Shortly before the kick-off of the Thessaloniki International Book Fair, held online this year, Panos Karnezis opens his heart, tracing the imprint of the 21st century, as he does through his recent novel, We Are Made of Earth

Panos Karnezis

London is a sneak glance at a future society

Text: Evi karkiti | Photographs: Panos Karnezis' Archive

In his latest novel, where the refugee crisis serves as a jumping-off point, Karnezis draws attention to characters operating under conditions of extreme pressure, delving into the way and the moment pressure and need transform people. “It is an intriguing topic, as each and every and every one of us has at some point, to a greater or lesser extent, wondered how we would have reacted under extreme conditions, real-life or imaginary, incidents we’ve read about in the papers or in a book, or we’ve seen unfolding in a movie. It is impossible to know beforehand what we would have done, whether we’d demonstrate courage or cowardice, panic or self-composure, selfishness or disinterest. I suspect that extreme conditions amplify our idiosyncratic feature, not what we think of ourselves, but who we truly are. Someone reckless by nature takes more chances, someone fearful freezes out of hesitation, someone merciful sacrifices for others.”

Panos Karnezis belongs to that breed of writers who never cease to renew themselves, both in terms of theme and style, with every new book they publish. Nevertheless, man and his moral adventure always takes center stage in his quest as a writer. “I can’t really tell how I came to choose my topics, but I am mostly inspired by current or historical events, images or landscapes that I catch sight of, or a personal experience. I find all these things more stimulating than a multilayered plot, as in a crime novel for example, maybe because I constantly try to pick up on others’ behavior, and mine as well, which sometimes – especially when I was younger, to be honest – feels so odd and unfamiliar, as if pertaining to a stranger.

Panos Karnezis’ novels, in a low-key yet crystal-clear way, are critical of Western societies. Issues such as the one of disrupted identities are constantly gaining ground, leading many people to go as far to tag modern-day societies as deprived of meaning. What is his personal stance on this? “The way I see it, this critical glance derives from the fact that I suddenly found myself, at the age of 25, in a foreign country, with a different language, a different cultural identity, a different sense of humor etc. Therefore, Ι became – maybe on account of my introversion as well, but certainly not out of conscious choice – an observer of English society and the behavior of people around me, a habit that evolved into a desire and need to record my thoughts through the prism of fiction. I don’t believe in any sort of objective and inherent meaning in our social conduct, apart from the compliance with the rules that allow our social co-existence, such as the respect towards the fundamental rights of others etc. However, what is utterly necessary is for each and every one of us to find a personal meaning within society. If I was to name one praise-worthy feature in Western societies that would be the increasing tolerance towards what is deemed “different”, even though there will always be a part of the population, driven by fear, ignorance or fanaticism – I guess they add up to one and the same thing – that will remain intolerant towards anything out of the ordinary.”

As we are living in a time where humanity is faced up against an unforeseen tribulation, it is interesting to examine in what ways we’ve been affected, and evaluate our outlook on the Covid-19 pandemic. Panos Karnezis shares his view: “The multitude of reactions is interesting. Some conformed to the scientists’ recommendations, while others grew terrified, rebelled, isolated themselves from acquaintances and friends, endorsed conspiracy theories, turned to religion etc. Maybe it all comes down to what I mentioned earlier on, that extreme conditions bring out the true nature of our character, kept well hidden inside of us, whether it’s out of constraint or for practical reasons. For all it’s worth, in my view, our society, on a worldwide scale, responded more or less positively to this crisis. I think most people have had a prudent attitude, regardless of the various ludicrous incidents we sometimes hear in the news.”

Panos Karnezis has been a resident of London for more than 25 years. Living in one of the major metropolis of our world has inevitably left its mark on him: “Apart from the obvious upsides and drawbacks of a colossal city – cultural diversity, creativity, and new trends matched by financial inequality, delinquency, and alienation – London to me is a sneak glance at a future society, where national identity and personal, cultural, religious, sexual, and aesthetic choices will be subdued by the need to co-exist in harmony.”