‘When I die, you will write a book about me…’

Saturday, October 15, 2011

 

[Originally posted by my Mom last May 7, 2008, I re-post this now, in celebration of the great effort she has taken -- together with my older sister -- to bring this project into fruition. Had Dad been around, he would have teased her that he could not have imagined how she would be able to do it. But in his heart he would already have known that her steely determination would have meant that no hurdle was too great. Last September we launched Dad's book of poetry, a labor of love from our family, but perhaps for no one greater than the one he had loved above all for 46 years.]

Bent over your notebooks and your letters, my Nikos, I am struggling to crystallize your many-faceted image–so precise and yet so elusive–for those who love you through your books. From what angle can I evoke you without betraying you? Everything you preached, everything you longed for, everything you were, I rediscover in these papers that have already turned yellow, crackling like a fine film of ice on an autumn pond. Long silences broken only by the rhythmic puffing on your pipe; voluble monologues in the company of those you loved; your extraordinary gift for unlocking the most tightly shut souls, for acting as confessor to friends, to friends of our friends, even to people met by chance in the anonymous streets, even to those village idiots whom no one but you could get to express themselves.

You went out to buy the newspaper or post a letter, and came back to me loaded like a mailman, your sack full of tales. I would take the same path, meet the same faces, but return empty-handed. And when you were riveted to your worktable, your hand poised in the air, still armed with its pencil, it was you who would tell me something to make me laugh.

Unity and clarity in the depths of the waters, remaining always calm, even if the storm ruffled their surface, even if for a passing moment your face might become contorted, your voice hoarse.

How can I manipulate the words, how stretch them, fit them, make them supple and obedient, cram tenderness and harshness into them without their exploding, and so find a way of making them capable of embracing you?

“When I die, you will write a book about me…”

“No, no, no! That would require a writer of talent.”

“You will write a book about me, Lenotschka! You will do it. For they will say so many inaccurate things. And you are the only person who knows me well!”

How often I swore I would not do it. And then?

And then, I would never have done it–or, to tell the whole truth, I would have abandoned the task halfway through–had I not found one night among the scrap papers a bit of your handwriting, hastily scribbled in pencil It was the first draft of an outline for my book.

And so here I am, put to the test. Not to construct a novel; that I could do and even with ease. To describe you, to squeeze you and pin you down with a gold needle, as if I were pinning a butterfly. And all the while I am rebelling against it. For I love butterflies, and I like to imagine them fluttering above my head, defying capture.

Preface to Nikos Kazantzakis: A Biography Based On His Letters, by Helen Kazantzakis. Translated by Amy Mims. Donald S. Ellis/Creative Arts Book Co. Berkeley/1983

 

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