The Maze by Panos Karnezis
Panos Karnezis' The Maze is a subtle (neither overtly comic nor, perhaps, as serious as it might be), moving and engaging novel of warmth and humour. His first book, the critically acclaimed collection of short stories Little Infamies announced Karnezis as a writer of some power, and as a writer to watch. It is good to report that The Maze is no disappointment.
Set in Anatolia in 1922, a Greek expeditionary force having lost its way in the desert of Asia Minor, pursued by Turkish soldiers, bickers amongst itself and blunders forwards toward the coast. Brigadier Nestor is as addicted to morphia as he is to the Greek myths he readily quotes from; his cleric, Father Simeon, is as disappointed in himself as he is passionately sincere in his religion, which he can cleverly utilise to excuse his own manifold weaknesses; his medic, a brave man who despairs of war and who wishes to help friend and foe alike. The Bolshevik Major Porfirio, who has failed in his attempt to win any men to his cause, save for his colonel (who is in love with a radical correspondent whom he has never seen), is another wonderful creation. Lying in the recent memory of all these men is a massacre of Turkish civilians carried out by the brigade that weighs on them all as they seek a way to the coast. Coming across a town, on their way back to the motherland, the brigade settles in for a few days. Here Nestor can investigate fully the recent thefts that have plagued him and his officers and try to work out who is behind the communist propaganda circulating in handbills. And we readers are given the opportunity to meet, amongst others, Mr Othon, the schoolmaster, the grocer, the foolish Mayor and his fiancé, the town's beautiful and exotic prostitute Madame Violetta, her maid Annina and her lover Yusuf the gardener.
Karnezis keeps the tone light throughout. One cannot help but be reminded of Captain Corelli's Mandolin. Particularly at the beginning of the book he overwrites: the sentences are too fussy and there are too many similes (as Julie Myerson rightly pointed out in her review in the Guardian -- not sure Julie had done a great job reading the book though: the schoolmaster is named; Karnezis drops the simile-fest as the novel continues; and counter to what she states, the characters don't blend and the novel is far from "baffling"). But The Maze soon finds its true rhythm and whilst the story never offers quite enough substance, it is an enjoyable read and one that recommends Karnezis as a very decent writer. He is not the new Gabriel Garcia Marquez, as some have suggested, and, happily, the magical realism in the novel is kept at a real minimum (if you can even call the town being covered in red dust from the desert "magical realism" anyway) but he is good - and could be very good indeed.