Thursday, February 1, 2007


Kandže (The Claws)
Marko Vidojković

This is my January entry for 2007 TBR Challenge

Marko Vidojković is one of the most popular Serbian writers of young generation. And this novel is his most praised work so far. It has won “Golden Bestseller” award for 2005.

The Claws is novel about student protest 1996/97 against Slobodan Milosevic and his vote fraud. From time to time I almost wasn’t sure is this work of fiction or nonfiction. I participated in those events and all of them are very vividly described; night when I “tasted” tear gas for the first time in my life is here in the novel; described precisely in the way I remembered; I even imagined where he (Vidojković I guess) was standing and calculated he was some 20 meters away from me. Strange feeling indeed.

The main character is law student at Belgrade’s University who participates in the protest fanatically; hungry; betrayed by the rest of the world; he goes on demonstrations every day and haeadlong running into the most dangerous situations, comes to term with pointless of life. But everything changes when he meets very unusual girl with cut-off eyelashes…

The Claws speaks in new manner about student protest uncovering it till the final detail, and promoting almost impudently principle of revolutionary justice and rule that in politics and in love everything is permitted. This novel is offering that grotesque reality show of gray and carnival-whirlpooling everyday life in Belgrade in nineties with characters of flesh and blood even when they go astray on the other side of reality.

Here we can see anger in the leading role; anger as completely natural manifestation and only defending mechanism that person can afford during those years. Each character as much as s/he’s angry on his parents or girlfriend or his friends or … whatever; everything is leading to that anger because you cannot oppose to that monster called life or world or …. Especially in such idiotic and abnormal country that Serbia used to be then.
(”[…] AIDS is not the worst thing you can catch here in Serbia; the worst thing that might happened to you in Serbia is to live in Serbia.”)

Indeed those years were really tough and only to think about that period is scary enough! That’s why reading this novel was so déjà vu although this novel is extremely political, with very explicit political attitude (including real politicians (still active on our political scene); including late Serbian prime minister; including hint of his assassination; including hints about events which will lead to the final fall of Milosevic’s regime); written in very urban style with extremely obscene language …
What I like is that here there is no idealizations. Even perfect girl is not perfect (her nose and teeth aren’t quite perfect and she has no eyelashes); Ideal landscape is concrete architecture of New Belgrade; and in the end love which exists and don’t exists is actually sex (in enormous amounts) with amazing women who exists but on the other hand does she exists?

This is modern fairytale: sex, politics, anger, beating, police torture, sex, marihuana, loyalty, revolution, alcohol, magical realism or narcotic hallucinations (?) = strange and interesting combination.

Now I’m really not sure how will anyone who is not from this story understand this novel? Book is full of local stuff: streets, jokes, language, (existing) people, spirit and energy... It’d be very hard (if possible) to explain to someone who is not familiar with this. Poor translator ... I could imagine only with glossary twice thicker than the novel itself!



Bonnie Jeanne said...

I don't know that I could read a book that is so raw and angry, but it would be wonderful if such a story was translated and got to the US. We don't get many stories from your part of the world.

What you have described, the idea of the worst thing about living in Serbia is living in Serbia (during that period) is quite similar to the sentiments I've heard from friends living in Slovakia when things were really bad there (though no where near what it was like in Serbia).

Great review, Milan. You are quite talented. Hope people are noticing.

Unknown said...

Hi, M,
that book sounds fascinating (hard to read, but important nonetheless)

As you say, I can imagine how hard it would be to translate

Milan-zzz said...

I know many of us would be on the place of Slovaks that time (many would still switch places LOL)…

His one novel is translated in English ”The Dance of Small Time Demons”. I didn’t read it so don’t know much about it.

And when I said I don’t know how someone who is not from that story would understand all this mess I was also thinking about some future generations in this country as well as about strangers. Even those who were mature during that period but living in some other town in Serbia. This is the story so strongly connected with the town, with Belgrade. The atmosphere here was more intense, more liberated, more free than in other towns in Serbia. Many aren’t quite familiar with what students have done in that winter. They knew about demonstrations but they have some vague picture about all this. I guess for those compatriots of mine this story will be something very new.

And strangers? Gosh! As I said not without huge, huge glossary …

Thanks for compliments and for dropping by :)

bookish lore said...

This book sounds so interesting. I'd loved to read it since there's so much I don't know about your country's history (but you're doing such a wonderful job!)

I totally understand what you mean by the future generation's unfamiliarity with these kind of issues. I see it every day in my country.