Since the novel is all about translations and different kinds of writing, I was stoked when it was first translated and I’m even more stoked now that it’s come out in a different alphabet. My first intimation that there were alphabets other than the familiar Latin one came in my second year of primary school. We had just moved from Byron Bay to Adelaide and I started halfway through the school year. I wasn’t too worried about catching up on the work; I was already well-established as a nerd (I recently got a nice e-mail from my Year 1 teacher who remembered me dictating complete sentences), but I was a bit nervous about making new friends.
So my mother bundled me off with a big bag of cherries so the kids would like me—which may have been the kind of thing that worked in Byron but wasn’t going to cut any mustard at Goodwood Primary. It was a relief to come back to the classroom after that first lonely lunchtime—until I sat down and realised that I couldn’t read any of the writing on the blackboard. I really thought my brain had broken, I could dictate complete sentences and suddenly I couldn’t read a word. And I couldn’t understand how all the other kids were able to read the words aloud. Maybe the whole school was playing a horrible trick on me? No, they were just learning Greek, as they’d been doing all year.
In an earlier draft of the novel, Jack suffered from a condition called transient pure alexia, which is a temporary acquired inability to recognise the relationship between graphemes and phonemes, letters and sounds. My description of his condition was more or less exactly my experience in the Greek class. Even after Jack’s alexia had been cured by redrafting, the dissonance he experiences on first seeing the manuscript’s unreadable writing has a lot to do with my first exposure to another alphabet.
Anyway, the Livanis edition looks great and is dotted with little footnotes added by the translator: sometimes sourcing quotes, sometimes explaining English references, other times who knows. I’m dying to know exactly what the notes mean, but I’m certain that they’re completely apposite to the themes of the book. Many thanks to Rena Lekkou-Dantou for the translation.