Henry Miller and His Greece

Today I am in love with a new book. It’s Henry Miller’s The Colossus of Maroussi, a travelogue “frequently heralded as Miller’s best.” And this afternoon I have it–the Penguin Modern Classic version, beautiful cover of metallic grey, black, and white, with a black and white photograph as the center of attention.

I didn’t know Miller also wrote a travelogue. Having heard of his famous novel Tropic of Cancer (and of course, its reputation), I thought he wrote only fiction. I was wrong.

Having first got the book with me, I sought for a pen and scribbled down my name on the first page, along with the date of today, for I had a strong desire to possess it. Henry Miller’s The Colossus of Maroussi in a beautiful Penguin version cover, it’s mine finally.

Oh, and how I love every sentence of it. G. asked why I like the book. “You read the first paragraph,” I told him. Here’s the first paragraph:

“I would never have gone to Greece had it not been for a girl named Betty Ryan who lived in the same house with me in Paris. One evening, over a glass of white wine, she began to talk of her experiences in roaming about the world. I always listened to her with great attention, not only because her experiences were strange, but because when she talked about her wanderings she seemed to paint them: everything she described remained in my head like finished canvases by a master. It was a peculiar conversation that evening: we began by talking about China and the Chinese language which she had begun to study. Soon we were in North Africa, in the desert, among peoples I had never heard of before. And then suddenly she was all alone, walking beside a river, and the light was intense and I was following her as best I could in the blinding sun but she got lost “and I found myself wandering about in a strange land listening to a language I had never heard before. She is not exactly a story-teller, this girl, but she is an artist of some sort because nobody has ever given me the ambiance of a place so thoroughly as she did Greece. Long afterwards I discovered that it was near Olympia that she had gone astray and I with her, but at the time it was just Greece to me, a world of light such as I had never dreamed of and never hoped to see.”

If I am to write a travel book of my own, this is the way my book would read. “Impressionist travelogue”, Wikipedia says about the book. I’m not sure what impressionist travelogue is, I only know that this is the way I would write about a place, its people, and an experience I have with it.

Liking it so much I want to translate the book. I want to devour in every sentence, or better, every word that is made into each sentence. If you really like a book, or in love with it, you have to do something with that book. Besides writing about it, quoting it extensively, for me translating it is the most intimate thing one can do with the book one feels so connected with. To translate it is to make love to the text. I want to penetrate it, make a thorough exploration. I’d pick up each word like I’d pick up a rock, turn it over, and see if there’s any hidden message written under it. Translators do that. I want to bathe in it, swim through every sentence, submerging among lines of alphabets. I’ll never get bored. I can re-read it again and again, over and over.

I also found a new word I like from the book: rhapsodize (v.) Miller was describing how a Greek poet he came to be acquainted with–Seferiades–talked passionately about his land.

There was nothing extraordinary about the place — it was even a bit shabby and forlorn, I (Miller) might say. Or rather it was, at first sight. I never had a chance to consolidate my first fleeting impression; it changed right under my eyes as he (Seferiades) led me about like an electrified jellyfish from spot to spot, rhapsodizing on herbs, flowers, shrubs, rocks, clay, slopes, declivities, coves, inlets and so on.

The Colossus of Maroussi is a love letter, two hundred pages long, that Miller wrote to a country named Greece. I hardly believe, at first, that a man who writes so coarsely about sex, prostitutes, or write in a way that branded him as Henry Miller, could also write such a beautiful letter to a place. In the book he is like a blind man in love, the one who’s lost in deliriousness. Though very impressed, I don’t really believe in everything he says. He’s glorifying Greece in his book. I keep the skepticism with me along the way as the book progresses. For who could find a sensibility in a man in love? Everything about Greece is damn good: its people, its temperament. I don’t believe him at all. Let the man in love talks, and he talks so well.

The Colossus of Maroussi, Henry Miller. (Cover Photograph by Herbert List/Magnum Photos)

And this post is a love letter to this book–The Colossus of Maroussi.

[Participate in today’s Prompt: Passionate]




4 Comments Add yours

  1. lbell2014 says:

    It is a beautiful cover. Your post makes me want to read the book. Thanks so much.


    1. Pinda Pineda says:

      Thank you for your comment. I’d love to read about what you think of the book too if you’re about to write one 🙂 In the meantime, you might enjoy this: https://dearpinda.wordpress.com/2016/10/08/about-translating-henry-millers-greece/

      Liked by 1 person

  2. gebbysmith says:

    Gorgeous writing! Thank you for your “follow.” Glad I found your site!!!


    1. Pinda Pineda says:

      Thank you for you words of encouragement, Gebby. Oh, and a happy new year!


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