Til kingdom come by Andrej Nikolaidis

Til Kingdom come by Andrej Nikolaidis

Montenegrin fiction

Translator – Will Firth

Source – review copy


You better run You better run and run and run
You better run You better run
You better run to the City of Refuge
You better run You better run
You better run to the City of Refuge

You stand before your maker
In a state of shame
Because your robes are covered in mud
While you kneel at the feet
Of a woman of the street
The gutters will run with blood
They will run with blood!

You better run, you better run
You better run to the City of Refuge
You better run, you better run
You better run to the City of Refuge

No other reason to feature this song other than I know Andrej is a Nick Cave fan and we meet in a huge city of refugee for so many .

I have featured the first two books from Andrej Nikolaidis ,what is a loose trilogy that this book forms the third part of set . The book take part around the city of Ulcinj .Andrej also did a piece for the blog about his love of Thomas Bernahrd .I have also meet and had lunch with him a couple of years ago (more about that later ) .Any way this is the latest title from him and his publisher Istros books .

I wrote for the newspaper and that’s how I made ends meet .For a while , I used the money my grandmother has leftnto me , but soon learned to save , and what I earned from six articles would last until the end of the month

I wrote quickly and with ease , and what I wrote had an audience ,They were commentary piece at first , fiery and provocative .People liked to read them, especially those who didn’t agree with me –

I laughed at this as Andrej writes a lot of articles and is known for speaking his mind !!

The story starts here Ulcinj ,as a report writes a story that leads to him finding out his own history isn’t true the person who brought him up wasn’t a relative and who was his mother ? This leads him into a world of women trained as killers and trained to kill opponents of the Yugoslavian government of the time .The journey goes to london and back but also to the present and the past as one man tries to find out the truth of his own heritage .Add to this a dose of Jewish mysticism , philosophy and being cynical you have a story that never lets up from start to finish .

That’s how I remembered you – it’s not every day that someone listens to the story about the hidden grave as if it was the greatest secret in the universe  .More tea ? He asked as he shook my hand and apologized for having to leave me . “Work calls ”

Felling poisoned by all the nicotine .I walked to the other end of the square , passing a Korean who must have been a singer and was posing in a white shirt for a photographer and his numerous assistants .I jumped the fence and headed to the left ,I strolled into the Conway hall ..

I loved the scenes in London Conway hall is home of Istors books Andrej’s uk publisher .

I included this long quote above about being sat in red lion square , as I sat in red lion square and drank mint tea and smoked cigarettes with Andrej ,Susan from Istros  books the day we had lunch , whilst we did this a man who did look rather like a pop star was having a number of pictures taken by a professional photographer .I am amazed that an event I was at creeped into a book as a very small scene , that just shows the writer’s mind at work , Andrej said he was working on this book at the time we meet , but little did I expect the place and events i had also witnessed that day to make it into this book . As ever Andrej has used his books to examine the past of his homeland ,but also ask questions about that past about how we remember the past and what importance that past has now . For me this is what makes him a significant writer as he leaves us the reader with many questions long after we put the book down and for me that is one of the great things literature should make us do and that is question and wonder about our own existence and the world around us .

Ekaterini by Marija Knežević,


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 ?

A handful of sand by Marinko Koščec


A handful of sand by Marinko Koščec

Croatian fiction

Original title To malo pijeska dianu

Translator Will Firth

Source – review copy

Every time a book from Istros books drop through my door ,I know for a fact I’m in for a treat so far this is my fourth books from every one as different as the one before but equally as brilliant as the one before so no to the book from Marinko Koščec ,He is a lecturer in French literature for the university in Zagreb .he works as an editor for the Sysprint publishing house and also teaches novel-writing .He has so far published five novel his novel someone else won a big prize in Croatia ,this book Handful of sand was nominated for the Jutarnji list award .

For as long as I can remember I’ve been a magnet for weirdos both for those who are kept at a safe distance with that label ,as well as people who live among us peacefully and pose no danger til something in them erupts, for no apparent reason and seem to need my proximity when it starts .

Haven’t we all felt like this at times ?


A handful of sand is a story of a romance between two people ,but is larger than that, it is  the story of two people ,but also living and growing up in the modern Croatia of the book  .The book is formed of interchanging chapters one from a male narrator the other a female narrator .The male narrator works in publishing  as a proofreader (we also see a number of mentions of translations into Croatian here ) we follow him from his  child hood through university to now working in publishing ,the ups and downs of a modern life loss, disappointments   ,his relationship with his parents ,the female narrative moves along a same path  to the male ,but it is the male story I associated with more ,what comes across is how do we get to where we are ? This book I said is a romance novel but instead of starting at the usual point we start a romance novel we start and the start and get to the starting point of the romance ,so as the book progresses we she the two unnamed narrators move closer in each others circles to each other .Til ?and then out again

Very soon ,perhaps while we were still standing there ,I knew I wasn’t imaging things ; although that couldn’t yet be true because truth still had to be woven ,weft for weft and warp for warp .I’D been irritated and disheartened so many times by those standard expectations that I just fulfil the stereotype and nourish it with my flesh

How often have you felt this upon meeting someone


I think the most important bit of information I discovered about Marinko Koščec  is that he teaches french Literature ,because at times this reminds me of existentialist writing the books is so much about detail as about why and who we are ,what makes us the person we are at a certain point which is of course the whole question behind existentialism . Marinko Koščec Has a dark wit as well a couple of times I even laughed out loud during this book .This book shows how precious and fragile love is between two people in Modern Croatia ,but this story is also a story every one can associate with even outside Croatia  .I not sure where the title comes from but I imagine sand draining out of a hand til you end up with two grains of sand left by chance and isn’t that what love is sometimes chance aren’t we all grains of sand waiting to end up together .I also wonder if it is an homage to the Waugh book a handful of dust,but as I read the book I just thought it was chance they had a similar titles .I must also mention that any one near london and book fairing it must see Istros books as they are running the Croatian book stand at the fair the first time a Balkan state has had a stand at the book fair

Have you a favourite book from the Balkans

August 2021


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