Goran Petrović: Код срећне руке (At the Lucky Hand)

The latest addition to my website is Goran Petrović‘s Код срећне руке (At the Lucky Hand). This is a clever story which is, on the face of it, a fairly conventional love story (or, rather, several love stories) but with two variants. Characters find that, when they are reading a book, they are not only aware of others reading the book at the same time but can communicate with them or see them. even if they live many miles away. Secondly, they can also enter into the landscape of the book. Adam, our hero, is given a book to edit and finds himself entering into the landscape of the book and, at the behest of another reader, editing the book, thereby changing the landscape. It gets a lot more complicated than that, as we follow modern Serbian history as well as the changing fortunes of several characters. It is very cleverly done though at times confusing.

Miloš Crnjanski: Roman o Londonu (Novel of London)

Last year I read and reviewed Miloš Crnjanski‘s Roman o Londonu (Novel of London). This book is a classic of Serbian literature, a literature virtually unknown in the English-speaking world.

I read the book in French as it was not available in English at that time. However, it has since been published in English by New Orleans-based publsher Lavender Ink / Diálogos, a publisher which, I must admit, I had not heard of till this book, in a translation by the very excellent Will Firth.

Sadly, publishing it early this year meant its London launch got swamped by the Covid-19 news and lockdown and since then, it seems to have disappeared without a trace. The matter has not been helped by the Serbian copyright-holder allowing only a 500 print run and not allowing a digital version.

The book is not cheap at $40/£30 though, at the time of writing, it is on sale from the publisher at $29.95. If you are reluctant, let me remind you of the fate of three other great novels published in limited edition and since difficult to obtain.

The first is Oğuz Atay‘s Tutunamayanlar (The Disconnected), a great Turkish novel. It was published in a very limited edition of 200 by the ad hoc publisher Olric Press. They hoped a commercial publisher would pick it up. None has. You can no longer get a copy for love or money.

The second is Arno Schmidt’s Bottom’s Dream. I have a copy but have not yet been brave enough to read it. It is also long since out of print. The UK version of a well-known only bookseller has it for £150 while the US version is charging the interesting amount of $389.47, in other words a lot more than the original price.

Finally I would mention Miquel de Palol’s Troiaccord. This book is in five volumes and only available in the original Catalan. I also have a copy and also have not yet been brave enough to start reading it. However, it is very difficult to obtain and very expensive if you do manage to find a copy.

In other words, my advice is buy this book now or it will go out of print and will be difficult and expensive to obtain in the future and the current price will seem like a real bargain.

While I am discussing this issue, I would urge you that, wherever possible, to buy books published by small publishers directly from the publisher. I mentioned this in May and that blog post contains links to many small publishers who are selling their own books, both print and ebooks, so please buy directly from them. Many of them (probably all of them) run on very tight budgets and the Covid-19 crisis has really hit them so they need every penny/cent/euro/dollar/pound/peso/yen/etc. they can get.

Miloš Crnjanski: Seobe (Migrations)

The latest addition to my website is Miloš Crnjanski (Mils Tsernianski)s Seobe (Migrations). This novel is set during the 1744 campaign of the War of the Austrian Succession and involves a Serbian troop under the command of Major Vuk Isaković. We follow their journey from modern-day Croatia to the modern-day French-German border. At the same time we follow the fate of Vuk’s wife and daughters, left behind with Vuk’s unmarried brother, Arandjel, a merchant. Neither story goes well for the protagonists. The Serbians have no idea where they are going or why and they are treated badly by the rest of the army. They fight and lose men but do not why or where. Meanwhile back home, Arandjel is attracted to his sister-in-law. This novel is both about the futility of war and about Serbian nationalism and the unhappy history of the Serbian people. It is thoroughly miserable but every well-told.

