Friday, May 16, 2008

Last Love in Constantinopole and Second Body by Milorad Pavic - review

Some time ago I heard about Milorad Pavic Dictionary of the Khazars but it never interested me that much. However recently Larry of the Of Blog of the Fallen posted the link for Second Body a free online novel by Milorad Pavic and that novel really hooked me.

I ordered all the English translation of Mr. Pavic available here in the USA - The Dictionary, Crossword, Tarot, and Two-sided novels respectively as they are better known and after some Internet digging I manged to find the Unique novel available in English but only from Serbia under 30$ including s&h, so I ordered that too.

I will review all when I read them since they are wonderful, wonderful novels that deserve to be as widely known as possible.

Last Love in Constantinopole - or the Tarot novel

This novel is structured in 22 chapters - keys based on the major arcana of the Tarot cards - and in the appendix there is a cutout for the 22 cards and a short dictionary explaining their meaning as well as several ways of using them either for divination or for reading the novel.

The chapters of the book are interconnected short stories that progress somewhat linearly though with liberal detours in the past or through the fantastic, so they can be read relatively independently.

The prose is beautiful and the novel is absolutely fascinating. It follows the interconnected fortunes of two Serbian families, one of merchants that provides several soldiers for Napoleon, and one of artists that provides several soldiers for the Hapsburg Empire. The action happens in 1797 and 1813, and the main character is Captain Haralampije Opujic, a larger than life Napoleonic officer, him of 3 deaths and Last Love in the title. A famous womanizer, party-goer and marksman, he has a counterpart in Hapsburg musician turned officer and marksman Pahomije Tenecki - their famous encounter of 1797 becoming stuff of legend.

In 1813, their sons - and here we have the second main character and actually the one getting most face-time in the novel Sofronije Opujic a Napoleonic lieutenant and his Hapsburg counterpart captain Pana Tenecki face off too.

There are also quite a few women, some lovers of both elder Opujic and Tenecki, as well as of elder and younger Opujic, some that are related to them in various ways as well as with the Tenecki's and assorted odd characters, most notably an orphan Avksentije Papila, classmate of one of elder Opujic's illegitimate sons who is presumed to be able to tell the day of death for most people...

A short but very, very engaging read at about 160 pages, and worth of at least one reread to get all the details - highly, highly recommended

Second Body - or the Pious novel

This online novel is a very powerful meditation about God, Creation, resurrection and what Christ meant to humanity.

It is written in 5 chapters following a mysterious ring that is rumored to discern what the wearer will have in life - health, love or happiness depending on which color it turns, but somehow it always turns a color if any only when the wearer is dead. So what does it mean?

Chapter 1, 3 and 5 are contemporary following the narrator, an elderly writer who is already 40 days dead at the beginning of the novel, his strange and strangely met wife, and several other mysterious characters, real and supernatural.

Chapter 2 is about a Serbian emigre writer/editor in Venice ~ 1764 and his adventures and misadventures with some venetian girls, Anna and Sabetta.

Chapter 4 is about an orthodox Serbian under-priest - "hieromonk" on the border between the Hapsburgs and the Turks from 1717 to some decades later and his fateful encounter with a catholic priest and reputed alchemist and necromancer. This chapter is the philosophical heart of the novel and the discussion between the two encapsulates it perfectly. I am not an expert in theology so I have no idea how original are the arguments there - but they are very interesting and it makes the book worth reading only for that.

Whimsical, always interesting and beautifully written, Second Body is an extraordinary novel, a coronation of a magistral career. Read it for free at the link above.

As an aside - there are some typos here and there, and chapter 3 ends with chapter 4 included, so if you join the files as I did to read on some device do not be surprised to see a repeat - and I think it is not intentional since chapter 4 is headlined in the repeat - though with Pavic you never know. But hey, it is free so no quibbles

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