Fear and his servant by Mirjana Novakovic

Fear and his servant by Mirjana Novakovic

Serbian fiction

original title -Strah I njegov sluga

Translator – Terence McEneny

Source – review copy

I reach the last of this stop on Peter Owen World series Serbian collection. The last book of the series has my favourite cover of the year and like the other books were on the Shortlist for the Nin prize. Mirjana first published a collection of short stories in 1996 since then she has written three novels this was her first novel the other two have been on the Nin shortlist. She has had her books translated into a number of languages this book came out from a Serbian publisher a number of years ago.

It had been years since my last visit to Belgrade. And I missing it. I was curious to see what twenty years of Austrian rule had dome for the place. The last time I’d seen it, it was an Oriental bazaar, the skyline bristling withcountless minatrets, the air filled with the stench of tallow and the wailing of Muezzins. In Pest I’d heard how the city was nearly destroyed in the siege or 1717 but that the fortifications had since been tripled, making it even more impregnable during its time under the Turks.

Otto arrives to see how the Austrians have changed the place .

Well, the setting is 18th century Serbia and the atmosphere of this novel is similar to that of Dracula or Kaspar Hauser a story told from Princess Marie Ausua is in town looking for love and the same time as she arrives Otto Van Hausberg arrives with his Serbian servant Novak a crafty man, I was reminded of the many servants we have seen that are devious in the past . They are seen by some as the devil and his man on earth. They are there checking out reports of Vampires and an Attack on an Austrian tax collector.Marie and otto who has taken to his role as being the devil set off to the hinterlands of Serbia to find if the vampire attacks are real.Marie looks forward to seeing more of the country her eyes are naive and childlike at a time. The chapters switch from character to character and there is a sense of the past reflecting the present at times as well.The famous Serbian Vampire Sava Savanovic a real-life character and the best know Vampire Myth in Serbia lurks in the background.

Mary, Maria. Maria Augusta. She lay there in all helplessness. How does tat Serb put in that poem They’re always quoting? she sleeps, perhaps / Her eyes outside all evil. But the vampire wouldn’t let her. And, outside evil was standing watch. The red count sat beside me, quite unconcerned. He was twirling one of the many curls of his red wig

Mary is innocent and Naive in a way and as it says helpless at times.

This is one of those stories that we read middle European books for where else do we see the devil turn up or Evil From Stantango A man arriving in a town unknown cause many troubles. Like others, Otto is a voice questioning the world the devil on earth what is evil does the past have evil does the present have evil. This is one of those reads that will take many a rereading to discover the many twists in the tales also the links from the 18th century Serbia setting through the modern day Serbia and politics of the recent past. The power struggle between the East and west is also shown her Between The Austrian side and the older Ottoman side of the country. This is a clever retelling of old tales from modern eyes.

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The house of Remembering and Forgetting by Filip David

 

The House of remembering and Forgetting by Filip David

Serbian fiction

Original title – Kuća sećanja i zaborava

Translator – Christina Pribichevich Zoric

Source – review copy

I reach the second book of the Serbian stop in Peter world series. Filip David has been a big name in Balkan fiction for a number of years. Forming a circle of writers first in Sarajevo then later in Belgrade where he opposed the Serbian leader Milosevic at the time. He also worked on the radio dramas til getting sacked for starting a trade union. This book won the NIn Book prize (Like the Serbian Booker prize ) when it came out in 2014.

My father was distantly related to the famous Houdini, whose real name was Erik Weisz. He was one of Rabbi Mayer Weisz’s six children. The great illusionist became famous or his escape acts from locked spaces and chains, displaying skills that verged on the impossible. My father often joked, although later said quite seriously, that this was a legacy shared by all the weiszes.

One of my fathers close relatives was named erik after the celebrated escapologist. He was one of the few members of the Weisz familyto have survivied the Holocaust, although later he disappeared without a trace. According to unconfirmed rumours he finished up in a mental asylum.

THe family connection to the escapologist and Alberts own tale of escape.

