CHINESE LETTER by Svetislav Basara


by & translated by
Email this review


The first English translation of Serbian writer Basara’s debut novel, written during the last gasp of East European communism and first published in 1984.

Some guy who may or may not be named Fritz (“Yesterday I had a different name. Today my name is Fritz”) has been left alone by two other guys and told to write his story. About anything. Say, “a hundred pages or so.” Now-Fritz is, at first, uncomfortable with such literary freedom. Upon reflection, he realizes that his blood is circulating and the Earth is in orbit. Soon, he adds: “I have one problem in life: I exist. My biggest success in life is that I’m not dead yet. My biggest failure in life is exactly the same thing: I’m not dead yet.” With the whole of existence as his subject, Fritz then touches on some of the subtleties of his own: He spends some time in the morgue watching a friend perform autopsies. He argues with his mother. His sister, who has a mole on her cheek, marries a butcher’s son, whom Fritz refers to as “the mongoloid.” He spends a lot of time waiting for the radio to play the song “Fascination.” Sometimes it does. Blue letters arrive from the two guys, containing math problems to solve and exhortations to meet his deadline. Pink letters arrive from a lovely teenaged girl who may have once been his neighbor and who has a mole on her cheek. Hypothetical flowerpots fall from the sky and change the course of hypothetical lives. White slave merchants steal Fritz’s mother. She is returned. Fritz turns in his story. It’s not exactly what the guys ordered. Unpunctuated stream-of-consciousness pages follow. Sometimes the radio doesn’t play “Fascination.” Upon reflection, the reader recalls that the Earth probably is still in orbit.

“Basarian” is, apparently, used as a descriptive term among those who are familiar with the author’s work. Useful to know, since a synonym does not spring readily to mind.

Pub Date: Dec. 7th, 2004
ISBN: 1-56478-374-X
Page count: 138pp
Publisher: Dalkey Archive
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2004