Leading a double life between management consulting and writing, IOANNIS PAPPOS got literary praise for his first novel, HOTEL LIVING, by the likes of Michael Cunningham, Edmund White and Anthony Swofford. While he works on his second novel, DROWNING ZEUS, he still lives in hotels—as consultants do—but calls Manhattan his home.
PANAGIOTIS HADJISTEFANOU: HOTEL LIVING looks at the last decade with a knowing smile, from within-the-party but through a left wing lens. Avoiding a direct clash, you build up some curiosity around the protagonist’s exact position between the haves and have-nots.
IOANNIS PAPPOS: HOTEL LIVING is a post 9/11 love story that begins after the dot-com collapse and ends with the financial meltdown of 2008. Our millennium started with a big bang; unprecedented terrorism, financial orgies, excess. Everything conformed to a meta-Gatsbyesque stage. As markets and the whole world got interconnected, the moral confusion associated with haves/have-nots spiraled. What if you help people in need but your financing comes from oil? Or you do clinical research in human rights-sketchy regions? Where do you draw the line is a difficult question for lots of us. The main character in the novel reflects this limitation.
PH: The plot in HOTEL LIVING follows a group of characters as they navigate through life. Some excel, some stumble, some grow up and some do not. It is a rough story especially on its main character, the Greek well educated immigrant, Stathis Rakis.
IP: I wanted to write an uncompromising novel. HOTEL LIVING takes place during the last era of urbanite predators, before we got silly and started planning our vacations around Instagram feeds. The ’00s were less confused between the image and the object. There was less voyeurism. Characters in HOTEL LIVING partake. They lived different lives. They had savage nights filled with chases, seduction and destruction. They jumped into beds or jobs the way we jumped into a war, just because we could.
PH: At some point HOTEL LIVING takes a deep dive into obsessions that lead Stathis down a lonely path.
IP: In the early part of the book there is sun and beach, and kids playing around in business school, and, of course, the only way is up, as it was for some of us for a moment. But as the story advances things get darker. Shadows come up. People of the shadows, ghost-like byronesque war correspondents pop up. The houses in Los Angeles become copper Lautner. The hills have a magnetic power on Stathis, “I never see the sun in LA…” he admits. Drama builds up in a 1970s claustrophobically noir way.
PH: There are obvious parallels between the protagonist and you: origin, schools, professions, neighborhoods. Is HOTEL LIVING an undercover memoir?
IP: Stathis is a gentleman because he is not afraid to meet and do everything and everyone: the Hamptons and the Bronx, flea bag motels, illegal bike races…he allows himself to be pushed and pulled in many directions. All I have done is management consulting and now some writing. I used to love fishing when I was a kid, but I lost that. That’s pretty much it. I spent five years living in hotels, still do, comes with the job, so I keep running into hotel-trolling ex-colleagues and competitors, but, much like Stathis, I don’t see business class with optimism any more. That we have in common.
PH: You left Greece and you recreated yourself. This type of voyage into the world is a tricky, one needs to adapt to a self-exile and then redefine.
IP: My self-exile often felt like a game. If you reboot, you can act like a juvenile for a bit, which protects you from all the hardwired comparables you grew up with. I had less fear of failure. It was liberating.
PH: What does Greece mean to you?
IP: Greece is stubborn. Beautiful and occupied by strong personalities. As conventionally capable and talented people leave Greece, what’s left is a crude calling, and that’s my kind of beauty: the Greek slow passing of time that I see in youth and older people. And all the unexpected encounters in everything in between. I get a rush when I drive from Athens to Pelio (where I am from) passing cars and gas stations with forgotten pin-up like stickers on their windows. Greek rural roads promise escape, a harshness that you can’t make up, a feeling of having done it all and now things need to restart from nothing.
PH: What is DROWNING ZEUS about?
IP: DROWNING ZEUS takes place in Greece. It is set in a radical society across three decades. There are no tradeoffs like the ones Stathis made, or didn’t make, in HOTEL LIVING. DROWNING ZEUS is a one way street novel. It forces me to be Greek again.