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An often entertaining but somewhat opaque and arbitrarily fantastical tale of love, war, and death set in Eastern Europe during the Napoleonic Wars, from the accomplished Serbian author whose highly praised game-oriented fiction includes Dictionary of the Khazars (1988) and Landscape Painted with Tea (1990). Subtitled “A Tarot Novel of Divination,” the book in fact is accompanied by a pack of Tarot cards, which the reader may, if desired, use to read in rearranged order the book’s 21 chapters (whose contents correspond to the three groups of seven cards that comprise the Tarot’s “Major Arcana”). This gamesmanship resembles that of Julio Cortaz†r’s amusingly postmodernist Hopscotch (another obvious precursor is The Castle of Crossed Destinies by Italo Calvino, a writer Pavi— in many ways resembles). The story is a painstakingly colorful romance concerning the varied education of Sofronije Opujic, a young cavalryman of mixed Serbian and other European blood, the scion of a prosperous merchant family, and a beguiling mix of real and magical-real qualities: He’s dashingly handsome, polylingual, an expert horseman, incontestably masculine—though possessed of pronounced feminine sensitivities—and a sexual prodigy who lives in a perpetual state of arousal. His service in Napoleon’s army is complicated by a mysterious prophecy detailing his soldier father’s forthcoming “three deaths”; by Sofronije’s love for the daughter of his father’s enemy (and victim); and by a subsequent Romeo and Juliet—like rivalry between their respective families. These and many related matters are presented in a haphazard confection that’s short on narrative clarity and clogged with discursive foreshadowings (numerology is prominent) and with such (and merely) whimsical inventions as a misbegotten “devil,” a virgin who learns she can fly, and a talented fellatrix who “plays” Haydn on her lover’s sexual organ. Portentous allusions to and echoes of the Iliad and a graceful translation aside, this is an ostentatious magic-carpet ride that doesn’t really go anywhere. Pavi—’s earlier books are much superior.

Pub Date: June 5th, 1998
ISBN: 0-8023-1323-X
Page count: 188pp
Publisher: Dufour
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1998