Spanidou, Irini 1946–

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Spanidou, Irini 1946–


Born May 27, 1946, in Trikala, Greece; immigrated to the United States, 1964; naturalized U.S. citizen, c. 1983. Education: Sarah Lawrence College, B.A.; Columbia University, M.F.A.


Home—New York, NY.


Has taught at Sarah Lawrence College, Cooper Union, Warren Wilson College, Bennington College, and Brooklyn College.


God's Snake (novel), Norton (New York, NY), 1986, Vintage International (New York, NY), 1999.

Fear (novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 1998.

Before, Knopf (New York, NY), 2007.


Irini Spanidou was born in Greece and is the daughter of a Greek military officer. At the age of eighteen she immigrated to the United States, years later becoming a naturalized citizen. Her first book, God's Snake, profiles the childhood of its protagonist, Anna, who is also the daughter of a Greek military officer. According to Richard Eder in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, the book "is fictional in form; but it is impossible not to assume that Anna is at least a partial projection of the author…. It is too harsh, too direct, too much a set of concrete memories that glow with a wider and terrible sense of life, to be pure invention." However, as reported in Contemporary Literary Criticism, "Spanidou … denies that Anna represents herself. ‘The actual events as I knew them were more real,’ she stated. ‘Writing the novel, the characters took over and began to have their own say.’ She added: ‘I wanted to write a book about innocence, our start in the world, what's mysterious. We're born with expectations of love and not with knowledge of evil. The first time anyone hurts us, it's a surprise. My aim was to show how a child comes to terms with hurt. The world of children, the anger and feeling, is a microcosm of the world of adults.’"

"A main theme" in God's Snake, analyzed Eder, "is Anna's effort to discover herself as a female despite the vigorous presence of the masterful father she adored; and the vacancy of a depressed and fastidious mother whom she almost could not see." "Anna's world is solitary and full of signs," concluded Eder, continuing: "It is exotic to us and very distant; it can seem melodramatic and wrought up. Yet, over and over, her voice, abrupt and charged, brings to us the universal truths of a remote, provincial and mythological childhood. They are truths we recognized because we share some and, equally, because we are starved of others."

"The painful psychological complexity of adolescence drives [Fear]," stated a Publishers Weekly critic, who called the sequel to God's Snake "gripping." The "small, spare … well constructed" novel written "in precise prose," declared Reba Leiding in Library Journal, "documents a few months in the life of 13-year-old Anna." "Fear is not only the title but also the explicit theme of … Spanidou's tightly focused second novel. In a series of vignettes … [Anna] recalls and reveals her adolescent terrors," related Barbara Fisher in the New York Times Book Review, determining that the "whole novel, from its title onward, feels over-controlled. And so, despite the occasional risks Spanidou takes with her characters, this seems in some ways a fearful performance—inhibited, contrived, constrained." The Publishers Weekly critic more positively assessed Fear, overlooking "some overwriting" and concluding that Spanidou's "impeccable pacing and the pressure of inevitability move the novel to a heart-thumping finale."

Before, Spanidou's third novel, like the two before it, concerns a young woman in the midst of personal crisis. "Here," stated Donna Seaman in a review for Booklist, "she evokes with a deft hand the swirl of egoism, ambition, political turmoil, and sexual tension." The time is the late 1960s or early 1970s. The place is New York City's Soho district—an area that, at the time, was a center of culture and crime, a place where starving artists, drug dealers, and others rubbed elbows on a daily basis. Beatrice, Spanidou's protagonist, is married to one of the starving artists, but her husband, Ned, has little use for her other than as an object for his sexual interests. Beatrice is also pursued by others: her bisexual friend Faye, an aspiring television actress; Colin, an independently wealthy young man who, for reasons of his own, chooses to live in the flat downstairs; Cyril, Ned's brother, newly returned from Vietnam; Perkins, a former convict recently paroled; and Chris, a drug addict turned prostitute.

Beatrice, the central figure in this catalog of characters, is somewhat of a cipher. She "seems like a less famous, less glamorous version of Edie Sedgwick, [Andy] Warhol's doomed superstar," stated Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times. "Like Edie, Beatrice comes from a well-to-do family. Like Edie, she is regarded as a beautiful ‘it’ girl. And like Edie, she seems set on a self-destructive path toward disaster." Her name, wrote Vince Passaro in O, the Oprah Magazine, "evokes the ideal, saintly woman of Dante's Divine Comedy," but instead of serving as a poet's guide to the beauties of heaven, "we find her stunned, lost in her own tour of hell." "A child of wealth and privilege," declared a Kirkus Reviews contributor, "Beatrice inspires lust in almost all she meets—everyone wants her, yet she doesn't seem to know what she wants."



Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 44, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1987.


Booklist, June 1, 2007, Donna Seaman, review of Before, p. 33.

Books, June 2, 2007, Kristin Kloberdanz, review of Before, p. 9.

Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2007, review of Before.

Library Journal, October 15, 1998, Reba Leiding, review of Fear, p. 101; November 1, 1999, Ann E. Irvine, review of Fear, p. 152; July 1, 2007, Joy Humphrey, review of Before, p. 85.

Los Angeles Times, July 15, 2007, Susan Salter Reynolds, review of Before.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 7, 1986, Richard Eder, review of God's Snake, p. 3.

Marie Claire, July, 2007, review of Before, p. 106.

New Yorker, January 25, 1999, review of Fear, p. 93.

New York Times Book Review, January 10, 1999, Barbara Fisher, review of Fear; August 7, 2007, Michiko Kakutani, "Soho Loft, '70s Ambience, Near Ninth Circle of Hell."

O, the Oprah Magazine, July, 2007, "Hitting Bottom: A Young Woman's Downward Spiral Is Caught at the Last Minute in This Shimmering, Hypnotic Novel," p. 142.

Publishers Weekly, October 5, 1998, review of Fear, p. 77; May 7, 2007, review of Before, p. 42.


New York Literary Society, (January 13, 2008), Joel Glenn, review of Before.

Paste, (January 13, 2008), Desa Philadelphia, review of Before.