An obituary and literary tribute
Maria Potts, nėe Strani (1946-2022), whose home was in Dorchester, died on May 7th, when swimming in the sea whilst on holiday in Greece.
Maria, who was born in Corfu, wrote as Maria Strani-Potts. She earned a degree in Contemporary East European Studies from the University of London and always had a thirst for knowledge and travel, for foreign languages, history, international relations and world literature.
Apart from her academic interests, Maria came to be regarded as an original writer of fiction. Much of her published writing has been in English. Her consistently popular novel, The Cat of Portovechio, Corfu Tales, will be republished in a British edition by Colenso Books next year. The Australian edition was published by Brandl & Schlesinger in 2007, and a Greek language version was published by Kedros in 2011.
At the first launch of the Australian edition, David Malouf AO, one of Australia’s greatest writers, had this to say of the book (13 November 2007):
“In The Cat of Portovecchio Maria Strani-Potts has produced a genuinely charming book…The charm consists in the book’s wholeness of view…the writer’s generosity in letting everything in; her allowing a place for all sorts of ordinary human follies and indiscretions, for bad humour as well as good, but with a sense that what all this makes up is a picture of the way we are… She takes us inside a whole world, lovingly created, that is like no other we have been invited into, but with an eye that can be savage as well as loving. Just when we think we know some of these characters, and feel comfortable with them—too comfortable in fact—she catches them for us in a new and altogether less easy light…She has the writer’s eye for detail: for the small, unnoticed aspect of a thing that makes it immediately alive to us; the writer’s sense of pace, that makes time, and room in the writing, so that everything finds its place; and the writer’s unsparingness that makes truth more important to her than any desire to please.’
Writing in The Anglo-Hellenic Review (Spring 2009), Richard Pine captured other aspects of her achievement:
“Maria Strani-Potts is incisive in her observations of her locale…Strani-Potts’ writing is characterized by a relentless and seductive intelligence which can be cruel, compassionate and ironically amusing- often all at the same time. She is never less than provocative. A pleasure to read and, even for Corfiots, an education”.
Cathy Peake wrote in an extensive review in The Weekend Australian, February 9, 2008:
“Strani-Potts conjures a world that assaults the senses and her affectionate descriptions of recipes and food preparation of the kind authentic to Corfu are so vivid and mesmerizing, so imbued with social custom and occasion they are a unifying thread running through the fractured, passionate and often difficult lives of her characters”.
“The Cat of Portovecchio is notable for its freshness, warmth and spontaneity. Strani-Potts invites us to step into the lives and over the thresholds of this island community with charm and generosity. She leaves us with a seaside village and a landscape so vibrant that it stays in the mind long after the book is closed.”
In The Age, Thuy On wrote (Saturday January 19, 2008)
“The Cat of Portovecchio is a deeply sensual novel; you can almost smell the sea brine, the diced garlic, the fresh bread, and even the metallic blood scent wafting from the nearby slaughterhouse. This is a busy book; the characters’ lives intersect as they go about their daily business. As you’d expect from any close-knit village, there are widow(ers), adulterers, the forlorn, the gossips and the fearless. Secrets and lies plague the seemingly virtuous and hidden passions are closely guarded”.
Of Maria’s collection of four short stories, When the sun goes down, Island stories (available in Kindle e-book and paperback editions), one verified reviewer wrote enthusiastically and perceptively:
“Strani-Potts most recent collection further establishes her high position among 21st century authors and critics…The Cat of Portovecchio, Corfu Tales stands as a singular example of story writing at its finest. This collection emphasizes the sundry metaphors of “the island”: a physical, emotional, and/or a political territory isolated from the mainland by the vastness of the sea (itself a chimeric metaphor). One story in particular, “The Exploitation of Panorea,” is as fine a parable as Kafka’s “Hunger Artist” or Walser’s “Battle of Sempach.” Strani-Potts, a Corfiot, cleverly situates her characters in narratives that require a strong sense of place, a temporal anchor. Like Flannery O’Connor’s undeniable identification with the South, Strani-Potts’ fiction is tied to the Ionian Islands and to the culture of freedom found there”.
The collection includes “The Exploitation of Panorea. an abridged version in English of Maria’s powerful environmental Greek allegory, “To Poulima tis Panoraias” , 2008.“
Dimitris Konidaris, of The Society for Corfiot Studies, commented in the newspaper Enimerosi (translation from the Greek article):
“I didn’t just read it, I studied it closely. This book should be read by political candidates, and by all those who work in institutions and who hold any kind of power, or who hold the fate of the island in their hands”.
Maria also conceived the idea for an anthology of over 130 Dorset writers and photographers, which was published by Roving Press as Dorset Voices, with a preface by Prince Charles. It was co-edited by Maria and Jim Potts and by Louisa Adjoa Parker.
Maria wrote a moving play for radio (The Children of Others), and she kept extensive diaries which she had hoped to finalise as a volume of memoirs, initially for the family. She worked on this project for many years and had begun the process of editing, as it ran to 150,000 words. It remains unfinished but it is Jim’ Potts’ intention to complete the project and to collect other unpublished stories and writings.
Maria’s first love was quilting – patchwork quilting-, which she developed as a committed textile artist who always delighted in sharing her knowledge and skills and in introducing the art to new groups around the world. Maria had wide international connections both in person and through Facebook.
Jim and Maria, and then their children Nina-Maria and Alexander, shared their lives together in countries as far afield as Ethiopia, Kenya, Greece, Czechoslovakia (as it was), Australia and Sweden. They served in London on several occasions. In 2009, they made their home in Dorchester, Dorset, where they lived very happily for twelve years. They had both spent extended periods living in Castle Cary. Somerset and in West Bay, Bridport, Dorset.
Jim worked for, and represented, The British Council for 35 years, strongly and ably supported by Maria in many areas of his cultural relations work.
The family lived through national revolutions, terrorist bombings of offices, assassinations of colleagues, profound changes and upheavals of many different sorts.