Last week my Book of the Week was Sally Purcell's evocative translation of Nikos Gatsos's Amorgos, about which I thought I'd give you a bit more information.

In 1943, with Greece in the grip of a crippling famine and groaning under Nazi occupation, Gatsos published his major work, the epic poem Amorgos. Written in one night of intense, concentrated effort, Amorgos was a surrealist stream-of-consciousness, a profoundly mysterious and magnetic incantation, a paean of despair and hope, celebratory and bitter, whose seismic cultural influence reverberates to this day. Much admired by the Nobel laureates Odysseus Elytis and George Seferis (both published by Anvil), it reshaped the Greek poetic tradition but, amazingly, was Gatsos's only work.

Gatsos was born in the village of Asea in Arcadia, likely on December 8, 1911 (though some accounts hold 1914). He spoke several languages and studied at the School of Philosophy in Athens.

The legendary Greek composer Manos Hadjidakis adapted a portion of Amorgos in a rembetika song and Gatsos soon became the premier lyricist in Greek popular music. Working with friends like Hadjidakis, Nana Mouskouri, and Mikis Theodorakis (who adapted Odysseus Elytis’s Axion Esti), Gatsos spearheaded the renaissance of Greek popular music in the postwar era. Well versed in English, French and Spanish, he translated poetry and plays by Lorca, O’Neill, Strindberg, Lope de Vega, Genet and Tennessee Williams into Greek. He died in Kifissia in 1992.

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