Home > 2010, 21st Century, Book Club, Christos, Greek Literature, Highly Recommended, Ikonòmou, Short Stories > Something Will Happen, You’ll See by Christos Ikonòmou – a trip to a Greek working class neighborhood

Something Will Happen, You’ll See by Christos Ikonòmou – a trip to a Greek working class neighborhood

January 12, 2020 Leave a comment Go to comments

Something Will Happen, You’ll See by Christos Ikonòmou (2010) French title: Ça va aller, tu vas voir. Translated from the Greek by Michel Volkovitch.

Something Will Happen, You’ll See by Christos Ikonòmou is our Book Club read for January. It’s a collection of short stories published in 2010 by a young Greek writer. According to the afterword from the French translator, Michel Volkovitch, most of the stories were actually written before 2008 and the subsequent Euro crisis in Greece.

All the stories are set in a blue-collar neighborhood of Athens. The characters are employees, factory workers, dockers or unemployed. They all struggle to survive in a world with a slow economy. Jobs are scarce, several characters have just been laid-off and they don’t have much hope to find something else soon. Even when they work, money is tight because they are in low-paid jobs (one works in an ice factory) and sometimes, their employer doesn’t have enough cash to pay everyone. They come home without pay.

Ikonòmou describes a country whose working class walks on the edge of a financial abyss. Several characters haven’t paid their rent for a few months, others couldn’t afford their mortgage. The ghost of eviction is at their door and steals their sleep. In several stories, the protagonists can’t sleep and invent various stratagems to keep insomnia at bay or survive the night. We all know how a small worry can become a huge issue after nightfall. They smoke, they stay on the stairs outside their building to monitor the street, they tell each other stories. A man talks to his spouse all night to lull her into sleep.

We see people who can’t afford food. We see a country where its senior citizens spend the night on the pavement in front of the community clinic because they want to be the first in the waiting line when the clinic opens the next day. A woman dies in the hospital because the person who brought her to the ER didn’t know her name and they couldn’t check whether she had insurance.

All the stories are bleak, the country seems to be about to crumble and indeed, it did a few years after Ikonòmou wrote these stories. Basic public services like drinkable tap water are not a sure thing.

We see a country with deep differences between the rich and the poor and no security net, which is common for a US reader but shocking for a European reader.

All the stories are bleak because of the characters’ circumstances but they are lit from inside by people’s love for each other. Spouses stay close, comfort and love each other. Friends take care of friends. Families try to help with small jobs or loans. The times are hard but the family unit stays strong and close-knit.

The people we meet here are breathless, holding their breath for what is yet to come or trying to catch their breath after another fortnight without wages. Their fear of tomorrow suffocates them. Some are hungry. A lot are nostalgic of the past. Most of them underwent forced changes in their lives: they had to move out of their house, to change of neighborhood, to accept a job only to make ends meet and pay the bills.

Men are raised to provide for their families and can’t anymore. They feel useless and it chips at their identity and maybe even at their sense of virility.

People have to survive and make the most of what they have. They live in the Piraeus neighborhood and Ikonòmou takes us there, in its street and by the sea.

Ikonòmou’s prose reflects his characters’ struggles. He alternates long and short paragraphs. Some sentences repeat themselves in a story, like thoughts are played on a loop in someone’s mind when they are sleepless with worry. The rhythm of the sentences mirrors the characters’ breathlessness, the way their financial worries choke them. Their hardship puts their sanity at stake. Ikonòmou shows a people beaten down by capitalism and a poor management of the country. They are bruised and battered by life but there’s still hope in love, friendship and solidarity.

Ikonòmou gives us a vivid picture of today’s Greece and I do recommend this collection of short stories.

  1. January 12, 2020 at 7:05 pm

    Sounds like an excellent collection, Emma. Greece is a country whose literature I’ve not really explored.

    Like

    • January 12, 2020 at 10:31 pm

      It’s worth reading and it’s quite short (220 pages in French, even less in English)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. January 12, 2020 at 10:10 pm

    I really like your description of the writer’s style, it sounds so effective. Like Kaggsy, I’ve not read much Greek literature, I really should explore it more.

    Like

    • January 12, 2020 at 10:30 pm

      It’s a style that sweeps you away, like a wind. I thought it was very effective to help the reader understand the mental stress that the characters felt. It gives you a sense of their helplesness.

