Karnezis, as a superb storyteller, leaves us with not one, but two, vicious twists of his plot in the last chapter. And he has the ability to catch us unawares in the self-reflections of his characters. The circus owner, reduced to absolutely nothing by the death of his elephant, decides “You could not avoid making bad decisions if you wanted to be in charge of your own life” – a reassuring view for some, no doubt. Meanwhile his wife, having sex with Mokdad, “felt neither unease nor passion, but the calm conviction that she was setting herself free from grief”. She was, Karnezis tells us, “easy to hurt, like everyone, an open wound”. It is the fact that Karnezis can tell us this and yet reconcile us to those wounds and that woundedness, that marks him as both a sensitive and an honest observer. This is a fine addition to Karnezis’s already impressive list.
Who is meant by “we” in We Are Made of Earth? The word encompasses all mortals in the continuum of creaturely life: refugees, islanders, elephant, birds – and ourselves, the readers. Karnezis’s novel has the universalising succinctness, moral complexity and ironic force of the greatest novellas. Disaster looms in the seed of every phrase – and yet its tone is neutral, distanced, and the dark narrative is spellbinding.
Written in simple, uninflected prose, this short fifth novel from Greek-born Karnezis packs a punch. At its heart are two refugees, bound together when the dinghy they are fleeing in sinks...Switching efficiently between perspectives, Karnezis creates a web of painful ironies, misunderstandings and moral dilemmas. All the while, he emphasises the fragility of human bonds and the persuasive fictions we spin for ourselves.