By Sophia Katsinas.
For author Peter Polites, his newest book God Forgets About the Poor is a book for the Greek community.
“For the diaspora,” he says.
Polites spoke to The Greek Herald about his latest novel, where he documents the story of his mother’s migration journey from Greece to Australia.
“I think all of our community has a story. Someone like my mother, she came from a village that didn’t have access to electricity or running water… We can travel anywhere around the world now, but you’ll never make that journey. She made a journey,” Polites says.
God Forgets About the Poor is Polites’ third published book, following his previous novels Down the Hume and The Pillars. He sees his first two books as forms of fiction that make commentary about the world.
As a writer, Polites bases characters in all his books off versions of himself. His latest book differs in that he also adds versions of his mother, family members and himself.
“It is different to my previous books, but it still has a lot of the same themes. So a lot of the dark melodrama. The Greekness. The nuance. My pre-occupations with politics, class and race,” Polites says.
Polites did not start his writing career with the intent to become a published author, but as a creative outlet to clear his thoughts and articulate his own experiences. He began working in community services, until he struggled with his mental health at around 25 years old and moved back home.
“For me, writing was a form of rehabilitation… I started writing as a form of narrative therapy,” Polites says.
“I just wanted to practice writing. To learn as much as I can about it and to improve my skills. I didn’t view it to get published.”
His mother’s migration story was one he knew he wanted to document but didn’t know exactly how to approach it. Polites secured a residency at UNSW Canberra where he lived in the capital city for a month and intensively worked on God Forgets About the Poor. The book took around three years to write.
Polites interviewed his family members and also conducted anthropological research around what his mother’s village, Lefkada, was like in the post-World War II era.
“I’ve visited [Lefkada] many times, but it still doesn’t explain a post-World War II village without electricity or running water in a civil war,” he says.
“We can go back to those places now, but we can’t go back to that era. Our link to that [era] is that generation. Those yiayiathes, those pappouthes. They’re all linked to the past in a way that none of us have experienced. That’s why it’s so important.”
Readers will notice his mother’s sections of the book read as if they have been directly translated from Greek to English. Polites explained that it was a conscious decision to write the book in this way “to create a disruption.”
“Translation and how we communicate ideas in one language, that doesn’t necessarily work in another language. I wanted to be aware of the language gap,” he says.
All of Polites’ novels include an element of “Greekness.” He feels his connection to Greece is his “Greek temperament.”
“I think for all of us there’s many different kinds of Greece and I think all of our connections to our imagined homeland are real and different,” he says.
“God Forgets About the Poor” by Peter Polites is out now: https://ultimopress.com.au/products/god-forgets-about-the-poor