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January 2004

The Balkans


In this region's literature we find not a single "Balkan" identity, but multiple Balkans--defined not only by ethnicity but by politics, history, nature (lovely and indifferent), and personal memory. Affirming these manifold perspectives are the classic Croatian Miroslav Krleza's surreal Banquet in Blitva, set in a distinctly Balkan Everywhere of blended places and events; the Jewish Serbian writer Ivan Ivanji's frighteningly lyrical "Games on the Banks of the Danube"; Albanian writer Fatos Lubonja's "Ahlem," about a prisoner's skewed loyalty to a dictator; and Luljeta Lleshanaku's pastoral poetry. In "Theft" and "Cactus" the Bosnian short story master Miljenko Jergovic finds the humor in life at the outbreak of war in Sarajevo. And the German writer Juli Zeh casts her acute eye over the landscape in the aftermath of the Balkan wars.

Games on the Banks of the Danube

Everybody knows you can't choose your place of birth, any more than you can select your parents. My birthplace is located on a body of water; human hands have altered and straightened


In our garden there was an apple tree whose mouth-watering fruits could be seen from the upstairs window of the house next door. Our neighbors, Rade and Jela, used to go to the market to buy

from Silence Has Its Sound: Travels through Bosnia

Crossing the Serbian Republic's Border Most of the Republika Srpska border is made of garbage—it seems the whole town of Stolac brings its trash here. I meet three oncoming cars in


She was always afraid of missing the beautiful and important things in life. She traveled a lot, but more often she panicked because she was stuck at home. For some reason she always


1 The television room had never been so full and so silent, except for the announcer's voice booming for more than an hour. Nobody added a whisper to his commentary. Nobody made a move

It’s Not Time For . . .

It's not time for a change. As long as I can remember it's never been time for a change. Like cars that screech to a halt houses stand poised in their old breeding ground

The Cinema

Without fail Sundays at the cinema were always rainy days big black umbrellas clashing against the ticket booth. The doorman among the torn stubs looked like a watercolor hung

February Sky

Large, gray, sprawled like an old elephant. Winter is ending. Low, sloping roofs are overturned boats slumbering along the shores of drowsiness.Twenty years of an oak tree's life

from The Banquet in Blitva

Written before the Second World War but not widely available until 1962, Miroslav Krleza's Banquet in Blitva combines the satire of a Jonathan Swift with the style and tone of the

An Alphabetical Formation

Alif You're not beginning . . . It's an eternity, you know . . . I mean, the ever-after, you know No matter, then. Raise your cavalry But do not leave behind the horizon,


1 Here I am you alone In this mad, gaping Hell Here I am you alone and death altogether With its predators and its seers and the informers Perhaps I am arriving at The limit

The Postman

He comes to me every day with a cruel bounce in his step with eyes darting like little green flames— the town postman in a heavy, damp coat jovially announcing he has nothing for me. I

Irreversible Landscapes

Irreversible is the river on whose back dead leaves swirl. Irreversible are words- the dust of roads mingled with breath, warm breath that sticks to our trembling lips like fog to a

The Island You and I

living on an island far from cities with traffic lights and people.Outside we hear the rustlings of a bed of reeds where the wind with its toothless mouth blows luring in tides.A

Shadows on the Snow

The snow comes late this year. Violet shadows doze like shepherds round a white fire. The swaying shadow of a fence looks like a woman's clavicle— a woman who dreams of her


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