Haunting tales of delusions
My Mother's Sin and Other Stories, by Georgios Vizyenos. Translated from the Greek by William F. Wyatt Jr. Foreword by Roderick Beaton. Hanover, N.H.: University of New England Press for Brown University. Hard cover: $18. Paperback: $10.95. The human mind - its workings, its mystery - is the territory explored in these six stories by the Greek writer Georgios Vizyenos, all originally published between 1883 and 1896 and translated into English for the first time.
They are haunting tales, many of them revolving around a character's obsession or delusion. In the title story, a son recounts his mother's inability to come to terms with the loss of her daughter, even after 30 years.
In ``The Consequences of the Old Story,'' the narrator tells the story of two people whose lives are ruined by love: a beautiful woman whom he observes in an insane asylum, driven mad when the man she loves abandons her, and a young man who is obsessed by a sordid love affair, long past, which he feels has left him indelibly blemished, permanently defiled.
In ``Moscov-Selim,'' a Turk, judged crazy by his neighbors, expresses admiration for the Russians who once captured him and longs to return to Russia.
In each case, the narrator at one level uncovers the series of events that account for a character's apparently irrational actions, the ``true'' or actual story of what happened. At another level, he uncovers the character's perception of events, the different - though no less real - story the individual has constructed to make sense of his life.
It is Vizyenos's observations at this deeper level - his depiction of the way we create and struggle to sustain our inner reality - that make these stories fascinating.
In ``The Consequences of the Old Story,'' for example, we come to understand the young man's fixation with a degrading love affair through the analysis of the narrator, his friend, as he listens to Pasch'alis's story and struggles to comprehend the logic of an obsessive mind.
``Conflicts of emotions, however trivial they might be according to the ideas of others, always caused a dreadful disturbance in his soul,'' the narrator observes of Pasch'alis.
``Moreover, in him, things of this nature were not soothed through time; on the contrary, they intensified. But they intensified insidiously and unseen, revolving in his mind and gaining strength particularly because of a dialectical method of thinking peculiar to himself.... His arguments against himself were not the work of a temporary emotional excitement. Pasch'alis was repeating once again and out loud what he had weighed and reckoned perhaps a thousand times in silence and to himself.''
If Vizyenos's convoluted plots at times seem too contrived, psychologically his stories ring true as they probe - discerningly, compassionately - ``that mechanism of the human mind'' which, one of his characters says, is as ``wonderful'' as it is ``exceedingly delicate.''
Gail Pool is a free-lance book reviewer.