Miloš Crnjanski: Roman o Londonu [London Novel]

The latest addition to my website is Miloš Crnjanski‘s Roman o Londonu [London Novel]. This is a long and sad tale, based on Crnjanski’s own life, about a Russian prince, Nikolai Rodionovich Repnin, and his wife, Nadia,in exile in London. They had fled Crimea in 1922 and travelled around Europe but, because of World War II, are now (late 1947) in London. Initially, they had survived by selling valuables but now they are broke. Nikolai manages to get a few odd jobs but never seems to fit in particularly with the British but nor with the many Poles nor, indeed, with his fellow Russians. Nadia makes and sells dolls but it is not very lucrative. We follow in detail their struggles with housing, jobs, money and, above all, depression over their fate. Both consider suicide. In the end, Nadia goes to the United States, where she has an aunt, and tries to get a visa for Nikolai. This is an excellent novel on the travails of forced exile. It is not available in English but surprisingly, it has just appeared in Italian, forty-eight after its original publication in Serbian.

David Albahari: Kontrolni punkt (Checkpoint)

The latest addition to my website is David Albahari‘s Kontrolni punkt (Checkpoint). The novel tells about a platoon of soldiers sent to man a barrier on the top of the hill. They have no idea what the barrier is for, where they are – even which country they are in – nor what they are supposed to do. There is no habitation around and no-one wants to pass through the barrier. Initially, it is calm but then one of the soldiers is found murdered. Gradually, other soldiers are picked off. A group of refugees arrives to pass through the barrier but that does not go well. Eventually, a war does arrive as armed forces arrive but it is still not clear either to our original soldiers or, indeed, to the others who is fighting whom and why. What we do know is that the war is particularly barbaric and cruel, both towards the enemy soldiers – everyone is the enemy – and towards the civilian population. Clearly based on the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, the book does not hold back as damning war as pointless and cruel.

Dana Todorović: Tragična sudbina Morica Tota (The Tragic Fate of Moritz Toth)

The latest addition to my website is Dana Todorović:‘s Tragična sudbina Morica Tota (The Tragic Fate of Moritz Toth). This is a clever tale of an unemployed punk rocker, the eponymous Moritz Toth, who finds salvation as the prompter for the lead tenor in Turandot. However, he also finds that at first one and then two mysterious characters seem to be stalking him. Who are they? Why are they stalking him and are they going to murder him? Meanwhile, we are also following the story of Tobias Keller, Advisor for Moral Issues with the Office of the Great Overseer, who has broken the rules in his role as guide to Moritz Toth by putting pebble in front of his bicycle in breach of Article 98a of the Causal Authority Regulations. Who is Tobias? Who is the Great Overseer? And what have they got to do with Moritz? Todorović tells a fine tale with philosophical conundrums, the problems of determinism and how opera and a loving prostitute can save a worried man.

David Albahari: Pijavice (Leeches)

The latest addition to my website is David Albahari‘s Pijavice (Leeches). The novel is set in Belgrade, where Albahari used to live before emigrating to Canada.The novel is decidedly chaotic. It starts off with our unnamed narrator, a translator, who also writes a weekly column for a local magazine, sometimes on contentious issues. He sees a man slapping a woman by the river bank but does not intervene, not least because he sees another man watching the event. He will continue to see this man, who, he thinks, is following him. He follows the woman but loses track of her. From there on, the novel becomes increasingly chaotic, as he follows mysterious signs round Belgrade, receives a strange manuscript, is contacted by unusual people and gets involved with both a mathematician and Jewish Kabbalists in an attempt to find out what is going on. The more he investigates, the more complex things appear and his life becomes. One area where it is clear, however, is the rampant anti-Semitism in Belgrade, in which he gets caught up, particularly when he writes an article on the topic. He is attacked and threatened. There is no real mathematical or religious solution to the complexity or the viciousness and, like Albahari himself, we learn that he is writing this account from the haven of exile, presumably Canada, where he says, all Serbians go. It is a wonderful novel in the East European tradition of Kafka and the like.

Dobrica Ćosić

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The writer and former president of Yugoslavia, Dobrica Ćosić, died two days ago. There are not all that many leaders of countries who are also noted writers but Dobrica Ćosić is one. Several of his books have been translated into English (see picture at left). They are all long out of print, though readily available from the usual sources. I own a couple but have yet to read them. They tend to deal with the wars that the Serbs have had to face – World War II and the struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire. As a key Serbian nationalist, he initially supported Milosevic but later moved away from him.