This book is a fictional action of a Holocaust survivor Albert Weiss and his story. He is set on this path when in the present he visited an exhibition with a pair of rooms about the holocaust. He then recounts his life and his survival in how his parents died he was brought up by another couple. After he was thrown out of a train on its way to the death camp. The true story of the Serbian jews told in many tales of Albert Weiss and his life. Old man remembering in a world where news is so fast it is forgotten. This is told in the snippets of stories some forgotten some connected to the past like discovering the brains evil centre. A birth of a devil baby shows the horror and death still walk hand in hand as panic grabs people in Columbia. All this as Weiss lives his life in New York, but still hears the clatter of that train on the rails as he head as a six-year-old child to the Death camp but out of this came his rebirth.

Albert shuts his eyes. That is how you become invisible. That is the incredible trick his father used to talk abpout. One worthy of the celbrated relative hounini, the greatest escape artist of all time.

“This world of ours is not exactly the most perfect place to live in ” his father used to say “When you find yourself in trouble, just shut your eyes and wait ”

His famous relative and also the fathers words he remembers are touching and sad!

Susie from Istros compared this book to those of Dasa Drndric, They both share a sense of collective loss of the Jewish voice in the Balkans and also both serve as warnings. The David with its reflections of the current news and Dasa in her most recent book translated into English which shows a man looking back at how much the world had changed in recent years. We are forgetting more than remembering the past these days. Also, there is a feeling of the past become trivial like the news piece on the painter using Holocaust ashes to paint with. A point Topol touched on in his book The Devil’s Workshop about wanting to make a Disneyland like death camp experience. This is a testament to the Serbian jews that died and those who survived like David himself who was a survivor.

 

The tragic fate of Moritz Toth by Dana Todorovic

 

The tragic fate of Moritz Toth by Dana Todorovic

Serbian fiction

Original title – tragična sudbina Morica Tota

Translator – the writer herself

Source – reivew copy

I m so pleased to get to the third in Peter Owen series of world series of books. This time the stop on their journey around the world is Serbia. This written by the half Serbian, Half American writer Dana Todorovic was shortlisted for a number of prizes when it first came out in Serbian. Including the big prize the Nin pirze. Dana also works as a translator of mainly films and theatre. She has also worked as Interpreter at the UN.

This is when I discovered that the red priest, that is IL Prete Rosso, had been the nickname of the legendary Italian violinist and composer Antonio Vivaldion account of his flaming red hair and the fact he had briefly studied to become a priest. As a hardcore punk , I owed my flaming red hair not to genetics but to a tube of Koleston hair dye of the shade 77/44, and my wardrobe at the time consisted of scruffy wollen sweaters stretched down to the knees and black t-shirt dedicated to the funeral ,stairway to hell and filthy communion.

He is called the red priest at the opera he finds out why here .

The book is formed of two narratives. The first narrative finds The title character Moritz Toth narrating his life. He is a former punk who has suffered a recent number of setbacks including the loss of a close female friend. He has a turn of luck when he gets a job in the Opera as a prompter. The guy that sits in a wooden box on the front of the stage helping the singers if they forget lines. His first job is tackling the complex Puccini opera Turandot. As the story of his life unfolds he has a sense that like a character in a Greek myth his life is being controlled and who is that feeling or being he keeps sensing in the background behind him.He also has to cope with being stuck in a small wooden box all day  The second storyline in the book follows an official Tobias Keller.Who works for The moral issuses adviser with the office of the great oversee. We follow him through a number of meeting and as his job and reason for being in the book starts to unfold we see how he is connected to Moritz.

“Your name ”

These were the presiding officers first words to Tobias. His voice was rather thin for such a large man,and Tobias suspected that he was burdened with something of a orthodontic anomaly, as he spoke with a certain impediment, causing missiles of saliva to shoot across the room at random targets,

“Tobias Keller,” he answered.

“What is it that you do, Mr Keller?”

“I am the adviser for the moral issues with the office of the great oversee”

Tobias face a panel and gives his ambiguous job title to the committee

 

This is a short novel about one man struggling with his life. Then how the other person actions have affected those it shows how a chance and events. Can change people s lives. Both men are effects as Tobias influence of Mortiz life is considered by those he worked for as maybe wrong. I got a sense of Tobias’s  world is rather like that of the world within the film  Brazil and in fact in the way he deals with Moritz is like the angel visions of Jonathan Pryce in that film. but maybe it also harks back to the old nature of the Yugoslavia of the past with its inner working and committees like those Tobias gets caught up in. I managed to get through this review without mention Kafka, but yes there is a sense of his world in Tobias narrative.

