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Something Will Happen, You'll See by Christos Ikonomou

Beautifully translated by Karen Emmerich, Something Will Happen, You’ll See is a modern Greek tragedy. Telling the stories of ordinary people whose lives have been destroyed by Greece’s economic crisis, it echoes the classical tragedies in form, while using completely modern language that captures a moment of utter sorrow, betrayal and hopelessness.

The smell of halva spreads through the house and for a moment disguises the smell of Friday and the smell of loneliness and the smell of the malicious poverty that is slowly and silently and confidently gnawing at Ellie’s dreams and strength and life – and those of anyone who lives to work, who is born and lives and dies for work. For a handful of bills.

The stories stand on their own, but read in their entirety they give a nuanced sense of the despair that invades the hearts and minds of the characters. As they lose their jobs, their homes, their loved ones, or as they huddle together around a fire for warmth and companionship, or as they cling to each other in fear of the night and the coming storm of bankruptcy, the stories look inward, at their selfishness, and their helplessness. A woman climbs into bed with a man-shaped halva, eating him as revenge. Five men tell stories around a fire as they try to escape the cold night and the fear that comes with it. A man collects his father from jail. A couple tells fairytales as their neighbors remove the walls of their home, stone by stone. A young man stands watch over the neighborhood, guarding his mother and sister from threats of rape and murder. As the desperation of poverty chips away at their humanity, the people cling to a sense of control over their own fate. Meanwhile, a storm is coming; the wind picks up, it starts to rain, and a Christmas tree is swept off a balcony.

He’s drenched, dripping all over as if every pore in his skin is an eye and every eye is crying. It’s raining harder. Raining with hatred, like a punishment. Lightning keeps flashing across the sky. It’s like there’s a war on up there – light warring with darkness. A war. Light battling to enter the world and someone battling to shut it out, to seal up all the cracks, to sink the world in darkness.

The writing hooked me from the first page; it is lyrical, poetic, and emotionally devastating. Reminiscent of the greek chorus, motifs, phrases, and entire passages are echoed and repeated; each time with new meaning and overwhelming effect. The brewing storm, the repeated motif of fear of the night – these images become charged with emotional symbolism that captures a moment of pain in a nation’s psyche.

And parents will tell their children stories about strange people who once lived and died for a handful of cash and the children will listen with their mouths hanging open and all these things will seem magical and unreal.

The characters are easy to empathise with, although they are, for the most part, utterly unlikable. Perhaps I didn’t like them because they were too human, too flawed, too real. This book felt unforgivingly honest. As they feel betrayed by those who are supposed to protect them – the officials who place useless recycling bins on the streets rather than working to solve the problems they face; looking busy but failing to do anything real – the characters resent those who are able to succeed, and claw at each other for scraps. A stream of consciousness style makes the voices blend together into a single song of poverty. The improvised nature of this makes it all the more convincing; it echoes the hysteria that is slowly brewing. But there is also a thread of faith, of solidarity despite the fear. So often, the voices change from “I” to “We”, from “me” to “us”, and the sense of community gives a semblance of hope.

We talk and talk and the more we talk the better I understand that what binds us together are the things we’re afraid of and the things we hate. How did we end up like this? Where did all the hatred and fear come from, can you tell me? And the more time passes the worse things get. Some days I see things that make me want to kill someone. My lord. I went through hell on the ships all those years but I never felt a thing like that. Never. But now it’s too much. I’m drowning, you know? Drowning.

This is such a powerful, devastating little book. I couldn’t put it down; it is an accident from which I could not tear myself away. As the storm slowly blows in; as the sun sets and the darkness creeps over the islands; as the people stifle their sorrows in alcohol and cigarettes, or cling to each other out of fear; as the world is destroyed, piece by piece, until nothing remains, the voices in this book cry to be heard. It is definitely worth reading.