Time moves in a spiral, as each birth or death is connected to the ones before it and the ones after it. The old stories and the old ways are still very much alive – change is only just about to come. In the mountains of northern Greece, not so far from her hometown of Thessaloniki, Zyranna Zateli set these ten tales: At Twilight they Return. David Connolly, from the same adopted hometown, has made a wonderfully idiomatic translation, published a few weeks ago by Yale University Press.
The stories of this ever-expanding clan interweave with the myths of their ancestors and sagas of the gods, to comic and tragic effect.
Birth and death could not be more closely interlinked, which is far from surprising in a time when so many women died in childbirth.
Going back to normal, the cycle begins again, always the same but always different, and closely bound to the turn of the seasons and the natural environment.
Only at the very end of the book do the times start to change – the Macedonian conflict of the 1900s sweeps into the family’s life:
Like the people and languages that populate them, like any family’s stories, the tales in these book blend together. It’s easy to mix up great aunts and new babies with the same names, not so easy to separate the generations, or ‘reality’ from legend. There are some extraordinary, tragic, vicious, dark and delightful characters. For some stories, once is enough, but you won’t forget them in a hurry: what Lily did to Orhan, for example, or the man in the walnut tree, or the baby that flew into the holly bush. But how Julia got her blue sandals, or Eftha and the snakes, or the day the grownups went to school – those ones are worth retelling again and again.