“Too foreign to be one of them, too cynical to turn back.”
Exclusive excerpt from Ioannis Pappos’ harrowing debut novel, ‘Hotel Living’.
Set between 9/11 and the Financial collapse of 2008, Ioannis Pappos’ debut novel, Hotel Living, paints a portrait of privilege and aspiration in a time of turmoil. The author studies identity, loneliness and human connections through Greek protagonist Stathis Rakis’ story, outlining a lifestyle of unsatisfactory, uninhibited indulgence—that can range from substances to insider trading—in an world that views Rakis as a perpetual outsider—”too foreign to be one of them, too cynical to turn back.”
A finalist for Lambda and Edmund White Debut Fiction awards, Hotel Living has been compared to The Wolf of Wall Street with its excessive storyline, and A Single Man with sensitive, drifting narrator. Read a BlackBook exclusive excerpt of Pappos’ breakout novel, below.
The Friday before Chrismas I walked into the Washington headquarters of Command for my final round of interviews. I was confident, smart. I nailed case studies and personality tests, thinking of my Christmas break with Erik in Bequia— “pronounced Beck-Way,” he’d warned in his e-mail. By four p.m. I knew that Command would make me an offer. At six the next morning, I was on a two-stopover-flight-and-one- boat-ride journey to the Caribbean.
That evening I saw the island of Bequia, black, getting larger, from the deck of the ferry I’d boarded on St. Vincent. The lights of Port Elizabeth sparkled as we headed straight toward them, at the southern end of the Caribbean. There was something familiar and definitive about our ride, the way the ferries cruised confidently into the port of Trikeri in Greece, sliding between adjacent fishing boats like they didn’t exist or matter, or simply knew their exact place in a routine-reassured coexistence. I couldn’t remember the last time I was more tired, jet-lagged, and happy.
Erik was leaning on a semirusted Toyota truck that looked like those death traps I used to drive around in Pelio. He was parked twenty feet from the ferry, radio on, driver’s door wide open. He was tan, in a T-shirt and jeans. Barefoot.
“Hey, Feta!” Erik yelled. “Kalos irthes.”
“I thought I was your only coach in Greek,” I said with a grin.
He mussed my hair and pushed my head back. “The last one didn’t have a garment bag. So you must be better.”
“Did he wear shoes?” I couldn’t stop smiling.
“Careful. I’ll put you in the back, and it’s a bumpy ride to the lodge.” Warm wind hit our faces as Erik drove past the port. The sea, all dark, was eight feet from my right, often less, as Erik strayed to avoid potholes, dogs, and large spiders. I was half- asleep when we arrived at Moonhole, on the very west end of the island. The truck’s radio played Joy Division as we walked into a log cabin and collapsed in the dark.
The next morning I woke up alone, in a room within nature. There was no glass in the windows, nor a door separating the room from the patio, just holes in stone walls. Tree roots surfaced in the middle of the floor, and a bird’s nest clung to a round opening in the ceiling. Still in bed, I pulled my flight itinerary from under my sneakers. Erik’s handwritten note on it said: “Sleepy Greek, welcome to the Arch! There’s coffee. Ask Jeevan down the steps if you need anything. Back at noon. E.”
I couldn’t really make sense of where I was, this unfinished, deserted, 1960s James Bond–meets–National Geographic eco-cabin. What arch?
I needed coffee badly. I walked out onto the patio and forgot about it. Loud birds circled in the sky. Below me, in front of me, everywhere, the big blue ocean spread out. To my right were rocks, with trees bulging above and between them. To my left were more cabins made of gray stone and mortar, arranged at different levels among the land formations. Their walls had no corners or edges, just sweeping forms, as if extensions of the hill. A chill—less of a where-am-I, more of a when-am-I—ran through me.
I spent my mornings smoking, having “breakfast” with Jeevan, and swimming off deserted cliffs at Moonhole. When the sun settled good and the sea stopped changing colors, I’d have a siesta. In the afternoon I would join Erik and his young local friends in saving baby turtles from “evil, bloody birds” at the turtle sanctuary in Park Bay. We weighed and fed the turtles, checked for trauma from birds, and moved them around the shallow nursing pools, following the park custodian’s assessments on the turtles’ “preferences and well-being.” It was a skill I couldn’t crack; as if one needed some tuning-in, some leveling with the silent turtles before one got to understand them.
Erik’s entourage got bigger by the day. Kids kept showing up out of nowhere, while I couldn’t work out how these ten-year-olds made it from Port Elizabeth to the turtle sanctuary with no bus, cars, or bikes in sight. When I asked, they’d just shrug. I tried to explain what I saw by a bay of a small island without letting go of rationality; my Greek rural instincts failing me. I went as far as conceptualizing an HBR case study around them, hypothesizing on the kids’ timely appearances and disappearances, hoping to explain this mystery with a b-school operations principle that I thought I must be missing. They were unguarded, ubiquitous, screaming little monsters, splashing into the three-foot-deep pools, weight lifting the turtles, even throwing them to one another, ready to drop everything for a game of soccer on the beach. But the turtles were oblivious to their yells. They didn’t swim away, hide, or bite, adding to my Cartesian angst, which had been making me a touch less Greek every day since I left home a decade ago.