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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Bait

by
David Albahari


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Bait



Title: Bait
Author: David Albahari
Genre: Novel
Written: 1996 (Eng. 2001)
Length: 117 pages
Original in: Serbian
Availability: Bait - US
Bait - UK
Bait - Canada
L'Appât - France
Mutterland - Deutschland
  • Serbian title: Mamac
  • Translated by Peter Agnone

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Our Assessment:

A- : effective meditation on storytelling, exile and home, past and present

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ A+ 15/6/2002 Jörg Magenau
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 28/3/2002 Andreas Breitenstein
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Spring /2002 Michael Pinker
The Village Voice . 14/8/2001 Anderson Tepper
World Lit. Today . Summer/1997 Nadezda Obradovic
World Lit. Today . Spring/2002 Radmila J. Gorup
Die Zeit . 5/6/2003 Iris Radisch


  From the Reviews:
  • "Das Textgewebe entsteht aus der Verweigerung und dem Zweifel als Negation -- ein Verfahren, das dem Sprachverlust und der Verunsicherung in der Fremde entspricht. Im Dialog mit Donald stehen sich Erfolg und Zweifel, Gegenwartsorientierung und Geschichtsverfallenheit, Pragmatismus und Räsonnement, Traditionslosigkeit und Heimatverlust, Amerika und Europa schroff gegenüber. (...) David Albahari ist mit seinem autobiographischen Roman ein philosophisches, hochpoetisches Kunststück gelungen." - Jörg Magenau, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "This slim, puzzling book is more meditation than story, a postmodern ball of yarn tripping over themes of exile, loss, language, and the act of writing itself. (...) Unfortunately, her story (and that of her region's bloody history) is drowned out by the narrator's own self-absorption (.....) Beneath the noises of David Albahari's metafiction is a powerful tale of woe straining to be heard." - Anderson Tepper, The Village Voice

  • "The author is haunted by the past, by his memories, and though he is actually living thousands of miles away from his homeland, spiritually he is always in the warm kitchen of his mother, a wise, courageous, practical woman, whose school was life itself. She did her best to teach her children some basic truths of honesty and love. The book could have easily been titled The Story of My Mother." - Nadezda Obradovic, World Literature Today

  • "Albahari's works, including Bait are not only about the death of their protagonists but also about the death of the genre of the story itself. (...) In Bait, however, the dilemma of how to recast the story turns into a concerted effort on the part of the author to discover how to resist death. After all, Bait tells a story of perilous living in our times and beyond." - Radmila J. Gorup, World Literature Today

  • "Unn&oum;tig zu sagen, wie eindrücklich diese Unbeholfenheit, wie beeindruckend dieses karge Mutterporträt geraten ist, gerade weil es auf die große epische Robe verzichtet." - Iris Radisch, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The narrator in Bait resembles author Albahri, a Serbian exile who left a collapsing Yugoslavia and moved to Canada. The novel is put into motion by his decision to listen to tape recordings he made of his mother some sixteen years earlier, after the death of his father. His mother is now also dead, and the tapes contrast pasts and present.
       The narrator's mother had a life before the one he was part of: she was married once before, losing her husband during World War II and spending those years in a limbo of hidden and denied identity, Jewish and Serbian. The narrator recounts much of her life, and allows the mother to speak (on tape) for herself, as well, and much of the book is about the (im)possibility of relating experience, and of story-telling in all its forms. To emphasise this, there is another character, Donald, a Canadian writer the narrator has befriended.
       Donald is opinionated and sure of himself, eagerly making grand pronouncements on what it means to write (he reeks of an MFA-programme), while the narrator is anything but. The narrator doesn't believe he is capable of being a writer, either:

If I knew how to write, I told Donald, I'd sit down and write a book, but because I don't know how to write, I said, I have to speak.
       Speaking -- which allows words to be lost in the moment -- appeals to him because of what is clearly a fear of fixing the words permanently, as they are on a page. And though he chose many years ago to tape his mother, he has not listened to the tapes in over a decade; when he does listen to them he is as fascinated by what lies beyond them -- including his own silences as he tries to get his mother to talk.
       Almost every aspect of the narrator's world is and was bookish: he says, for example, his mother could read him and his whole family like a book, and he means it exactly like that. Typically, in trying to adapt to the country he has moved to he goes to a bookstore and asks a salesman "for the book that best expresses the vacillation of the Canadian soul" (which is how he first meets Donald). As a reader:
I had a predilection for writers whose purpose was unclear or for those, and they were, I think, the best, who didn't have any purpose at all.
       But there is some purpose behind Bait, as it is an attempt to capture something -- including the past, change, what (and how) literature can capture experience. It is also an amusing cultural dialogue, as Canadian Donald and his European friend are unable to see eye to eye on so many matters, Donald's certain pronouncements in stark contrast to the narrator's vacillations. The narrator believes identity is immutable, and rooted in past and origins: he will always remain European, now a stranger in this strange land -- yet he also seeks to learn from Donald, and, ultimately literally seeks his approval. (His mother, too, was an outsider and foreigner, something she was especially keenly aware of during the war, but her situation necessitated (and her personality led her to) a different reaction to that condition.)
       Written in a long, almost stream of consciousness rush, Albahari's text is surprisingly gripping. However, the fact that it barely pauses (separate sentences, but no paragraph breaks) gets wearying: the seamless shifting back and forth make this one large whole, but it's hard to swallow at a single sitting.
       Well written and intriguing, Bait deftly handles a lot of big and small questions.

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Links:

Bait: Reviews: David Albahari: Other books by David Albahari under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Serbian author David Albahari was born in 1948. He currently lives in Canada.

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© 2005-2011 the complete review

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