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)

About Scott Abbott

I received my Ph.D. in German Literature from Princeton University in 1979. Then I taught at Vanderbilt University, BYU, and Utah Valley State College. At Utah Valley University, I directed the Program in Integrated Studies for its initial 13 years and was also Chair of the Department of Humanities and Philosophy for three years. My publications include a book on Freemasonry and the German Novel, two co-authored books with Zarko Radakovic (REPETITIONS and VAMPIRES & A REASONABLE DICTIONARY, published in Serbo-Croatian in Belgrade and in English with Punctum Books), a book with Sam Rushforth (WILD RIDES AND WILDFLOWERS, Torrey House Press), a "fraternal meditation" called IMMORTAL FOR QUITE SOME TIME (University of Utah Press), and translations of three books by Austrian author Peter Handke, of an exhibition catalogue called "The German Army and Genocide," and, with Dan Fairbanks, of Gregor Mendel's important paper on hybridity in peas. More famously, my children are in the process of creating good lives for themselves: as a model and dance/yoga studio manager, as a teacher of Chinese language, as an ecologist and science writer, as a jazz musician, as a parole officer, as a contractor, as a seasonal worker (Alaska and Park City, Utah), and as parents. I share my life with UVU historian Lyn Bennett, with whom I have written a cultural history of barbed wire -- THE PERFECT FENCE (Texas A&M University Press). Some publications at
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3 Responses to Preparing for a Review of David Albahari’s Two New Books in English

  1. flowerville says:

    the real enemies, misuse of language…. that is so true.
    i seem to recognize ‘zone’ there on your beautiful bookpicture. what do you think about it?


    • Scott Abbott says:

      Just found two of your december comments in my pending file. Not sure how they slipped by me. Sorry!
      I loved Zone, absolutely loved it, that whole sentence of it.
      What did you think of it?
      My friend Brian Evenson wrote the introduction for it. I think he misreads Handke there, but there are lots of ways to read.


  2. flowerville says:

    no worries. time is passing too fast.
    confession: haven’t read zone, but have it lying around here somewhere in french and my french is not up to it.
    there are always lots of ways to read which is a good & generous thing.


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