Greek political novelist is top draw at Spain mega-festival

Greek political novelist is top draw at Spain mega-festival
Petros Márkaris in the streets of Oviedo. Photo: Martin Roberts
Greek best-selling novelist Petros Márkaris has top billing at this year's Semana Negra crime-writing festival in Spain and as well as his literary merits, his unabashed political approach also draws crowds and readers wherever he goes.

“When I think about each country’s reality, politics is always there. When they  say I am a politically committed writer, it is not that I have committed myself politically, but that politics has committed me,” Márkaris told a packed public library in Oviedo, in northern Spain.

Like Márkaris, his fictional detective Inspector Costas Haritos cut his teeth under the Greek military junta of 1967-74, and his recent novels revolve around Greece’s debt crisis which began in 2010 and the harsh austerity measures which ensued.

For Márkaris, the crisis was just the latest episode in a turbulent life that began in Istanbul in 1937 as part of the historical Greek diaspora. After living through the Second World War as a child, the family left Turkey in 1954 and he eventually settled in mainland Greece in 1964, just three years befoe a military coup.

“You know, I come from a generation on which politics weighed very heavily, we were very much involved. It didn’t matter whether we were academics, artists or writers, politics was always there,” Márkaris added in fully fluent English.

Whereas on the one hand, left-wingers, particularly in Spain, have drawn encouragement from his biting criticism of the impact of austerity policies on ordinary Greeks in his novels, conservatives have been quick to cite his no less fervid denunciation of Greece’s governing Syriza government.

“I have been very critical of the party which is now in government, but it is not that I have  been critical ever since it obtained a majority, but since it was in opposition. The left faces a crisis throughout Europe,” he said.

“This doesn’t mean there aren’t left-wingers in Europe, but that left-wingers don’t have a convincing party.”

Márkaris admits to being frankly “exhausted” after a planned trilogy of austerity-based novels turned into a quartet due to the sheer duration of the Greek crisis. His next books will therefore take a new if unexepected turn for a crime writer.

“There’s a lot of money in Greece. So far in my novels there has been almost no money, but now there is, a lot. The novel is not about bodies, but following the money. The title is ‘Offshore’,” he said with a wry smile.

But politics is not his only passion.  In addition, like many a crime writer from Spain or Italy, Márkaris also loves good Mediterranean cuisine.

“One of the things I hate about the Scandinavian detectives is the way they eat pizza and sándwiches, and swill beer,” Markaris said while drawing guffaws from the crowd.

By Martin Roberts in Oviedo

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