Globetrotter by David Albahari

Globetrotter by David Albahari

Serbian fiction

Original title – Svetski Putnik

Translator – Ellen Elias-Bursac

Source – library book

I had long want to try Albahari he is a writer that has always got good reviews over on the complete review with =three of his books getting -A score on the site. So when I saw this in the library system I thought be a great chance to read David  Albahari A Serbian writer , who also translates books from English into Serbian, he has won a number of prize including the Ivo Andric prize .Plus this was also published by Margellos world republic of letters a imprint of Yale press that I have a fondness for .

After that we visited the gray wolf, the buffalo, the bat, the golden eagle, the swan, and the hummingbird, and Daniel Atijas told me that the collection reminded him of a similar natural history museum in Belgrade, which he hadn’t thought of for years, and, come to think of it, he hadn’t been there for ages, for so long, in fact that he wasn’t even certain whether it was still up and running.But when he’d last visited, probably on a school trip, he had wanted to stay there forever.

A tour of a museum brings back a school trip and Daniels home town of Belgrade

Well now globetrotter is one of those tricky to describe books as it is set in Banff in Canada at a yearly art event ,but is mainly about former Yugoslavia  and the outfall of the recent war . A writer visits the art centre in Banff as a guest writer for three weeks. This writer Daniel Atijas is the main character but we see him through the eyes of the narrator of this single paragraph who is a Canadian  painter he has painted many faces of Daniel as he is attracted to this man but as he painted the many faces we see the story of Daniel but also what lead to him being in Canada the war in Yugoslavia but also the writers place in the world he says how many writers have left their homeland become Emigre writers . Does distance and history change how a writer writes ? As the two grow closer the reader discovers more about Daniels past and what he sees as his future as a writer. We also see a slowly unfolding love affair as the painter is so captured bu this Serbian writer and his tales but also by his face that seems to tell its own story .

Daniel’s room, I noticed that my misgivings had been unwarranted. The grief was still there on the grandson’s face, but by then, if I can put it this war, his was only half the grief, the other half had slided over Daniel Atijas faces, at least for that evening and night, looked less and less like the face I had been drawing and because of which I was sitting where, by all accounts, I should not have been.

The painter sees how the loss of a Croatian touches the Serbian writer when he is told by the grandson of the Croat .

I loved this it easy to compare the book to Thomas  Bernhard and many central european writers  as he writes in a similar breathless style to David in this the action is like one story coming at you at a pace. But for me it is maybe how David want Daniel and the unnamed story told a brief meeting of minds in three weeks that seemed to have touched both artist and writer in some way. This is a story of dealing with having a new home far away from your home but also ones own past a classic exile tale, but also Like Daniel David himself visited Banff in 1994 just as the story in the story was his own story and to add to the mix of Banff the translator herself visited it in 2001. So Daniel story is really Davids story of how he is trying to carry on as a writer in exile .I loved this it is a wonderful book that tells much about the writer but also those early years of the collapse of the former Yugoslavia remind me of me years at the same time in Germany working in a factory with a mixture of  Balkan refugees from Bosnia , Kosovo and Croatia

Have you read David Albahari ?

Ekaterini by Marija Knežević,

ekaterinfrontcover_50b7770928f02

Ekaterini by Marija Knežević,

Serbian fiction

Original title –  Ekaterini

Translator – Will Firth

Source – review copy

Well another book from last years backlog of read and unreviewed books as I try to clear the backlog, so  I get to another of the Istros books Best Balkan book 2013 ,this time it is the Serbian writer Marija Knežević she studied at Belgrade university and the in the US ,worked in Serbian radio ,she has published a number of books in various styles of writing poetry ,essay ,short fiction and novels .She was included in the best european fiction 2012 for Serbia .She has also won a number of book prizes in Serbia .

Where is he ? Why is he late ? All right , I always come a little early just in case , but he should have passed by already ,like every other day .How did he look ? Is he going to come ? Is he going to give me a piece of chocolate today too ?

