For me, fiction is not just the construction of an alternate world but a marker of identity that gives equal credibility to things that existed and things that did not—the assemblage of emotional fact and realist detail disguised as point of view. It’s fascinating to make connections between the fictional retelling of events and the details your empathy gives you from the real world—and empathy is one of the few places left on this earth where the writer’s effort to imagine himself into the life of a desperate woman and see through her eyes, is a good reason for trying to put words into her mouth.
The Lady of Ro is a work of fiction about Despina Achladioti, about an ordinary woman, who ended up a folk legend, and a celebrated hero of resisistance during World War II. Set in a small island, a wisp of land, historically specific and timeless, the story is an examination of abandonment, belonging, and personhood; of how the departed demand more space in the hearts of those who struggle to reconcile their new life with the lost past.
It’s not only that I understood Despina or sympathized with her; in some ways, her life gives voice to the hopelessness of a country scarred by the economic and refugee crisis, and the threat of war. In telling Despina’s story, I wanted to write about what goes unsaid, about what comes to us unbidden and what we choose. I needed to make sense of my peripatetic life after the economic collapse in Greece; to describe the unusual bonds that form during unspeakable loss; the histories, myths, struggles, and triumphs of broken people who do their best to live for the moment.
It warms my heart that the story somehow reminds readers and audiences that all our lives are precious and connected, charged and changed by the prism of hope and our very sense of humanity. It reminds them that the universal human condition derives its breath and color from the same dreams we haul quietly with us and hold dear.