Thursday, 8 March 2012

Little Infamies by Panos Karnezis (Μικρές Ατιμίες - Πάνος Καρνέζης)

Little InfamiesOne of my favorite Greek-authored novels written in English is Little Infamies, by Panos Karnezis. It's described as a collection of inter-connecting short stories, which narrate the incestuous lives of a group of people who all live in a small Greek village. Through dark humour, Karnezis paints a picture of a pocket of the Greek population that has long been forgotten by mainstream society. The inhabitants of the village all have their own secrets which are revealed to the reader one by one: "Karnezis's sly humour breaks through the darkness and illuminates these knowing portraits of people trapped by both poverty and geography."

The village, as Karnezis describes it, sounds like quite a few places I know in Greece. It is just as well that Karnezis does not name it in his book. His descriptions are quite damning. They convey a sense of hopelessness. Both the village and the people are doomed - there is no redemption here. They all had to be purged in order to be completely rid of their sins.

Karnezis cleverly uses a poem by Constantinos Cavafy in the preface of the book:
Amid fear and suspicions,
with agitated mind and frightened eyes,
we melt and plan how to act
to avoid the certain
danger that so horribly threatens us.
And yet we err, this was not in our paths;
the messages were false
(or we did not hear, or fully understand them).
Another catastrophe, one we never imagined,
sudden, precipitous, falls upon us,
and unprepared -- there is no more time -- carries us off.
Finalities, Constantine P. Cavafy (1911)

Karnezis is about my age, and was born in Greece but went to the UK for studies, where he began a writing career. I bought this book online three years ago, although Little Infamies was actually published a decade ago. At the time it came out, few people - both within Greece and outside Greece - would have realised what kind of scourge Karnezis was writing about. The image of Greece at the time was that of a country embarking on a new career, with her entry to the eurozone. Even the Greeks themselves were in denial. When Little Infamies is re-read in the context of the economic crisis, it becomes plainly obvious what Karnezis was showing up: a doomed failed society, one which could not be sustained in a progressively inclined world:  
Little Infamies: Stories... This book by Panos Karnezis not only recognizes freaks and monsters but also tries to explore what makes them what they are, thus bringing out the beauty of their basic humanity as well as their brokenness...
The story is not based according to a particular time period - the stories in the book could have taken place at any point in the history of contemporary Greece.The death of Karnezis' anonymous village does not come naturally. If it were to be left to its own devices, it would probably stay like that forever. To completely rid society of a curse, an artificial cleansing needs to take place, like it did in Little Infamies. Karnezis' stories cryptically foretell a crisis of some sort. It's a truly Greek tragedy that was kept secret to the outside world. What is quite telling is that Karnezis published the novel first in English, not Greek, and when it did come out in Greek, it was actually a translation of the original English book. Non-Greeks were more likely to have read it before Greeks themselves, but the concept of a Greek tragedy in the mind of a non-Greek would not have been placed in its modern context (only in its ancient Greek one), and therefore, the parallels of the events found in the book with that of modern society would not have been noticed.


The difference between Karnezis' book and modern Greece is that the story doesn't have a nice ending, but Greece has been promised a nice one once the economic crisis is over. But few will deny that the misery and suffering of many Greek citizens is set to continue - in Little Infamies, a quick painless end was put to it, washing out the inhumanity once and for all.

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