With newer domestic authors (not necessarily younger ones)… you really never know with them.
When you ask someone for their opinion about them (authors), you will mostly get a shake of the head, along with comments (or perhaps grumbles): “These days everyone wants to be a writer”, “they all write in the same style”, “the theme is always depressive, harsh reality”… of course, these remarks aren’t even close to the statement, “that’s all lovely-jubbly, but I’m off to read Ćopić/Nušić/Selimović”… and everything becomes clear.
But, one shouldn’t be so harsh… or should be? We’ve all noticed that here and there someone emerges who attracts attention, both of the media (don’t raise your eyebrows at me, there’s a three-minute report or a newspaper article once a month… okay, I’ll stop with the sarcasm 😀 ), and the ever strict(!) literary critics. That one dares to touch on mysticism, horror, or history (even altering it a bit). But there will be opportunities to mention such works… if you’ll want to read this blog.
“Lažov” (“The Liar”). Marko Srdanović. Hm… never heard of him… but how could I, when this is his first book. A guy in his fifties, an art historian by education, a bookseller by profession. I look at this man’s picture. Yes, yes, I’ve seen him in a certain bookstore. Always grinning from ear to ear or lost in a thought philosophical look. It’s as if he first assesses who he’s dealing with before he starts recommending books, while explaining why he sees that particular book as a great choice for reading. Some would say, he seems like a man who knows about books.
But, recommending a book is one thing, writing one is another, right?
Like any book lover, the reason I picked up this particular book was logical.
I liked the colorful covers. 🤣
I came (not like, but in terms of Latin Veni). I read. And I was pleasantly surprised, my brother in arms Caesar… but genuinely pleasantly. Had I been given 50 euros more (compared to the original amount of a whole zero euros), I’d probably have been impressed. For 100 euros… I’d recommend it for a Nobel. Just kidding…
Ahem… anyway… about “The Liar”…
“A novel about a generation of silent people whose childhood was smeared with pâté on a slice of bologna”… it says on the back of the book. Hits you right in the heart! 😀 You’d think this is some nostalgic novel meant for older generations. Wrong! This is a novel that should be read by generations born in the ’50s-’60s (when strolling down the promenade was an attraction) and those born in the ’70s-’80s (when comic books were a window to the world), and especially, I dare say, mandatory, generations born in the ’90s (for whom the term “Counter Strike” is as familiar and understandable as the word touchscreen… or tacos).
In what time period is “The Liar” set? I’d venture to say the ’90s. However, in a uniquely interesting way, the author tells the story of the Simović family from the perspective of the youngest member, Luka. It’s as if a period of 50-60 years has been “compressed” into one moment. A moment where often incomprehensible philosophical thoughts (typical for older generations), preferans [a card game], trading footballer stickers, Facebook, and Counter Strike collide. And all of it fits together quite spontaneously and understandably.
Young student Luka Simović finds out his father is a liar. He learns the painful truth quite by accident, not to say in a tragicomic situation involving a cemetery, horny teenagers, a cross-eyed young Hungarian girl, and a mature woman making out on a grave… eh, what can you say?
Although Luka loved his father, it can’t be said that he really understood him. A man obsessed with ancient Greek order and its philosophers, black-and-white movies (a lot of European cinema, ugh!), an idler always full of “brilliant and revolutionary” ideas and visions on how to change the world or make money in an original way. And, what’s worse, often unaware of what’s happening around him… until it’s too late for many things. Indeed, it’s hard to say whether we should speak of him as a bohemian or a scoundrel.
The mother… like many other mothers. Works, brings money home, cooks, washes, irons, tries to understand her husband (and it’s not an easy task for her), can’t stand (quite justifiably) the neighbors who hang out with her husband . And she knows how to get angry and then goes silent, until her husband realizes where he’s messed up (which rarely happens… I mean, that he realizes he’s messed up something).
