ORIGINAL TITLE: Mary
AUTHOR: Aris Fioretos
ORIGINAL PUBLISHER: Norstedts förlag
Mary is a twenty-three-year-old student of architecture. She wants to build practical multi-family homes in urban areas. Sensitive and reserved, Mary is dating Dimos, the boy with a ponytail who loves Bob Dylan and is active in student organizations. “The Tree,” as she tenderly calls him—big, strong, steadfast, with freckles dusted across his skin like the finest powder.
It is November, 1973, and the students have occupied the Polytechnic. The traffic is as heavy as usual on the streets of the unnamed city; the neighborhood lottery-ticket vendors call out the winnings. The protests have entered their third day and Mary is on her way to see Dimos, whose voice echoes from the loudspeakers. She wants to tell him that she’s pregnant, it’s his child, but she doesn’t make it to see him. The military is called in and Mary is arrested for subversive activities. She is held for thirteen days at the Security Police’s infamous headquarters, the place of Heaven and Minus Two.
“A couple of names, that’s all. Then you won’t need wings to leave this place.” But Mary makes up her mind quickly: she mustn’t talk. As long as no one knows what she carries, they can’t force her to give any names, not even her own.
As punishment she is sent to Rat Island along with five other women and a little boy—her cellmate Zoe, Fani and her five-year-old son Iosif, Rita and the Nerve Princess, as well as Ioulia, an older woman who has survived two previous sentences to the Torment, as the soldiers prefer to call this prison island.
The women are to clean in preparation for the arrival of new prisoners. “From this moment on you are property of the state,” the commandant greets them, and then designates Ioulia as leader of the group. Their existence is vulnerable, solidarity the sole thing to depend upon. In the end, only one question remains: Who decides the fate of a life?
Aris Fioretos’s new novel is the story of a young person’s longing for freedom, a tale of political violence and solidarity between women. But above all it is the story of a body—its pain and desires, its yearning and most secret of transformations.