CULTURE

Greek teller of tales in English

The surprise of the year is Panos Karnezis’s short story collection, «Little Infamies» (Jonathan Cape, 2002). A native speaker of Greek, Karnezis writes superbly in English. Set in a nameless village at an undefined period in time, «Little Infamies» has a universal flavor with just enough local detail to make the villagers distinctly Greek. Each story stands firmly on its own, though the same characters, locations and even props reappear. Karnezis has mastered short-story techniques, stepping surely in the territory of Chekhov and Peter Carey. His opening sentences pique the curiosity and contain a kernel of subsequent plot development. Some stories, like «A Day on Pegasus,» have a sting in the tail worthy of O. Henry or Somerset Maugham. Others, like «Whale on the Beach,» are open-ended but satisfying in the manner of Katherine Mansfield. He reverses the time-sequence for dramatic effect in «Sins of a Harvest God,» skillfully linking the archetypal cycle of death and renewal to some not-so-small infamies. Heminwayesque taciturnity in «Sacrifice» builds to a sense of doom in simple, declarative sentences. The book starts with an earthquake and ends with a deluge, but the intervening events mostly pertain to the everyday. Karnezis is a wickedly perceptive observer of his fellow-man, but tolerant of the smaller infamies. Even in the darkest stories – such as «The Hunters in Winter,» which hints at an impending massacre – he makes no judgment. And Karnezis is a born teller of tales, a hilarious raconteur who draws the reader directly into his world with its all-too-human denizens: the nameless village about to be wiped off the map; Father Gerasimos, whose relentless efforts to keep his flock on the right path are tempered by his own peccadilloes, and the parrot with the deplorable vocabulary whose owner attempts to give it a classical education.