And, of course, the young lad Luka. Who survives day by day, trying to cope with the dim-witted school bully Kristijan, a classmate named Simona (he himself isn’t even sure about his feelings for her), his silly friend Jovan (with whom he shares not only extracurricular adventures but also the “tree of woe” designated for nerds, those who are bad at soccer, and those afraid of bullies), and other unusual, yet everyday characters (that you too have encountered in your daily life… I’m sure of it).
And Luka’s (let’s call it) “life” is shaken by the realization that his father is a liar. Luka decides to right the wrong and become an avenger and a righteous person… but does everything opposite (unfortunately, always convinced of the righteousness of his actions). And, like many children who are neglected by their parents and/or misunderstood, Luka embarks on a wayward path, full of darkness, bitterness… and crime… leading even to multiple murders. And our Luka feels no remorse at all!
Even Luka’s “allies” on the path of vengeance are no better. Cowardly and easily manipulated friend Jovan, scoundrel Kristijan, crazy Žika who constantly scares people, and Mr. “Chairman of the board” (I think you can all guess what kind of person he is and what he did to set Luka on the “right” path). Not to mention his most loyal comrade, mustached Metju (Matthew), an imaginary person with very “interesting” thoughts and ideas.
It’s worth mentioning Luka’s grandfather, Maksim (who can’t stand the Germans… nor Luka’s father) and the neighbor, the “stupid cop” Rade (but is he really stupid, or is that just what the youth of today, thinking they can fool anyone, believe? That’s another question).
Srdanović’s writing style is very fluid, simple, and the book is really quick and easy to read. Probably because the reader can easily connect with the timeline in which this book is set. Balanced writing, where a bit of Luka’s young slang or swearing is subtly thrown in, seems quite decently composed. The only thing that can be a bit confusing are the shorter passages written in italics. However, like dreams, they are open to interpretation as to what the writer really wanted to say.
The writer seems to subtly attempt to show his sarcasm and bitterness towards the negatives that have befallen society (I don’t know what he means, the TV says we live great and everything is fantastic…okay, I will stop with sarcasms). But it doesn’t turn out to be that bad at all, which is good, because we got a novel with serious events wrapped in dark humor, not a depression that makes us not want to leave the house afterward.
In this novel, the writer dared a somewhat unusual move. Namely, the first part of the book (“Passionate Week”), is written in the first person, describing events seen through Luka’s eyes. The second part (“Resurrection”) suddenly becomes a story in the third person, where we are still observers of Luka’s adventures and his journey to the dark side. The third part (“Redemption”) is again told in the first person and, somewhat unexpectedly, from the perspective of Luka’s father. A very well-written chapter that sheds light on many things, I’ll just tell you that much! The last, and also the shortest chapter (“Revelation”) continues in the first person, again Luka’s, and represents a kind of unfinished epilogue. Note: except for the chapter titles, there are no religious motives here.
And how did this bold move with changing perspectives through the chapters turn out? Surprisingly, very well! Except for the initial surprise, nothing spoiled either the flow of the novel or the overall impression.
And the final impression?
As you might have noticed (for heaven’s sake, I didn’t write all this for nothing, did I?!), the novel really pleasantly surprised me.
The writer, whether consciously or not, intended the novel for all generations. Whether you grew up in the time when Marxism was in vogue or in the time of the rise of Facebook and Counter-Strike, it doesn’t matter.. Everyone will find something in this novel and recognize a detail that will bring a smile to their face or make them think.
Srdanović touched directly on some of today’s relevant events (people obsessed with some lost ancient times and ideas, neighborhood businessmen-criminals, Facebook and its misuses), and approached some subtly and originally (I guess many will recognize the movies that constantly thrill Mr. Simović senior; unrivaled sticker-traders, allusions to Batman and Robin; obsession with Counter-Strike). Hey, even Cicciolina got her five minutes here!
What can I say, except that Marko Srdanović made a very good debut on the literary scene.
Should it be read: Yes, even if you are not a fan of contemporary domestic writers.
A question for the end: Who is the liar? The one who lies or the one who accepts the lie?
(Originally reviewed: 11/09/2017)
Book price: Makart | Vulkan | Delfi