Rhea Galanaki

Eleni, or Nobody
'Set against the background of the momentous events that shaped nineteenth-century Greece, and Europe as a whole, Rhea Galanaki's novel is a beautifully written and profound exploration of the quest for identity.'


Rights Sold:
Czech, US English, Italian.
US edition forthcoming in February 2003 by Hydra Books, US.

This novel, Eleni, i o Kanenas (Agra, Athens, 1998), the third by one of Greece's most highly acclaimed contemporary writers, is based on the remarkable life of Eleni Altamoura, the first academically trained Greek woman painter. Born on the island of Spetses in 1821, the year of the Greek War of Independence, Eleni was the daughter of a wealthy sea-captain. Aged twenty eight, she decided to go abroad and study painting. But in mid-nineteenth century Europe, women rarely travelled alone, and were generally excluded from higher education. Eleni's solution was to crop her hair and dress as a man. In this disguise she reached Italy, began her studies and fell in love with the painter and revolutionary Saverio Altamoura, with whom she eventually had three children. To save her children from the stigma of illegitimacy, her parents forced her to marry Altamoura, and to change her religion in order to do so. The marriage soon ended their relationship. Abandoned by Altamoura, who took with him their youngest son, Eleni returned to Athens to teach painting. Twenty years later, she retreated to Spetses, where her two remaining children died of consumption: after their deaths she destroyed much of her work, and lived in mourning as a recluse for the rest of her life. Many local people regarded her as a witch. She died in the first year of the new century. Only recently has this astonishing woman been rediscovered, and her talent as a painter gained long-overdue recognition.

Set against the background of the momentous events that shaped nineteenth-century Greece, and Europe as a whole, Rhea Galanaki's novel is a beautifully written and profound exploration of the quest for identity - sexual, national, artistic - and the impossibility of achieving it. Written partly in the third person, partly in the first, the novel traces the metamorphoses that marked Eleni's life: from Greek to foreigner, from woman to man, from daughter to lover, from wife to mother. Using the voice of Eleni herself and the fragmentary recollections of those who knew her, Galanaki lends an epic quality to this fictional biography, powerfully evoking conflicts of a life torn between creation and destruction, reason and madness. It is a novel of extraordinary resonance, written with all the skills of a poet and a storyteller.

Eleni, or Nobody came second in the final selection for the 2000 Aristeion Literature Prize, with the Spanish poet José Hierro in first place, and John Banville third.








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