We Are Made of Earth

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‘Visceral, heartbreaking stuff… realistic and thoughtful.’—The Observer

With Karnezis’ trademark ‘details catching like splinters in that part of the imagination that responds to pure storytelling’ (Times Literary Supplement), this timely story of refugee arrival on a foreign shore opens when an overcrowded dinghy capsizes at sea.

A doctor is among the refugees thrown overboard. In the panic, he saves one life and condemns another. The doctor and the boy he saves—the only witness to the crime—wash up on a tiny Greek island where they are offered shelter by the owner of a small travelling circus. Debt-ridden, the circus owner has just one asset: an Asian elephant, far from her natural habitat but lovingly tended by the owner’s wife even as she mourns their young daughter.

As the two refugees, man and boy, await an endlessly deferred ferry to continue their journey, the displaced elephant becomes both symbolic and substantial, and the unfortunate catalyst for precisely the kinds of misunderstandings and misinterpretations that regularly drown lives.

From the heart-in-mouth opening scene to its melancholy ending, We Are Made of Earth is a skilled blend of seductive linguistic simplicity and luminous moral depth. This is a timeless story of connection and disorientation, longing and self-doubt, as well as a profound comment on the emotional cost of peace and security.

The Observer

23 September 2019
The refugee experience is becoming the story of our times, and Karnezis’s harrowing opening featuring a capsized dinghy adrift at sea, drowning children and, in the end, just two survivors is visceral, heartbreaking stuff. What happens next is odd but initially charming – the doctor and young boy reach a Greek island and are taken in by a small travelling circus that has a wounded elephant. The developing love story and reassuring humanity seems to point We Are Made of Earth in one direction, before Karnezis cleverly and surprisingly pulls away from making this a happy-ever-after tale in favour of something far more realistic and thoughtful.

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