Karnezis's intelligent, lyrical first novel is a worthy follow-up to Little Infamies (2002), his darkly comic story collection set in a nameless Greek village. The novel takes place in 1922, after the Greek army's three-year "expedition" into Asia Minor abruptly ends in a rout by Turkish forces. A Greek brigade under the command of a morphine-addled old brigadier is retreating in disarray across the desert. Hopelessly lost, the tattered band marches in circles through the pitiless terrain, dragging its wounded and its ghosts along behind it. But just as the soldiers' hope—and the reader's tolerance for abject misery—runs out, they stumble across an isolated town unscathed by the war. It is here, in his grimly humorous and richly layered portrait of human frailty, that Karnezis shines. As in his short stories, he revels in the raucous human dramas of the residents' intertwining lives without romanticizing their antics. But the soldiers are still haunted by years of casual brutality and one collective act of unimaginable savagery. With their arrival, a creeping, toxic modernity is unleashed in the town. Virtue and humanity are increasingly regarded as unpredictable liabilities, and by the time the brigade pulls out, there's no one left in town who'd deny that it's "often healthier for the soul to believe a lie than to search for the truth.'" Despite a sluggish start, the novel is a grimly funny, subversive allegory of 20th-century history, in which the punishments for dreaming, loving or believing too fervently are swift and severe. Foreign rights sold in France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the U.K. (Mar.)
Forecast: Karnezis, whose first language is Greek, writes with impressive skill in his adopted English. This novel should help build his name recognition in the U.S.