Sofka Zinovieff

Sofka Zinovieff

Sofka Zinovieff was born in London and was educated at Cambridge. She has worked as a freelance journalist and lived in Moscow and Rome before settling in Athens with her Greek husband and their two daughters in 2001.

Her book, Red Princess: A Revolutionary Life has been translated into ten languages and she is the author of Eurydice Street: A Place in Athens.


Extract from Antigone and Maude

a forthcoming novel by Sofka Zinovieff


About a week after the funeral I got up on a day of sparkling November sun. Tig wanted to go to see where the accident had happened and I agreed that she could take the day off school and we would go there together. Nikos, the poet, had lent me his car for a few weeks while he was away in Paris, and we set off in his battered jeep that was littered with the flotsam of bachelor life – newspapers, empty bottles, cigarette packets, a woman’s scarf. The police had told me the exact location of the crash, and we drove along the coast road, past empty beach-clubs and gaudy night-spots all closed-up for winter. The palms trees had lost their frivolity and drooped with dried, blackened fronds infested by African beetles that arrived with a special order for the Olympic Games a few years before. As we passed Glyfada and Voula, heading towards the open blue of the Saronic Gulf, I could see the dirty yellow haze that lurked over Athens retreating in the rear view mirror. At Vouliagmeni, with its roadside eucalyptus trees, stately but scarred from repeated crashes, we left the last of the city behind and the road twisted above a series of inlets, the Limanakia – Little Harbours – popular with boy racers at weekends.

As instructed, I turned off onto a short slip road, recognizable by its shrine shaped like a miniature island church, complete with whitewashed walls and blue domes. Apparently Nikitas was not the only person who had died near here, as these eklisakia – little churches – are usually placed by grieving relatives to mark the spot. This one looked fairly recent and a flame flickered from its oil lamp, which nestled next to a bottle of Jif and a pink cloth. A yellow postal van was parked close-by, its radio playing gushy bouzouki hits at full volume. The driver sipped coffee from a polystyrene cup, staring out at the mauve silhouette of coastline that leads down to Sounion.

Tig and I walked over to the edge, where a precipitous incline of rocks and undergrowth led down to a bay that had not been visible from the road. Flat, pale grey rocks sloped into a sea of glittering peacock blue and wheeling gulls squawked overhead. There was a steep footpath and we made our way down gingerly, trying not to slip on the small stones. The recent rains had produced the flash of autumnal growth that is almost like a miniature version of spring, without the melodramatic excesses of the real thing. Fresh grass emerged from earth still baked from the summer and fuchsia-pink cyclamen and scatterings of yellow crocuses sprouted from rocks. Butterflies and dragonflies flipped and buzzed around stocky, lime-green pine saplings as though it was May not November. The policeman had said to look for a large pine and we found it about 150 metres down. Its trunk had a new cut in it and looking back up, we could see skid marks and scratched earth leading from the slip road down the hill. This was obviously the place. Some partridges the same colour as the earth swept up into the air, their wings trilling like skidding bikes. Tig sat down, picking at some grass and not catching my eye.

“Maybe this tree was the last thing he saw.” I hadn’t told her about the autopsy or that her father was apparently still alive after the crash. I hoped he had not been conscious; it would be a lonely place at night.

We sat without talking, getting warmed by the sun, inhaling the tang of sage and pine sap. The place reminded me of trips Nikitas and I used to make in the early years. He’d take the day off and we’d drive out somewhere down the coast. We’d take a picnic or end up eating a plate of fried anchovies in a beach taverna after a long swim. The water was his element.

“Shall we go for a swim?” I felt almost as surprised at my suggestion as Tig looked, but she followed me down until we reached the smooth expanses of grey marble that gave straight onto deep, clear water. The area was hidden from the road and I took off my clothes and dived in. The shock of the cold water was matched by incongruous joy as I felt the sun on my wet face and salt on my lips. I turned to see Tig jumping in, dressed in black pants and bra. She shrieked, then twisted and turned like a dolphin, diving deep, streaking up to the surface, thrashing out a few strokes of butterfly, then floating, eyes closed, hair spread on the surface.

Text in this post: © Sofka Zinovieff
Photo: Elisabetta Catalano
Published with the permission of Sofka Zinovieff