17 January 12 | Chad W. Post

The latest addition to our “Reviews Section”: is a piece by contributing reviewer Monica Carter on David Albahari’s Leeches, which came out last year from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt1 in Ellen Elias-Bursac’s translation.

Monica Carter is a regular reviewer for Three Percent. She also runs Salonica World Lit and, as part of her participation in the Mark Program, has been blogging for PEN Center USA.

David Albahari ia one of the lucky few Serbian writers who has had a number of his books translated into English. I first discovered him through Northwestern University Press some years back, after they had published Bait and Words Are Something Else. Götz and Meyer is a masterpiece, and a book I wish I could’ve published, and Leeches, as you’ll see in Monica’s review, is an ambitious, complicated, interesting work.

Here’s the opening to Monica’s review:

For his follow-up to Götz and Meyer, Serbian David Albahari plunges forward in time to Belgrade, 1998. Another war is going on, although the nameless narrator is not directly involved, he becomes increasingly aware of the proximity of the Serbian-Yugoslavian war. Yet, instead of writing about those events, he chooses to write incendiary pieces about Anti-Semitism in a weekly column for local paper, Minut. This obsession with Anti-Semitism begins with an incident along the Danube: he witnesses a woman being slapped by a man.

He is drawn to follow her, but doesn’t find her. He continues his search day after day, until he responds to a message in the personals section that he believes was written by the mysterious woman. Instead, he is given manuscript of a book, The Well, by an old man in the same spot where the woman was slapped. After taking the envelope, he waits to read until later that evening. The first sentence reads, “A dream uninterpreted is like a letter unread.” From there, it leap frogs from historical narrative to a history of dreams to a variety of Kabbalistic exercises. He then digresses into a life devoted to finding the woman as well as figuring out the message of The Well.

He eventually finds the woman, Margareta, and becomes involved in some type of mystical relationship with her. His preoccupation with Anti-Semitism grows from its mention in the manuscript. He realizes, after searching the city for the circles and triangles and their symbolism in connection with mathematics and Kabbalah, with each time he that opens the manuscript, it changes. Throughout his process of figuring out the manuscript, he meets several people who are key characters to the novel as well as solving his mystery put forth by The Well. Meanwhile, as his essays become more provocative about Anti-Semitism, he receives threats, has human feces left at his doorstep and is kidnapped. Ultimately, he equates the struggle for identity of Jews with his own struggle for identity as a Serb.

To read the full review, simply click here.

1 Yes, it’s time for the routine “Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s website sucks” post. I feel like I’ve already screeded all the screed I can screed about this screedy-ass site. So instead, I’m just going to post a question to HMH’s higher ups or anyone who works on their website. Starting here, at the main home page, can you walk me through all the clicks needed to find the book page for Leeches? Explain in full in the comments section below. (As an added incentive, the first person to accomplish this wins a free Open Letter book. Ok . . . go!)


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