Double Consciousness: Two Books by David Albahari

The new edition of Open Letters Monthly (December 1) has my review of Albhari’s two new books in English. The review ends with my realization that I have immigrated into Albahari’s books:

The characters in this and the other fine stories by David Albahari are all—humorously and gently and each with his or her quirks—miserably away from home. Which leaves me sad as well in the early darkness of this November afternoon. All readers are immigrants.

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Preparing for a Review of David Albahari’s Two New Books in English

I’m just about done with a review I’ve been working on for over a year. Here is how it will begin:

Double Consciousness

David Albahari


Translated by Ellen Elias-Bursać

Yale, 2014

Learning Cyrillic

Translated from the Serbian by Ellen Elias-Bursać

Dalkey Archive, 2014

“Translated” or “Translated from the Serbian”? These two new books by David Albahari pose a more difficult question than one might think. Yale has decided to avoid the “Serbian,” leaving it to the book flap to describe Albahari as a “Serbian writer and translator” who “has published eleven short-story collections and thirteen novels in Serbian.” Dalkey Archive highlights “the Serbian” and calls Albahari “a Serbian master” on the back cover. Ellen Elias-Bursać, who has translated several of Albahari’s books, including Words Are Something Else, Götz and Meyer, Snow Man, and Leeches, is listed variously as translating from “the Serbian,” from “Serbo-Croat,” and from “Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian.”

The language once spoken on the “Highway of Brotherhood and Unity” that connected Zagreb and Belgrade was officially Serbo-Croatian, a unified and unifying language taught and spoken and used in all the republics of Yugoslavia. Books translated into English during the time the highway acted as a hyphen between the two cities, like Ivo Andrić’s Nobel-Prize-winning The Bridge on the Drina, routinely included a hyphen of their own: “translated from the Serbo-Croat.”

But since the brutal wars of the 1990’s that separated the republics into sovereign states and that shattered multicultural Yugoslav identities forged over five decades, publishers have struggled with how to designate the language of books coming out of the former Yugoslavia. . . .

I have read and read and read — books written since the wars by authors from the former Yugoslavia, books in English and German translation, and most importantly, books by David Albahari.


Here is what they look like on my shelf.

Although I have read them all, only three or four of them are actually mentioned in the essay about Albahari’s books (of which I have read eleven).

It is, however, a remarkable collection of books, a record of displacement and exile and immigration and language and identity and the human spirit.

Not a single one of these books, not a single one!, is about the enemy Serb or Croat or Bosniak. Every single one of them is about the true enemies—war, nationalism, misuse of language.

That shouldn’t surprise me, knowing these books are all the progeny, in one way or another, of that extraordinarily wise and  peace-loving book The Bridge on the Drina, Ivo Andric’s Nobel-Prize-winning novel from 1945.

The two books written by Zarko Radakovic and myself — Repetitions and Vampires & A Reasonable Dictionary — are certainly progeny of that fine book as well as of Peter Handke’s Repetition. They too protest war, nationalism, and misuse of language.

(more about Zarko’s and my books under the tab at the top of this blog)

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Snow Clumps/Piles/Huddles

A very light powder snow yesterday left the snow oddly bunched around single stems of grass. snow

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Yesterday we reburied Dad’s bones, brought from Farmington, New Mexico to American Fork, Utah.

As opposed to the funeral, this was a happy occasion with Mom and all my living siblings.


Jeff (Gainesville, Florida), Carol (Delores, Colorado), Mom (American Fork, Utah), Paul (Bend, Oregon), Jill (Jerome, Idaho), I (Woodland Hills, Utah), and Christy (Salt Lake City).

John is buried just up the hill from this. We walked up and stood around his grave telling stories about our brother, as we had about our father.

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Tom Abbott with The New Wonders and Endangered Species


My son Tom has been making a living with his horns for well over a decade. A couple of recent links to work he is doing:

The New Wonders at the NY Hot Jazz Festival:

The trio Endangered Species introduces itself:

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Recurring Nightmare

About a decade after returning from my Mormon mission to Germany in 1970 I began having nightmares—one or two a year—in which I was, inexplicably, required to serve another two years as a missionary. The shock each time was palpable. I always tried to explain (although the responsible party was never present or even evident in any way) that I had done my duty. As the years went on my explanation began to include the fact that I no longer believed Mormon doctrine, that I didn’t even believe in god. All to no avail. I was simply required to serve another mission. I consoled myself, mostly, by noting that since I would be in Bulgaria (or wherever it was) I would at least learn Bulgarian.

Last month I read Craig Harline’s new book Way Lower than the Angels, a sometimes funny but mostly harrowing account of his own mission in Belgium. Craig reports being caught in the three-legged conundrum of (1) knowing he should convert lots of Belgians, (2) seeing that no one was really interested, and (3) believing that if he kept mission rules perfectly, really perfectly!, God would reward him with lots of converts. That circle went round and round, beating the hell out of him psychologically.

Although I wasn’t nearly as rule-obsessed as a missionary, I still recognized plenty of the horror.

And then I had a new dream, one that shifts from nightmare to discovery, a therapeutic nightmare, I think:

I’m in a big city in Turkey. I am a missionary. My companion and I walk from door to door, trying to engage people in religious discussion. They have no patience with us, no interest, and I understand why. For one thing, I don’t understand a word of their language. The task is endless and fruitless.

The scene shifts to the inside of an apartment (how did we get inside? I wonder). While we stand there a man comes in carrying a small child. He sees us and starts to say something. I mumble something about a religious discussion and that sets him off: I’ve got a sick child! Get out! Get out!

We quickly retreat, stopping to think for a moment outside the front door of the building. We stand on the busy street. After a few minutes, the man steps through the door. He speaks English with me and we begin an interesting, non-religious discussion. My companion grows antsy. I tell him this is better than our door-to-door futility.

While we talk, I watch four or five homeless people lounge against the wall of the next building. They look ill and gaunt and perhaps stoned. Children who live in that building torment the defenseless people with stones they shoot from a platform at close range. I wonder how they can do that with such impunity. Why don’t the gaunt people attack them? The fusillade grows intense and the homeless people disappear.

My companion too has disappeared, gone to join other missionaries who continue their tracting while I continue the interesting conversation. I ask the man where to find the city’s best bookstore. I want to buy a Turkish-English dictionary. The conversation ends. I step away from the building as the man goes inside. The old apartment building looks different. I notice for the first time that it is next to a busy harbour, a vibrant scene in which working lights create a beauty that astonishes me. The building, I can now see, is really a remarkable boat crafted out of beautiful dark timbers. I stand admiring its lines and the man reappears with a small bag. He hands it to me. Inside is a Turkish-English dictionary. The first word I look up is FRIEND.

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Agriculture History

My father taught vocational agriculture before he became a junior-high principal. This new publication would have surprised him and made him proud. I dedicate my half of it to him.



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Peter Handke: Ibsen Award for Drama

On the 21 of September Peter Handke received The International Ibsen Award.

There was a heated debate, much of it uninformed by any knowledge of Handke’s work and driven by certainty.

One of the more egregious claims was that Handke is a fascist who supports fascists in Serbia while denying war crimes committed by Serbs.

Michael Roloff took on one of the published accounts in THIS THOUGHTFUL POST.

And HERE the International Ibsen Award site.

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Indian Summer with a Touch of Frost


Santaquin Peak from Woodland Hills

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West of the Morning Sun, East of the Morning Moon

moon7 clouds4

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