All the Stories I Know
By Dagny Gioulami
The young woman, who recently took over the dry cleaners shop across the street, is soon to get married – and in Constantinople. The beautiful green taffeta dress, which she will wear for the occasion, is in a poor state. The narrator gets hold of some green taffeta and happens to know just who can make a copy of the wedding dress for her: her aunt Irini, who lives in Greece.
So she sets off for Greece, accompanied by a ʺtattooed policemanʺ, who is a ʺcolleagueʺ. The two of them travel to meet the storyteller’s relatives, aunts and uncles, and get involved in countless minor but often rather shady incidents. All the Stories I Know revolves around a wonderful expedition into the undergrowth of family history. When the two travellers eventually arrive at Aunt Irini’s, she wants nothing to do with making the dress. She’s too old, her husband is ill, and in any case they’re none of them young any more, these aunts and uncles. At the same time, they’re full of absurd stories, and are forever coming up with new ones. Dagny Gioulami is a great storyteller, with a keen eye for an anecdote, who at just the right moment eschews an obvious punch line, never shines a bright light but prefers a gentle glow: quiet slapstick with verbal wit. Above all, she has a practised ear for droll dialogue.
Of course, the narrator has to sew the dress herself. And when she goes to deliver it – with the tattooed policeman – everything turns out quite different.
Praise for the novel
ʺDagny Gioulami’s tale of a journey across northern Greece is on the one hand magical; on the other it resembles Beckettian absurdity.ʺ NEUE ZÜRCHER ZEITUNG
Excerpt translated by Damion Searls
The independent oil company petrol station on the approach road to the bypass. The tattooed policeman gives his car key to the attendant. Interior and exterior cleaning, ten euros.
We sit on bar stools at a work bench between the convenience store and the car wash, drinking Sprite.
I’m holding the box of green taffeta on my knees.
The tattooed policeman says: ʺThere are seamstresses all over who can copy a dress.ʺ
ʺAunt Irini could sew dresses on a woman’s body. She sewed my Aunt Marianthi a suit that kept its shape until the day Aunt Marianthi threw it out.ʺ
ʺIrini is almost ninety.ʺ
ʺShe’s a master.ʺ
At a table nearby, petrol station attendants and their customers are sitting and drinking frappés.
ʺWhat are the people talking about?ʺ the tattooed policeman asks.
ʺAbout the crisis, and why it’s so hot.ʺ
ʺPeople are clever, they’ll figure out what to do.ʺ
We drive in our newly washed car to my aunt’s summer-house, in a community of Russian dacha-style summer-houses.
I am bringing my aunt medicines that my mother has bought for her in Switzerland. The tattooed policeman waits in the car. Noon. My aunt steps out of the air-conditioned living room onto the porch in knickers and a shirt.
ʺWho’s that with you?ʺ she asks, trying to see inside the car.
ʺWhy isn’t he getting out?ʺ
ʺHe has to work.ʺ
ʺIn the car?ʺ
ʺHe has a computer.ʺ
ʺYour mother said I had to take the medicines, they were expensive. What should I make you?ʺ
ʺNothing, Auntie, it’s too hot to eat.ʺ
Uncle Chrysostomos, my aunt’s husband, has come in, and he says: ʺI’m slicing fruit. I’ll make you two plates.ʺ
There’s weightlifting on the television. ʺCould your workmate in the car do that?ʺ my aunt asks, pointing to the screen. ʺCould he lift that?ʺ
ʺYour aunt is running around in her underwear,ʺ my uncle says. ʺNo wonder your workmate doesn’t want to get out of the car.ʺ
ʺIt’s hot,ʺ my aunt says. ʺOn the beach women go around like this.ʺ
ʺThese hot summers and cold winters, it’s because of the Japanese, with their earthquakes,ʺ my uncle says.ʺ And the Germans should take their things and go home. Their cars, all that stuff. They should find someone else to buy it off them. Then the crisis would go away. We’ve bought enough off them.ʺ
Title: Alle Geschichten, die ich kenne
Publisher: weissbooks, Frankfurt am Main
Publication date: February 2015
Rainer Weiss, email@example.com