Thursday, December 22, 2011

Thoughts on "Leeches" by David Albahari and "The Third Reich" by Roberto Bolano (by Liviu Suciu)

Order Leeches HERE

"The place is Serbia, the time is the late 1990s. Our protagonist, a single man, writes a regular op-ed column for a Belgrade newspaper and spends the rest of his time with his best friend, smoking pot and talking about sex, politics, and life in general. One day on the shore of the Danube he spots a man slapping a beautiful woman. Intrigued, he follows the woman into the tangled streets of the city until he loses sight of her. A few days later he receives a mysterious manuscript whose contents seem to mutate each time he opens it. To decipher the manuscript—a collection of fragments on the Kabbalah and the history of the Jews of Zemun and Belgrade—he contacts an old schoolmate, now an eccentric mathematician, and a group of men from the Jewish community.

As the narrator delves deeper into arcane topics, he begins to see signs of anti-Semitism, past and present, throughout the city and he feels impelled to denounce it. But his increasingly passionate columns erupt in a scandal culminating in murder. Following in the footsteps of Foucault’s Pendulum, Leeches is a cerebral adventure into the underground worlds of secret societies and conspiracy theories."

"Leeches" is the first David Albahari novel I finished - I tried Gotz and Meyer a while ago but it did not hook me so I marked it for later. The novel has a very striking beginning that takes you in and from there it proceeds in a continual "whole book as one paragraph" manner. At times there is a feeling of being overwhelmed by the words as they seem to come in a deluge, so you need to put the book down and reflect on what you just read.

The book's main conceit is in the grand tradition of conspiracy theories, though of the literate Eco kind not the junky Va Dinci (!) ones, but its Eastern European setting and the author's superb literary skills - and of course the translator's skills as the novel reads very naturally and smoothly - kept me interested despite my "meh" feelings towards this genre.

While a relatively slim 300 pages length, Leeches packs quite a lot of stuff and it reads like a book twice its size. There is action and drama and quite a lot of tense moments while the ending is very good. If there was one small niggle, I would have loved the book to be present tense rather than be narrated from six years later as a little suspense (eg the final outcome for the narrator) is lost.

Overall a dense but very rewarding read and a highly recommended novel of 2011.


"On vacation with his girlfriend, Ingeborg, the German war games champion Udo Berger returns to a small town on the Costa Brava where he spent the summers of his childhood. Soon they meet another vacationing German couple, Charly and Hanna, who introduce them to a band of locals—the Wolf, the Lamb, and El Quemado—and to the darker side of life in a resort town.

Late one night, Charly disappears without a trace, and Udo’s well-ordered life is thrown into upheaval; while Ingeborg and Hanna return to their lives in Germany, he refuses to leave the hotel. Soon he and El Quemado are enmeshed in a round of Third Reich, Udo’s favorite World War II strategy game, and Udo discovers that the game’s consequences may be all too real."

The Third Reich is quite a disappointing novel by Robert Bolano as the "main thread" of the novel dealing with Udo's narration of his Costa Brava eventful sejour is excellent, but the Third Reich game interludes are utterly distasteful not to say obscene for reasons I will not enter into great detail, as they are obvious. WW2 was a catastrophe that cost uncounted lives and blighted even uncounted more and to make a game of it is just disgusting. War porn which is not even serious but a game. So 2/3 an A book and 1/3 that is not even F, but just utter disgusting junk.

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