AUTHOR AND ACTOR RICHARD ROMANUS SPEAKS TO MIRIAM PIROLO
A: Chrysalis is a love story set in Greece against the background of World War II and of the overlapping civil war. Intertwined with Greek history during this especially volatile period is the story of a young woman, initially looked down upon by her society who, through a series of unforeseen events, proves her worth and, in fact becomes revered by the inhabitants of her small mountain village and beyond. I have been told that the book is funny, touching, and informative, and well worth the read.
Q: How can a contemporary reader from Greece and Cyprus relate to this book?
A: It seems to me that Greece and Cyprus are involved right now in a kind of war, albeit economic this time. Perhaps in this book they will find the inspiration and take guidance on how to retrieve the courage and fight of their grandparents, and finally win this war as well.
Q: Without revealing too much information to the reader; America starts playing an important role in the third part of the book. Which three adjectives would you use to describe Europe and America in Chrysalis?
A: Europe was broke, devastated, and still dangerous, but it was home.
America was prosperous, secure, and extremely powerful yet, in the end, it wasn’t home.
A: The two wars herald a period of great societal change from women’s place in society, their rights and liberation, to the awareness of the plight of the poor. It also underscores the futility and waste of armed conflict. The reader will also learn about the wisdom of certain rituals, for instance, in mourning, a series of memorials helps one deal with a great loss and slowly slowly release their grief. There are also certain celebrations and festivals that allow the participants to feel joy even in the midst of turmoil or the harshness of life.
Q: Why would an American write about the Greek Civil War?
A: I didn’t start out to write about the Greek Civil War. I started out to write a story about a young girl in Metsovo in 1940 at the beginning of World War II. The Greek Civil War happened to correspond with the life of the heroine in the story.
Q: You dedicated the book to the women of Metsovo. Do you think that this book reflects the contribution of all women worldwide, who independently fought for freedom during periods of war?
A: Yes, of course, as the women in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and now in Syria currently demonstrate. Yet women have been generally overlooked when it comes to value their contribution in times of war.
Q: Could Maria Christina be for Greece what Marianne is for France?
A: What Marianne is to France, Bouboulina could be for Greece. She represents all Greek women, like Maria Christina, who courageously and selfishly fought for their liberation throughout history.
Q: The title Chrysalis refers to the transformation of Maria Christina, the heroine of the book. It is noticeable, though, that every character in your novel undergoes some kind of deep transformation. Maria Christina, Zoitsa, Yiannis, Papa Yiorgos and Panorea – how would you describe the developmental evolution of each character?
A: I believe everyone goes through deep changes in life, depending on the circumstances which confront them and how they learn to deal with them. The more extreme the confrontation, the deeper the change. Part of the value of reading a novel, like reading the obituary page of a newspaper, is to see the arc of certain lives from beginning to end, and relating their unfolding lives to your own.
Q: This book reads like a movie. How has your background helped you in formulating the plot.
A: Although I spent years both acting and writing screenplays in Hollywood, I spent a number of years before writing songs. I always felt a scene in a movie was like a song. It had a great deal to do with the thought, the words, and a scene should have a musical flow to it. Writing screenplays was not unlike writing a song album with a theme, where a series of scenes take you through a complete narrative. Writing a novel is like writing a screenplay but, unlike a screenplay where everything must be spoken or visualized, a novel allows for unspoken thought, even philosophizing, whereas a screenplay must stay rigidly faithful to the narrative.
Q: What inspires you to write?
A: I can’t say, except that it is my bliss. I feel as though I have always written. I started around four years old when I wrote a song on the piano with the following lyric: “I’m an old cowhand from the Rio Grande / And my pants are wet, cause I have no toilet. / When I’m out on the range I stop at the grange / and have a beer and rope some steer / I’m an old cowhand from the Rio Grande.” I only remember this because it was the first thing I’d ever written and I was quite proud of it at the time.
A: Avoiding the temptation of manipulating your characters as opposed to listening to their voices and allowing yourself to go where they want to take you.
Q: Gustave Flaubert once famously remarked: “Je suis Mme Bovary” – I am Mme Bovary. Which character of the book do you feel the closest to?
A: There is a lot of me in Maria Christina, the myopia, the feeling of being rejected by the father. There is much of me in Papa Yiorgos, his belligerence, the wrestling with his faith. Other characters are amalgamations of friends and relatives, for instance, Panorea was not unlike my godmother.
Q: What else, apart from European history, have you learned from writing this book?
A: Since this was my first novel, the most important revelation for me was that if you know your characters, and you know the setting, and you listen closely to your characters without knowing where they will end up, you will have a book.
Q: As an American living in Greece, how do you feel about the current situation in Europe? Which elements of the books are contemporary?
A: I think Europe is entangled in a third world war, only it is economic. I also think the Greeks are being starved to enrich the bankers and, as in the second world war when the Greeks drove Mussolini’s Italians back into Albania in two short weeks. I would like to see the Greeks come together as a nation, drive the bankers back into their holes, and return to the drachma.
Q: Have you ever read any Cypriot authors and have you ever been to Cyprus?
A: I have never been to Cyprus but I have read Bitter Lemons by Lawrence Durrell several times and a rather charming book of short stories by Cypriot Panos Ioannides entitled Gregory and Other Stories.
Q: What comes to your mind when you hear ‘Cyprus’?
A: Exotic. Mysterious. Divided country. The same old Greek/Turk problem. Pygmalion, a Cypriot sculptor, carved a woman out of ivory that he fell in love with and Aphrodite heard his wish that the statue become a real woman and granted his wish.