Christos Tsiolkas: The Untold Story

| 06/11/2013

“Christos Tsiolkas: The Untold Story” by Dr John Vasilakakos, is the first in depth systematic look at the life and work of one of Australia’s most popular and controversial storytellers. From Tsiolkas’ early days as a struggling writer to the present universal acclaim, his compelling untold story is at last recorded.

For the first time the writer speaks candidly and de profundis about everything: his turbulent life (his childhood, adolescence and adulthood) and subjects dear to his heart (literature and criticism, identity, the state of humanity – decadence, materialism, spirituality, ethics, racism, animal liberation, intellectuals and the media – religion and death). He also reveals secrets and valuable insights about his four controversial novels which he discusses at length – from his first provocative Loaded to his latest international bestseller “The Slap”. Essential reading for Tsiolkas’ numerous fans who have always wondered: “what is the real story behind the ‘Tsiolkas phenomenon’”?

From the book:
“As a child I used to spend hours in the garden and I would create stories out of different universes and different worlds and almost sometimes out of different planets. […] Later at school, I remember, there was a Scotch lady teacher who was a bitch. I was in year eight, so I was quite young and I remember her – it was quite a humiliating thing to do to a child – holding up a piece of writing and saying, ‘Chris Tsiolkas has written this. This is filth!’ and tore it up…”

“I remember a young Greek couple living in the same house with my parents, so I used to peep through the keyhole to see what they were doing… Because my sense of sensuality and the erotic started very early on – even before I knew what an erection was, before wet dreams – it’s part of the heritage of Christian and religious culture, to mark the end of innocence by sexuality…”

Dr John Vasilakakos is an award winning Melbourne writer and academic with 16 published books (fiction, plays, essays). He has also published hundreds of articles in numerous journals (The Age, Meanjin,etc) in Australia, America, Canada and Greece, as well as 5 books of translations, including Patrick White’s Flaws in the Glass into Greek (Athens, 2008). His work is featured in numerous Australian and overseas anthologies and has been translated into Greek, Italian and Chinese. He has been a co-founding member of the Australian Multicultural Literature (Australia Council for the Arts, 1983) and has been honoured for his long services to Literature and intercultural understanding.

From an interview with Themis Kallos (radio SBS):

– What exactly is your book on Christos Tsiolkas?

John Vasilakakos: I would call it a fictional biography because it refers to two things: to the life, but also to the fictional work of the writer Tsiolkas. That is why the book is divided into two parts. Part A is entitled “Life” and Part B is entitled “Work.” Part A includes 11 chapters with the following titles: 1. “Childhood”, 2. “Adolescence”, 3. “Adulthood”, 4. “Literature and Criticism”, 5. “Identity”, 6. “The State of Humanity”, 7. “Religion and Death”, 8. “Loaded”, 9. “The Jesus Man”, 10. “Dead Europe”, 11. “The Slap”. The titles alone indicate what is being discussed in each chapter. I should clarify here that in Part A of the book we have the confessions of the author himself. That is, I pose questions to him and he answers them. I had a series of interviews with Tsiolkas, conducted over a period of many months, where he basically narrated his life to me – from his childhood years to the present day. He also talked about many other subjects close to his heart which have preoccupied him all his life, as well as about aspects of his four novels which he discusses in detail.

Part B of the book consists of four chapters which examine individually and somewhat comparatively the corresponding four novels Tsiolkas has published so far, focussing on some themes of these novels (for example, the dual Greek-Australian identity, racism, the role of drugs in Australian society, sexual orientation) and many other issues. So although this is not an extensive study of his fiction but only an examination of various themes of his four novels, because of their importance, they present a particular interest to the reader and perhaps the future scholar of Tsiolkas. I think the juxtaposition of life (in Part A) and work (in Part B) of Tsiolkas facilitates the reader in a smooth approach and better understanding and evaluating of his work.

– Why this type of book and not a classical biography?
The reason I chose this type of ‘autobiographical confession’ in interview mode (in Part A) is because the fullness of time has not yet come that would justify the writing of a classical biography of Tsiolkas, given that the writer, both as far as his age and writing career are concerned, is still on his course. Any other approach that would illuminate satisfactorily his personality was likely to be dubious and do injustice to him.

– What were the reasons for writing this book?
The reasons I chose to write a book on Tsiolkas are many. This decision was not taken lightly and overnight but after years of self-searching and ‘intellectual fermentation” so to speak. I’ll try to condense my answer as much as I can. For a start, the fact that Tsiolkas was a Greek-Australian writer was decisive for me. I remind you that something similar happened when, four years ago, I decided to write the biography of another famous Greek novelist, Costa Taktsis. What compelled me to that venture was, among other things, the fact that Taktsis was a migrant, like me, who had lived in Australia for five years. What I’m trying to say is that I’ve always had a strong interest and fascination for some writers of Greek origin who distinguished themselves outside of Greece. It is not accidental, for example, that I did my doctoral thesis on an important post-modernist Greek migrant writer named Nikos Kahtitsis, who had lived and worked in Montreal Canada for many years, and died at a very young age. Tsiolkas, of course, is not a migrant writer himself but a child of Greek migrant parents. However, in many respects he was a very peculiar case too. As we don’t have much time to go into details, I will say only this to illustrate my point:

Reading, for example, his first novel Loaded, many years ago, I realised that it was not just a provocative and controversial, but also a mysterious work which I had difficulty in decoding. In other words it was not what it seemed but its secret was to be found in this very deceptiveness and ambiguity. Surely there were things I liked and disliked at that time, things that even annoyed me. On the other hand, however, I could detect in this book a vitality, a freshness very unusual for a beginner writer. Also, many of his remarks about various issues (especially multiculturalism, racism, drugs and homosexuality, the ethnic communities in Australia) were incredibly discerning, timely and objective – even when at times he used hyperbole. The same thing happened with his other books that followed.

When his last novel (The Slap) became an international best seller, all of a sudden I realised how little I knew about its author and also how very little information was available. It was then that my decision to discover more about this writer and his work, by writing a book on him, was consolidated. Also, another reason that led me to this decision was that I thought Tsiolkas had been one of the most misunderstood writers in Australian literature. So, my writing venture aspired, among other things, to dissolve some myths, fallacies and prejudices and clear up the landscape regarding the ‘Tsiolkas phenomenon’.

Paperback, 310 pages,
ISBN 978 1 922168 597,
Rrp $29.95
Connor Court Publishing Pty Ltd

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