      I have a recommendation for A Novella a Day in May: The Murderess by Papadiamantis. It’s excellent, if you haven’t read it yet.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. January 13, 2020 at 12:34 am

    I read this but never got round to reviewing it when archipelago published it a few years ago

    Like

    • January 13, 2020 at 2:31 pm

      Did it stay with you?

      Like

  4. January 13, 2020 at 12:35 am

    Sounds depressing. And yes it’s a familiar story here. More homeless than I have ever seen.

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    • January 13, 2020 at 2:33 pm

      A friend of mind visited San Francisco last year and said she was shocked by the homeless on the streets.

      Without a security net, things can go downhill pretty fast. And by security net, I mean proper unemployement compensation and what should be normal access to healthcare.

      Like

      • January 13, 2020 at 6:41 pm

        And so many homeless women. I never used to see that.

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        • January 13, 2020 at 10:05 pm

          Things have gotten worse and yet unemployment is low.
          At least, in the Greek case, they have a high unemployment and people are poor because they’re out of a job.
          There’s nothing worse than working and not earning enough to have a decent life.

          Like

  5. January 13, 2020 at 7:25 am

    It makes you wonder what it would take for the system to become fairer. As you say, this is not shocking in the US, but it is shocking in Europe. It would be better IMO if European standards of common decency spread to US indifference to the poor, and not the other way round.

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    • January 13, 2020 at 2:39 pm

      It takes goodwill from all the citizen to accept the idea that poor people aren’t poor on purpose and that reducing poverty is one of the State’s duties.

      But it also takes a State with an administration well-enough organized to raise and collect taxes properly. You need money to implement proper welfare.
      I’m not a specialist of Greece but I understood that their administration isn’t really efficient in collecting taxes…

      Like

  6. January 13, 2020 at 1:30 pm

    Like Kaggsy I’m not very familiar with Greek writers. If those stories were written before 2008, one can only wonder how people such as those depicted in the stories have managed over the last decade.

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    • January 13, 2020 at 2:45 pm

      I wondered about that too.
      There’s a vision of Greece during the 2010s crisis in crime fiction books by Petros Markaris: Liquidations à la grecque, Le justicier d’Athènes and Pain, éducation et liberté. Markaris gives his explanation of how the country came to that.
      They’re good. (not available in English, sadly but it’s not an issue for you)

      Like

  7. January 13, 2020 at 7:35 pm

    I went to a Center for the Art of Translation thing a few years ago where translator Karen Emmerich talked about this book while she was still working on it. Thanks for reminding me that I wanted to look into it when it got published (and I never did!).

    BTW, some of the Markaris novels are available in English now. I tried to hunt one of his works down a few years ago and failed, but it looks like I should try again.

    Like

    • January 13, 2020 at 10:22 pm

      It’s a good reminder, then. It must have been interesting to hear what she thought about the book.

      Michel Volkovitch also translates Petros Markaris into French. (There must not be an army of literary translators from the Greek into French anyway). Check them out, but I don’t think that these 3 particular Markaris, the ones about the 2008 crisis, are available in English. Some of his other books have been translated but not this one. But if you find them, let me know, I’ll advertise them here.

      Like

  8. January 15, 2020 at 1:05 am

    I went to Greece in 2017 and it wasn’t as poor as I thought it would be – of course tourists don’t see a lot – but our guides to Delphi and on Santorini were both archeologists who couldn’t otherwise get employment. I liked your answer to Lisa – more and more governments are making a virtue of collecting less tax, which of course suits the rich, and investment in the people -health and education which really do return dividends – goes by the board. I did buy one Greek author while I was there, Kostas Krommydas, very so-so. I much preferred Charmian Clift.

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    • January 15, 2020 at 10:12 pm

      The stories take place in a poor neighbourhood in Athens, not one tourists visit very often, I suspect.
      From what I understood during the Greek/Euro crisis, the Greek administration lacks efficiency in collecting taxes. I don’t think that they made tax cuts but that they don’t collect what they should.

      I’ve never heard of Kostas Krommydas and Charmian Clift. I’ll check them out.

      Like

    • January 21, 2020 at 9:07 am

      I think there is a huge difference between the islands and the main land.

      Like

      • January 21, 2020 at 9:45 pm

        That’s probably true.

