At the end of the Greco-Turkish War, one Greek brigade wanders lost
in the Anatolian desert. Led by Brigadier Nestor, the soldiers hope
they are marching toward the sea and the end of their disastrous
tour of duty. The war is over, but the men in Panos Karnezis's
debut novel, THE MAZE, must battle on.
Brigadier Nestor, an aging career soldier still devastated by his
wife's death a year earlier, has become addicted to morphine and
Greek mythology. His second-in-command, Chief of Staff Major
Porfirio, while appearing to be a model soldier, is keeping a
treasonous secret. The company priest, Father Simeon, imagines
himself the Apostle of All Anatolians, but in fact is just a thief.
And the rest of the brigade is not fairing too well either.
Subsisting almost entirely on cornmeal, their morale is low and
things are growing stranger the longer they wander.
It seems though that the luck of the brigade is finally changing.
First, a Greek pilot crashes from the sky bringing hope that
perhaps they are being searched for. Then, following a runaway
horse, they come across a quiet village virtually untouched by the
war. The inhabitants and tales of the village are just as
interesting and complicated as those of the brigade. The mayor is
about to marry the madame of the brothel, the church is overrun
with rats and the Turkish Muslim quarter is surrounded by an open
sewer. This village does not offer the comforts the brigade had
longed for. Brigadier Nestor still hopes to lead the men to the sea
and escape, and the mayor knows the way. But before they can leave
they must all contend with a desperate war correspondent and one
final act of violence that permanently scars the village. This act
oddly reflects another moment of violence that haunts the brigade
and lies just beneath the surface of all they do.
The brigade may finally escape the maze of the Anatolian desert,
but each man is forever marred not only by the war but by what has
happened since the war ended. The worst casualties may have nothing
to do with battle.
Karnezis's debut novel is fantastic. Unlike many war novels, the
violence is something that exists for the most part in the margins,
coloring the actions of the characters in a subtle and complex way.
This story is really about the emotional effects of the war ---
feelings of desperation, loneliness, anger, dissatisfaction and,
literally and figuratively, wandering lost in the war's
Karnezis's writing style is clear and straightforward but without
the coldness of, say, a Hemingway novel. The ideas, characters and
situations are touched with something so unique that it seems to
verge on magical realism, although nothing magical ever takes
place. The characters are all realistically flawed. Several are
actually quite mad but they remain sympathetic.
THE MAZE offers an interesting commentary on war and aggression and
its effects on individuals and communities. This is a recommendable
novel and Karnezis is an author to keep an eye on.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 7, 2011