Bonadea, for instance, alludes to Musil’s

The Man Without Qualities but nothing is lost to the reader who is

unknowing of this or who fails to recognize it.

Generally, instead of using excerpts, bits and pieces, or even threads from

other texts to weave his own text—a text that would proclaim its textuality,

as per the ‘postmodern’ custom —Sofroniou tends to use threads and

allusions to assemble an entire world in which the reader is led to believe

that the story is casually happening. Occasionally, one recognises movie

 scenes, literary themes, or allusions, yet Sofroniou lets none of the above

distract the reader from the story—a peculiar adventure told as if it were

an excursion or a weekend getaway in a nearby city.

The laborious textual filigree involved in the composition of the novel is

by no means limited to intertextual references and allusions or to the

inclusion of imagery and situations contributing to the construction of a

world, namely the world of Little Life with its 53 continents, its

geographies, and its history. To wit, the work consists of three parts and by

the end of the first part, which I almost read at one fell swoop, I still hadn’t

figured out exactly what was going on. In fact, I never did fully figure out

what is going on in Sofroniou’s novel. Yet, the text gradually revealed

itself to me: it revealed its brain-like structure, viz. its complexity and

exceptionally numerous synapses on the microscopic level, which are

gradually organised so as to form an organ with a far more evident

structure on a macroscopic level.

I am unaware of anything like Crude Iron ever having been written in the

Greek language. In English one could perhaps think of De Lillo and

Pynchon, but in their oeuvre—especially Pynchon’s—the reader keeps

stumbling upon the hardness and the tortuous density of the text. If I must

compare Crude Iron with a work of fiction, the first and fifth parts of 2666

come to mind, as well as Aris Alexandrou’s Mission Box, possibly the

greatest Greek novel of the 20th century.

Affinities with Alexandrou’s Mission Box are nevertheless also to be found

in the third factor that makes Crude Iron both special and important: the

actual breadth of its scope. Just like in the case of Mission Box, the topic of

Crude Iron is of universal relevance and the book discusses it in a way that

enables ideas and interpretations to beam out in a prismatic fashion.

Let me elaborate on this. Modern Greek literature suffers from

parochialism. Greek novels mainly deal with history and the Modern

Greek identity, when they do not concern themselves with abstract

genealogies, with the quest for an elusive collective uniqueness, or with

the vindication of this or the other tradition. Surely, as Milan Kundera

points out in his Rideau, parochialism is one’s inability, or reluctance, to

place their culture (their ‘civilisation’ or their ‘tradition’) within a broader

context. This is the reason why the great or not so great American novels

 of the 20th and of the 21th century, sometimes obsessed with baseball and

trite aspects of American TV culture, sometimes detailing life in 6 or 7

Manhattan blocks or in some Midwestern town lost in the cornfields,

hardly reek of parochialism: dealing with the very local, with matters of

identity and with what is particular, they strive to talk about the world, the

human condition and what is universal. After all bland cosmopolitanism

has never been of any true consequence. This is precisely where the

problem with most of Modern Greek prose lies: tradition and what is local

and particular are not implements shedding light on what is universal or

essential, which would render them valuable, but are used to discuss the

purported unbroken historical continuity of a nation, a small group of

people.

In The Progenitors Sofroniou attempted to place the small world of Cyprus

and the rather larger world of New York in a broader context. In Crude

Iron he achieves this by inserting multiple localities and many identities,

all unique and distinct from one another. Fortunately, this does not lead to

some sort of a multicultural pandemonium, precisely because on the planet

of Little Life all identities and localities are experienced through the

condition of migration or of remembrance. Meanwhile, Little Life is far

more than the destination of migration; it is also that of postmortem exile.

In Crude Iron people’s identities and localities are nothing more than mere

recollections of life before death. Over the course of the imperfect and

limited span of Little Life these are recalled with varying degrees of

reliability. Finally, all localities and identities in the novel are brought

together under the small umbrella of Western Civilization: its failures,

obsessions, and crimes; they are also sheltered under the broader umbrella

of the human brain and of the human mind, the latter either created or

hosted by this tree-like shaped organ. In this sense, it is no coincidence

that in one of the continents of Little Life a huge mechanical brain is

buried upside-down in the ground.

In a nutshell, Crude Iron is the most important Greek novel the 21st

century has given us in its 18 years.

