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.