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26 Oct 15

Five Books to Seek Out at the Belgrade Fair

Sasa Dragojlo

This year the International Belgrade Book Fair will present 1,500 titles, but there are five books from prominent Serbian writers translated into English that readers should not miss.

Ultramarine, Mileta Prodanovic

Ultramarine can be read as an illustrated autobiographical essay or as a travelogue novel. Mileta Prodanovic centres his text on the character of the father, a never-ending and secretive obsession of Serbian culture; it offers an analysis of masculinity and identity, of maturation and political expressiveness. Ultamarine is an ironic and sentimental guide to our times in which its author shows how poetics and politics can be effectively combined.

 Lake Como, Srdjan Valjarevic

Solitude is a wonderful thing if you can handle it, says the author of Lake Como, based on his own experience of living in a voluntarily chosen margin. When his hero, a novelist, receives a Rockefeller scholarship to spend a month in Villa Maranese in Bellagio on Lake Como, he is bound to reconsider his measure of things, to find his place in a world of whose existence he was not aware of before. Valjarevic received the "Bank Austria Literaris 2008" Eastern European literary award for the book.

The Cyclist Conspiracy, Svetislav Basara

When The Cyclist Conspiracy appeared two decades ago, it was considered a kind of cultural provocation that stirred the literary audience of the time. Rising from the musty cellar of a local library in the backwaters of western Serbia, the author guides us through a fantastic maze of (fictitious or factual?) documentation of one of the greatest held secrets of all time: an ancient Brotherhood, meeting and planning in the realm beyond sleep, are guiding the destiny of humankind into the arms of Providence - from the future. Drawing the reader into a broad circle of eccentric characters, historical and literary figures (from Charles the Hideous to Nietzsche, Sherlock Holmes and Freud), Basara calls into question the unities of space and time, proving once and for all a truth that we all know in our heart of hearts: History is in the eye of the beholder.

 Baltimore, Jelena Lengold

In Baltimore, Jelena Lengold offers an exquisite portrayal of a Belgrade writer, a woman in her forties, whose unresolved inner conflicts with herself and the people closest to her have led her to a sobering dead end. She is compelled to turn around and look closely at the routine of her everyday life – her marriage, family, friends, loves, lies and the like. What she finds is a strange mixture of uncertainty and boredom, insecurity and determination which grows into full-blown frustration during sessions with her therapist. The writer’s block the protagonist suffers from is a metaphor for a blocked life, a life led in the recesses of reality represented in bouts of silence, webcam voyeurism and Internet flings.

Learning Cyrillic, David Albahari

Using the fine strokes of his familiar melancholic narrative, in Learning Cyrillic, Albahari offers us an entire palette of finesses in this masterful portrait of identity. Against the background of the immigrant experience, the author presents cameos which show the multi-faceted relationships that his characters have with their surroundings. Albahari’s short stories in this volume echo with the contemporary theme of our loss of and subsequent search for identity. Presented with his particular flair for the ironic and subtle, these stories are simply breathtaking.

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