Phoevos Panagiotidis, University of Cyprus, Department of English Studies, Chair

 Sofronis Sofroniou

The Progenitors

Publ. To Rodakio, 2015

Review Excerpts:

I think it’s been years since I last read a book written in Greek and come out feeling so

euphorically content. The Progenitors (ed. by To Rodakio) has functioned as a spiritual

trigger for looking into people and situations. Its composite plot makes it look like a

puzzle where you are called upon to piece together fragments and heroes. The setting is

the author’s island of origin, Cyprus, but also New York and Holland. Breathing next to

fictional characters are personalities such as Hieronymus Bosch, Archbishop Leontios of

Cyprus, Marika Papagkika, poets Francois Villon and Arthur Rimbaud – so skillfully

indeed that fiction blurs into reality… Politics, art and philosophy are touched upon either

directly or indirectly, realism clashes with metaphysics, innocence with guilt, paganism

with Christianity – not without hinting at a conspiracy theory. And if all this sounds

chaotic, like an improvised jazz melody, just remember that some of these music pieces

have acquired mythical status.

-Demetris Mastroyannites, Athens Voice, 2016

In The Progenitors, the fruit of a precociously conquered maturity, Sofroniou succeeds in

interweaving different techniques and themes of postmodern literature with shapes and

patterns of traditional fiction to seamlessly make up an integral whole. Exceptionally

adept with both traditions, the author knows how to put them into a wondrous use.

-Yiorgos Pinakoulas, “Bookpress” periodical, 2016

  Sofronis Sofroniou

    has succeeded not only in conjoining heterogeneous primary sources

but mainly in breathing life into stories of either real or fictitious persons – and

with a wealth of references from painting, music, literature, harmoniously incorporated

into the main body to deliver a spaceless, timeless novel.

-Vasiliki Christi, “Diavasame” periodical, 2016

I would characterize Sofronis Sofroniou as “the most important Cypriot writer of his

generation” without the slightest exaggeration, but he is much more than that. He is a

first-time author who has written the best novel I have read in recent years, one that starts

utterly sneakily, in a relaxed, rather nonchalant manner before taking a firm hold of you so

unawares that by the time you finish it you are left wondering why on earth there’s

nothing about him in the Greek press; why hasn’t he been asked to give interviews, and

why isn’t his name splashed across the Cypriot and Greek press. In The Progenitors he

revives Cyprus of the early 20th century as well as New York of the same period, revisiting

events and stories yielded through extensive research and a quest strongly suggestive of

scientific background.

Tasos Brekoulakis, LIFO, 2016

Without a doubt, the fictional width within which real and fictitious persons move and

meet is impressive, all the more so when arranged by a first-time author. Equally

impressive is the way he manages different narrative techniques as well as the polyphony

articulated as either third-person or first-person narrative.

-Elena Houzouri, “O Anagnostis” periodical, 2016

AWARDS & HONORS:

2016: Cyprus National Literature Award for the Novel “The Progenitors”

The novel of Sofronis Sofroniou under the allegorical title “The Progenitors”, achieves

with a formidable composing ability an original amalgamation of history with fiction,

action with myth, as a background to set the fundamental metaphysical and existential

questions of self-awareness and free consciousness. Pages from the past, such as the stay

of the poet Arthur Rimbaud in Cyprus in 1878, are combined with the stories of modern

day Cypriots, the visit of the American ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax to the island in

1937, the life of the future Archbishop Leontius in New York during the Harlem

Renaissance, with stories of friendship and violence, in an effort to discover the strings

 that move human actions. Responsibility is a central theme, which the writer stirs

symbolically at the imaginary level of fiction, by involving the painter Hieronymus Bosch

and his famous painting “The garden of earthly delights”, where God expels Adam and

Eve from Heaven and pushes them down the fall. How can this fall be suspended by free

will, and how can the human being gain salvation in a world that abrogates its

responsibilities?

2016: Best Newcomer Novelist Award for the novel “The Progenitors” - Athens

Academy & Greek Writers’ Association

The work of the writer which is honored by the Writers’ Society and the Athens Academy

with the best newcomer writer is a remarkable debut in fiction, an impressive and very

promising first appearance. Contrary to usual practice, the writer dares, from his very first

book, a large fictional composition and crafts a stunning mosaic of narratives, using the

most contemporary literary style and intertwining the local with the global. The author

has evidently toiled through years of research and investigation to eventually build an offcentre narrative that constantly balances on a tight rope between history and fiction,

reality and invention.

(The evaluation committee comprised of Thanasis Valtinos, writer and president of The

Academy of Athens, writer Mary Douka and writer and translator Achilleas Kyriakidis).

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