Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Q&A with Henriette Lazaridis




Henriette Lazaridis is the author of the new novel Last Days in Plaka. Her other books include the novel Terra Nova. She is the founder of The Drum literary magazine, and she teaches at GrubStreet in Boston.


Q: What inspired you to write Last Days in Plaka, and how did you create your characters Anna and Irini?


A: During the first summer of the pandemic, when no one could travel, I was very aware that I was likely not going to be able to see my friends and family in Greece for a very long time.


I missed them and Greece in general terribly, and I think that longing worked its way into my subconscious, along with a pervasive sense that our days were passing and we weren't able to do anything with them.


Hence, I wrote a novel set in Greece and involving characters who are thinking about time and about their last days. Anna and Irini came into my head almost all at once, which I still find strange, as it's not my usual way.


I had a family friend who was a very cosmopolitan person but who also went to church every Sunday. Given that regular church attendance in Greece is rare, I always found this intriguing, and so I gave this quality to Irini.


Anna came into being as Irini's foil, a lost young woman seeking meaning. While she and I are very different, I drew a little on my own experience of being bilingual and of pondering the question of belonging to two cultures. 


Q: How would you describe the dynamic between the two characters?


A: There's a shared dependence that develops between these two very different women. It begins as a sort of mentor-tutee relationship, with Irini imparting knowledge and wisdom to Anna who soaks it all up.


But soon, it becomes clear that Irini needs Anna at least as much as Anna needs her, leaning on the younger woman for social outings and for cash and for a quasi-maternal connection that I won't explain the importance of here!


Q: The writer Daphne Kalotay said of the book, “Lazaridis’ moving story opens into a consideration of faith and forgiveness as each woman examines how to apply the essential notion of grace to their complicated relationships.” What do you think of that description?


A: I love Daphne's description. I'm glad to see that she saw in the novel the elements I wanted to imbue the novel with.


For me, this novel is indeed about faith and forgiveness, and the limits of each of those. And it's also about different kinds of faith, faith placed in religious institutions, but also in cultural institutions, in acts of art, in community.


I think that's true for all the characters in the novel, including Father Emmanouil, and Oumer and Tamrat, the Ethiopian members of his tiny congregation.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: I hope they take away a sense of Athens as a place that's layered with cultural eras, and teeming with artistic creation of many kinds, and with people from all parts of the world.


I hope they come away from the book thinking about their own attitudes to the time that's passing and what they want to do with it.


And that they find themselves thinking about their own relationships with people from a different generation and how they weigh the burdens and the opportunities.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I'm revising a novel about a young woman physicist in 1970 whose mother disappeared when the young woman was a kid--a loss that shapes her desperate desire to defy entropy (which is impossible).


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: With my business partner Anjali Mitter Duva, I've co-founded Galiot Press, a publishing company that is re-envisioning every step of the publishing industry, from submissions to distribution. We're going live this spring!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Henriette Lazaridis.

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