        Like

        • February 7, 2020 at 10:38 pm

          From my experience living in Crete a few years ago and talking to people there, I think Caroline is right about the difference between the islands and the mainland. People in Crete were affected by the bad economy and economic crisis (e.g. pensioners with reduced benefits, highly educated young people working in low-paid retail jobs), but they often had extended families to support each other, and those families often had small plots of land, olive trees, sheep, etc., and expenses were low, so they could survive. And tourism brings in a lot of income too. In Athens, where people were more isolated and dependent on the decimated job market, it was much harder.

          Anyway, this collection sounds excellent! I remember you saying you were going to read this one, Emma, so I’m glad you can recommend it. I also enjoyed my recent Greek read, an older book by Nikos Kazantzakis called Freedom and Death, very different from this one I think. I’ll give this one a try, I think!

          Like

          • February 8, 2020 at 8:14 am

            It’s always easier to face a major crisis in the countryside than in town, mostly because you can grow food, which is something you can’t do in cities. (Well, now that there are experiments of growing vegetables in pots on sidewalks, put henhouses on the same sidewalks and hives on roofs, who knows?)

            It’s an excellent collection and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it even more than me because you’ve lived in Greece.

            Freedom and Death sounds great but phew! 655 pages. I’m not sure I’m ready for that right now.

            Like

  9. January 17, 2020 at 2:17 pm

    It does sound very good. Like others I do find myself wondering how much worse it might have got since. I used to do a fair bit of work in Greece, but in the financial/infrastructure space so I wouldn’t have been encountering these lives and areas.

    On the San Francisco tangent, I was pretty shocked myself at how bad things were there in terms of homelessness (both numbers and how they were treated).

    Like

    • January 19, 2020 at 9:34 am

      I imagine that it went worse for after te crisis. It shows that the roots of the problems were there and deep. I think you’d like this collection of short stories.

      Like

  10. January 17, 2020 at 3:33 pm

    So, interestingly he has written a separate post-crash collection. Good will come from the sea. It sounds pretty good too. Also, it’s published by Archipelago Press who seem pretty good.

    Like

    • January 19, 2020 at 9:37 am

      Thanks for mentioning this. It’s available in French too (Le salut viendra de la mer)
      I see on Goodreads that Guy has read it.

      Like

  11. January 21, 2020 at 9:06 am

    I just thought the other day I don’t think I ever read a book by a Greek author. This sounds excellent if a little depressing. It’s interesting that it was written before 2008 as it might help to understand how it developed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vishy
      January 21, 2020 at 11:11 am

      I have read one Greek author, I think. Please ask me who it is 😁

      Liked by 1 person

      • January 21, 2020 at 1:28 pm

        OK 😀 Who is it?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Vishy
          January 21, 2020 at 1:30 pm

          Homer 😁

          Liked by 1 person

          • January 21, 2020 at 1:33 pm

            Now I feel silly and realize – me too, I have read a Greek author as well.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Vishy
              January 21, 2020 at 1:42 pm

              I knew you had 😁 You have read all the classics 😊

              Liked by 1 person

              • January 21, 2020 at 2:15 pm

                Not exactly but many. Does apparently not guarantee a good memory 😉

                Liked by 1 person

    • January 21, 2020 at 9:49 pm

      Beside Homer, I really recommend Les petites filles et la mort by Papadiamantis. (The English is a spoiler) It’s stunning.

      Petros Markaris’s trilogy about the Greek crisis is good too. It’s crime fiction, it’s easy to read and it’s close to people’s lives.

      Liked by 1 person

      • January 22, 2020 at 8:05 am

        Thanks for the recommendations. I think I have one or two books on my piles, so will have to read those first but maybe later.

        Like

      • January 22, 2020 at 8:07 am

        I just remembered, I do have the Papadiamantis. I bought it after I read your review ages ago. In English.

        Like

        • January 22, 2020 at 10:59 pm

          I’m always happy to help others decrease their TBR. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  12. Vishy
    January 21, 2020 at 11:10 am

    Wonderful review, Emma! It looks like the stories depict some really tough times. I can’t imagine how it must have been. It is sad that people had to go through such tough times. Will add this to my TBR and will wait for a brave moment to read it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Like

    • January 21, 2020 at 9:51 pm

      It’s not a funny book but these books are necessary: it’s an excellent way to share human experience and help us see the people behind the statistics.

      Like

  1. February 1, 2020 at 2:01 am
  2. March 4, 2020 at 8:12 am

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