by Willard Manus
THE MAZE is an amazing novel. Written by Panos (Little Infamies) Karnezis, who was born in Greece in 1967 but moved to England in 1992 to work as an engineer, a profession he gave up for literature, the book begins in a realistic vein, telling of a lost battalion of Greek soldiers trying to find a way out of Turkey in the aftermath of the disastrous 1922 Anatolian war. Cut off from the main part of the army, deprived of radio communication, the battalion goes round and round in circles, assaulted by wind, sand and rain, plagued with disease and disaster, eyed hungrily by ever-watchful vultures.
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, Karnezis begins to shade Part One of his narrative with black humor, then with quirky, surrealistic touches that call to mind The Odyssey as rewritten by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and illustrated by Hieronymous Bosch. By the time the book ends, though, Karnezis' own voice begius to emerge, a fresh, unique voice that will undoubtedly be heard even more strongly in years to come.
THE MAZE shifts into high gear in Part Two, when the doomed battalion, which is led by a death-haunted, morphine-addicted brigadier whose closest aide turns out to be a secret communist agent, stumbles upon a small rat-infested Greek village which has thus far been miraculously untouched by the war. A new set of characters is introduced, among whom are a Scoutmaster mayor, a fat, cynical schoolteacher and a beautiful, flame-haired French whore over whose affections the men quarrel.
Other, even more urgent and personal battles are fought here. The army chaplain, Father Simeon, struggles to overcome his own weaknesses and sins by attempting to convert the Turkish rabble to Christianity. A drunken, burned-out Greek journalist tries to rehabilitate himself (and his career) by spinning the general's misadventures and turning him into a patriot and war hero.
Karnezis is able to find the satire and humor in just about every twist and turn of his story. War may be hell, it may be full of death and despair, but it can also be absurd and risible, he reminds us. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Hdbdnd. $24)