Alexakis V. (1989), Paris-Athènes, Paris: Le Seuil
Vassilis Alexakis was born in Athens in 1943 and, at the age of seventeen, went to Lille (France) to study journalism. Since then, he has divided his life into two capital cities, Athens and Paris (to which he moved in 1968, because of the Greek military junta) or, more accurately, into two different cultures. He’s possibly the most famous Greek author whose works are written and published primarily in a “foreign” language, French, and then self-translated into his “mother” tongue, Greek.
Self–translation is the translation of a text into a target language by the writer of the source text. Two of the most famous and widely studied cases of self–translators are those of Samuel Beckett (with English and French as his language combination) and Vladimir Nabokov (between Russian and English). Self–translation is an extremely interesting field for both a researcher in Theory of Translation and a reader, who knows both languages. Self–translation might be the ideal type of translation: who can better transfer the ideas and the words of a book, than its own writer?
Paris-Athènes is an autobiographical novel in which Alexakis, by narrating some segments of his life, takes the occasion to try and answer the following question: “Who am I?”. I put “foreign” and “mother” into brackets before, because these terms are hard to define. How can a language be considered foreign when someone tried to learn it as well as they can, in order to return to their motherland, but ended up thinking exclusively in it? How can a language be considered foreign, when it’s their children’s mother tongue?
Having read only two of Alexakis’ books (Paris-Athènes and Foreign Words) I can tell how sensitive he is when it comes to issues concerning languages and self-concept. His works, other than highly imaginative, manage to raise questions that a reader has to resort to introspection, in order to answer.