A sprawling fable that illuminates Bosnian culture and history through unique, multidimensional characters.



This magical realist debut novel explores a family’s connection to the mountains of post–World War II Bosnia.

Mijo Pavlović’s young son, Mirko, says that a bee “bit” him during a winter night, but despite the narrator’s insistence, Mijo doesn’t believe it’s one of the fairylike “Wisps” that nip children and give them “dreams that stir the soul.” Zurak’s first-person omniscient narrator initially and charmingly evokes an old-fashioned storyteller—“But alas, we who they visit cannot hear them”—but this technique is later dropped. Years later, when Mirko is drafted into Communist Yugoslavia’s navy, he doesn’t understand “why [his family members] would want to stop him” from sailing the world, so he leaves home angrily. His 13-year-old brother, Mato, must now support the family, and he runs 20 miles to and from the steel mill each day. One night, “demons of the forest” attack him, and he climbs a magical tree that becomes a lifelong sanctuary. When Mato is 16, the pretty, talented Verka brightens his outlook, and the troubled Mirko, newly returned from service, attempts to gain her affections. Only when Mato faces impending military service does Mirko confess his own horrific war experiences. Mato listens, and during his military years he writes home: “There’s a beautiful price in doing [Yugoslav dictator Josip Broz] Tito’s most beautiful work.” When Mato finally returns to his family (including his daughter, the titular but oddly unimportant Kata), Mijo offers his son “a gift,” in a speech that borders on preachy. Soon, Mato decides to battle his demons literally, in ways that don’t quite fit with the novel’s fabulist tone. That said, Zurak’s prose sparkles with memorable characters and images, as well as some graceful lines, such as “Nations remember peace like your stomach remembers being full.” Further editorial polishing to eliminate repetition, clunky dialogue (“Oh, you got me. Wow!”), and syntactical and punctuation errors would have increased this ambitious novel’s impact.

A sprawling fable that illuminates Bosnian culture and history through unique, multidimensional characters.

Pub Date: July 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9971748-0-9

Page Count: 332

Publisher: Hullabaloo Bookery

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2016

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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