The first volume of a proposed trilogy, Serbian writer Tsernianski's rather old-fashioned historical novel (set in the 18th century, written in 1929) focuses on the absurd cruelties history inflicts on private life. The action commences in the spring of 1744, when the Slavonian-Danubian Regiment begins its exhausting service in the Austro-Hungarian war against France. Serbian officer Vuk Isakovic leaves his pregnant wife, Dafina, and three young daughters with his merchant brother in order to lead 300 village soldiers to the Lorraine campaign. They crisscross Europe, experiencing exhilaration, fatigue, and humiliation, while at home Dafina, seduced by her brother-in-law, experiences a hallucination in which she sees the decomposed body of her husband. She subsequently dies from complications following a miscarriage. The Serb regiment, capriciously overseen by Austrian commanders, suffers wretchedly, and grim images of Dafina's rotting, empty womb underscore the desolation experienced on the battlefront. The volume concludes one year later, when Vuk returns to his brother's house and dreams about migrating to Russia. The author constructs much of his melodramatic narrative as a series of painterly tableaux vivants, with the most graphic scenes depicting grotesque spectacles of military cruelty, including the bleeding, swollen, and disfigured bodies of mutilated soldiers. The undercurrent of authorial irony is particularly effective when it concentrates on Dafina, who serves as a specter of magic, irrationality, and sexuality. Though hardly a groundbreaking work even in 1929, the book displays flashes of mastery and provides a certain amount of insight into the antecedents of the turmoil in Serbia today.
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