IN THE HOLD by Vladimir Arsenijevic


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 A strangely uninvolving first novel--a muted, discursive portrayal of alienation and anomie set in Belgrade in 1991--that won for its young author the NIN Prize, the ``highest literary honor'' given in the now dissolved nation of Yugoslavia. The unnamed narrator, a young husband and father-to-be, is determined to avoid being caught up in ``the Serbo-Croat mutual slaughter'' and indulges a self-conscious indolence. Despite the responses of those closest to him to events, he seems deeply insensitive to the national trauma. His wife Angela, a former drug dealer and heroin addict, abandons both her business and her habit as she enters the late stages of her pregnancy. Angela's brother Lazar, an endearingly muddled youngster with a passionate devotion to the passivity of Eastern philosophy, nevertheless declines to resist when he receives his ``call-up papers,'' and quickly becomes a casualty of the war. The narrator's friend Dejan, a promising musician, loses an arm during his military service, yet returns energized by dreams of success as a businessman. All this while the narrator--unable to share or even comprehend others' acceptance of (not to say complicity with) their fates--reacts to everything around him with a jaded sarcasm that has the surely unintended effect of making him sound priggish and heartless. It's not that Arsenijevic doesn't give him human feelings--rather that the novel seems unable to make up its mind whether it's about the slow, fitful awakening of feeling in a sluggishly self-centered soul, or if instead it means simply to present a character who simply cannot believe that any cause merits his allegiance. Either way, what results is a protagonist in whom it's impossible to take much interest, and a novel so rarefied and unspecific that it seems, despite its brevity, an ordeal to read.

Pub Date: Sept. 23rd, 1996
ISBN: 0-679-44657-5
Page count: 144pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1996