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I had already written the first draft of my novel, in which the action took place in classical Athens. I had seen it as a novel of suspense, with a supposed investigator of that period, Heracles Pontor, and a series of murders to be solved, and that was that. But then it occurred to me that if we imagined that the story had been written back in those days I would need a translator in order to "read" it, as with any other text in Greek. Just as I thought this, the figure of the Translator - still ghostly, still sketchy - was born in my mind.

And he came to life strongly: he wanted to "come into" the plot, he wanted to be included, come what may. But what did the Translator of a detective novel, however "historical" it might be, have to do with anything? It seemed to me that if I included him, my story would turn into something else. It might still be a thriller, and I might even still like it, but it would be another kind of story, much stranger than what I'd first imagined, much stranger than the plots of the other thrillers I'd read.

Since I was a little scared of this Translator, I decided to eliminate him, get rid of him, get him out of my head. But the Translator (about whom I still hadn't written a single word) refused to leave. "I'm not going," he told me. "You're going to have to create me and write me into your wonderful story, because I'm not going."

    -ESSAY: A character in search of an author: José Carlos Somoza was happy with his book - then the Translator arrived (José Carlos Somoza, 12/13/02, The Guardian)
Like an ogre, onion or parfait, this book has layers. I picked it up thinking it would be a Steven Sayloresque mystery, but set in Plato's Athens rather than Caesar's Rome. Indeed, that's how it starts. But the conceit here is that the story is being presented to us by a modern translator, who has taken over from another who struggled with the manuscript. This translator addresses us in footnotes, with references to his predecessor. Many of the notes direct us to the use of eidesis in the story, which is the use of words to try to create images. Here they appear to reference the twelve labors of Hercules. Not coincidentally, our investigator is Heracles Pontor, "Decipherer of Enigmas," who bears a certain resemblance to his namesake, Hercule Poirot. The translator has already become somewhat erratic in his search for deeper meanings in the text when characters in the story start to address him directly, as The Translator. When it is revealed that the original translator was killed in the same fashion as the first murder in the story, savaged by wolves, text and commentary really start to blur. Ultimately, Mr. Somoza turns his novel into a commentary on the role of the reader in creating, or at least participating in, what is written and read. It's much different than the book I anticipated, but he's having such obvious fun with it you can't help but be drawn in.


Grade: (B)


See also:

Jose Somoza Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Jose Carlos Somoza
    -AUTHOR SITE: (in Spanish)
    -DEFINITION: eidetic reduction (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -DEFINITION: The eidetic reduction: eidos (Phenomenology Online)
    -DEFINITION eidetic (
    -DEFINITION: eidetic (etymonline)
    -ESSAY: A character in search of an author: José Carlos Somoza was happy with his book - then the Translator arrived (José Carlos Somoza, 12/13/02, The Guardian)
    -AWARD: Ancient murder tale takes top Dagger award (Michelle Pauli, 7 Nov 2002, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of The Athenian Murders by Jose Carlos Somoza (Complete Review)
    -REVIEW: of Athenian Murders (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Athenian Murders (Laura Miller, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Athenian Murders (W. R. Greer, Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Athenian Murders (Judith Rice, The Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Athenian Murders (Sarah Weinman, January Magazine)
    -REVIEW: of Athenian Murders (Peter Guttridge, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Athenian Murders (Bibliophile, READING IN REYKJAVÍK)
    -REVIEW: of Athenian Murders (Christine Thomas, SF Gate)
    -REVIEW: of Athenian Murders (The Book Bag)
    -REVIEW: of Athenian Murders (Cynthia Giles, Medium)
    -REVIEW: of Athenian Murders (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Athenian Murders Rreview Stream)
    -REVIEW: of The Art of Murder by Jose Carlos Somoza (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Art of Murder (Complete Review)
    -REVIEW: of Art of Murder (Reviewing the Evidence)
    -REVIEW: of Zig Zag by Jose Carlos Somoza (Kirkus)

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