Balkan attitudes and American possibilities mingle successfully in a first novel picked from the slush pile.
Danilo Lazich was the death of his mother. Outsized at birth, the baby quickly outgrows the feeble control of his cobbler father and abandons the shoddy civilization of his Bosnian Serb birthplace for an outlaw life in the hills where, known to his superstitious neighbors as Vuk Hajduk, the wolf, terrorizing travelers and living off the land, he grows to enormous size and, most interestingly, enormous intellect and curiosity. Besting the police and the militia at every encounter, Lazich works his way to Vienna to become, briefly, bodyguard to the Empress Elizabeth, one of many superb character sketches Pavelich throws into this pleasingly undisciplined book. A return to the Balkan provinces results in marriage to Stoja, the incarnation of shrewd, hard-working, unforgiving, bad-tempered, passionate Slavic womanhood. The unloving couple flee to America, landing in New Orleans and hiking to Baton Rouge, where they catch a train for Butte, Montana. There, thousands of their compatriots and other immigrants work the richest lode of copper in a country busy wiring itself from coast to coast. Now known as Dan Savage, Lazich decides that digging is for suckers, but finds plenty of work as an enforcer until he gets the hang of the business and engineering ends of mining, and eventually moves his family to Wyoming, where huge amounts of coal lie waiting for the railroads. Angelene, the only child of the Savage marriage, presents Dan with an American grandchild Rade—Red—who will be truly New World, and Savage’s true companion in his old age. Pavelich starts and abandons a score of novels as he traces Savage’s life. Stoja, for example, plays the stock market successfully, but where the fortune goes is the reader’s guess. As is Angelene’s fate. Readers who can cope with the chaos will be rewarded with a very canny look at the process of Americanization.
A fine mess.