The start of a chapter grandmother when Ekaterini was waiting for her fathers return from the great war .

Well Ekaterini is a novel about women in the Balkans ,about moving through places ,about longing ,about a quest to return home .As you see a complex book that deals with one women journey from Greece to Yugoslavia as it was then and the history of the 20th century she saw .The woman is Ekaterini the title of the book she is as Greek women that falls in love with a man from what is now Serbia and follows him home to Belgrade and she makes a life with him this is before the second world war ,the we see how her and her two young daughters cope during the second world war .The change fortunes as the war goes one way and the another the two leaders Hitler and Stalin ,the post war period of Socialism and of course the great leader of Yugoslavia Tito then post Tito to the falling apart of Yugoslavia .Ekaterini always dreams through out her life of returning to her home in Thessalonike .The story is told by her granddaughter who greatly admired her grandmother .

Visiting her grave is like going for a walk for me .They say Lesce cemetery is a real “fresh air -spa” .Sure enough ,I alway come back from the cemetery feeling refreshed ,in a mood such as only intoxication with oxygen can bring

Ekaterini granddaughter the unnamed narrator of the book visiting the grandmothers grave .

Well the book is described as the reverse  story of the myth  Odysseus of course instead of Odysseus going and fighting in the wars it is a female Ekaterini a modern-day take on Penelope  that takes the journey not to fight but to show the other side of a conflict and that is the home life ,what is it like to bring up a family against this backdrop ? what is it like to be a women instead of a man and miss your homeland .I love the fact that Susan the publisher of Istros books keeps turning up gems like this one .Yet another book that for me shows the importance of books in translation .They take you to another place ,see the world through another eyes and like this can twist what we known as Greek myth into a greater myth of the Balkans and switching what was the male narrative of the original to a modern female narrative .

Have you a book you’ve enjoyed that is a modern  retelling of a  myth ?

Hidden Camera by Zoran Zivkovic

Source – Library

Translator Alice-copple Toskic

Zoran Zivkovic is a Serbian writer ,he qualified in literary theory from Belgrade university ,soon after started publishing stories in magazines ,then in the mid 1980’s set up Yugoslavia’s first private publishing house Polaris ,he has present TV programmes on sci-fi in his homeland.and wrote a two volume encyclopaedia about sci-fi as well .he has published twenty books over the last thirty years .

Hidden camera was published in 2003 ,it focus on an unnamed undertaker ,this man is a bit OCD with a highly ordered life a neat flat and life .So one day a letter drops on his floor his is invited to a film premier ,so he debates whether to go to this mysterious film ,in the end decides to and is shocked to discover that he himself is the star of this film shot of him sat on a park bench like he does every day ,slightly dismayed he goes on with his every day life ,next he is in a bookshop and finds a book on his life after another invitation .This makes him think he is an unwitting star of a tv show ,so he starts to wonder what he does and who is real and who has been placed in for   him to interact with .This leads into a confusing life for the once perfect life of the undertaker .

The scene finally came to life again ,The figure of a small middle-aged man appeared from the right ,He was wearing a dark suit, white shirt, and black tie ,He also moved in slow motion,but unlike the women with the dog his steps were some what awkward ,almost grotesque .He went up to the bench ,sat at the end next to the streetlights , took off his jacket and draped it across the back of the bench ,Then he opened he book he had brought and settled down to read ,Sitting there without moving ,He appeared fused with the bench.

I watched for a good half minute before the realization finally hit me like a flash .

The undertaker realizes he is the star of the film he has been invited too .

Now I like this book it has classic touches an unnamed narrator remind me of Kafka ,in fact a lot of the early part of the book did a man thrown into a surreal world not knowing how he got there ,the undertakers conclusion that he was on a reality TV show shows how powerful this type of tv has become in some people’s lives and thew fact we could all be unwitting stars in a tv show .Zoran makes you wonder on the boundaries of what is real or not ,like the Film the Truman show it doesn’t take a lot for your life to unwind when you find out you’re a unwitting star of the show .I’m sure this is also some comment on the past communist society where as we see in films like the lives of others every one was watching one another .You are left with a sense of who too trust , Alice Toskic did a great job on the translation . this book is part of Dalkey archives eastern European literature series .

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