A challenging but assured clutch of black-humored metafiction.


A sampler of experimental, philosophical, sometimes-farcical stories about literature and the nature of being from the veteran Serbian author.

Basara (Chinese Letter, 2004, etc.) is a prolific writer of more than three dozen titles, so this book represents only a sliver of his output, mostly drawn from his earliest published works in the 1980s. Even so, some consistent themes are obvious. First is a frustration with the limits of rationality: the narrator of the novella Through the Looking-glass Cracked agitates against efforts to maintain order via parents, psychiatry, and politics. “I want to contradict reason,” he proclaims. “Reason rules the world.” Second is an affinity for metafiction that deconstructs the story while it unfolds: “My Name is Tmu” is narrated by a character who’s aware of the author creating it (“I watch him leaning over this piece of paper, his dull pencil torments me”); the narrator of “The Perfect Crime” delivers details he then dismisses, writing, “I had no way of knowing that because I am not an omniscient narrator.” That self-aware approach means that many of these stories are structural ouroboroses, sometimes devolving into dull abstraction. But the saving grace and third theme in the best stories is Basara’s humor, which is often dry and ironic but grows more expansive in “Civil War Within,” in which a political discussion deteriorates into a shooting, squabbling between authority figures, a break to watch Dynasty, and an absurd trial. Basara sometimes refers to politics in the former Yugoslavia and often critiques bureaucracy, but these stories remain relevant decades after they were written thanks to his shrewd if bleak vision about humanity’s willingness to be seduced by false leaders and misleading language. “Death sentences are tautologies,” goes one distinctively Basarian quip. “We are all condemned to death in advance.”

A challenging but assured clutch of black-humored metafiction.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-62897-113-2

Page Count: 210

Publisher: Dalkey Archive

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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