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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Words are something else

by
David Albahari


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

To purchase Words are something else



Title: Words are something else
Author: David Albahari
Genre: Stories
Written: (Eng. 1996)
Length: 217 pages
Original in: Serbian
Availability: Words are something else - US
Words are something else - UK
Words are something else - Canada
  • Selected from five collections originally published in Serbo-Croatian between 1973 and 1993
  • Translated by Ellen Elias-Bursać
  • Edited and with an afterword by Tomislav Longinović
  • Foreword by Charles Simić

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Our Assessment:

A- : enjoyable variety, good introduction to the author

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Christian Science Monitor . 31/10/1996 David Kirby
The NY Times Book Rev. . 25/8/1996 Ken Kalfus
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Spring/1997 Thomas Lecky
World Lit. Today . Spring/1997 Radmila Gorup


  From the Reviews:
  • "Albahari"s work lacks the fearful suspense that is Kafka's hallmark. A more likely comparison would be to a writer like Emily Dickinson. Like her, Albahari makes a virtue of shyness. He finds the significant within the trivial -- a loose button, say." - David Kirby, Christian Science Monitor

  • "David Albahari writes in the rich Balkan tradition of urbanity and multiculturism that stands in opposition to the region's strident, often mournful nation-building literatures. (...) Sensitively translated by Ellen Elias-Bursac, most of Mr. Albahari's stories are quite accessible, as well as playful and good-natured, recalling the metafictions of Robert Coover and Mr. Albahari's countryman Danilo Kis." - Ken Kalfus, The New York Times Book Review

  • "In these twenty-seven stories David Albahari reveals his preoccupation with family, self, and the nature of writing. These are not uncommon concerns but are somewhat unusual in a contemporary Serbian writer. Eschewing a strict political agenda, Albahari instead treads on more local terrain, though not without building the Central European political and cultural worlds into the subtext. This edition presents the stories chronologically, allowing us to see the changes in Albahari's focus from family -- and particularly paternal -- relations to the self and the indeterminacy of language. All are terse, taut pieces; most are narratives and the early stories may even seem a bit old-fashioned to some. This might be a cultural matter." - Thomas Lecky, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "Uncertainty about identity and memories in the first part of the book are transformed in parts 2 and 3 into pervasive doubt about the very possibility of writing a story. (...) Even though shaped by Belgrade culture, Albahari does not fit into the dominant current of Serbian literary tradition. Rather, by his need to examine the very foundation of writing and to play with literary conventions, he is one of a group of middle and younger prosaists who shun realistic motivation and have introduced innovative narrative modes into Serbian literature. Still, for all his experimentation, Albahari remains faithful to the narrative." - Radmila Gorup, World Literature Today

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 stories in Words are something else span several decades of Albahari's writing career. The stories are grouped together in three parts, with those in the first largely dealing with his family and his relationship with his parents. Though it becomes more pronounced with time, Albahari has always displayed and experimental (and playful) streak, trying to see what one can do with language and form, and the variety on display here is impressive. Packing twenty-seven pieces into just over 200 pages, with only one really longer story -- 'The Movies', itself a three-part riff -- this is also a fast-paced collection.
       Albahari likes to tackle writing itself head-on, and this sometimes leads into a hall of mirrors -- but he's always entertaining enough (and doesn't go on too long) with it to make it interesting:

Can a writer stop thinking like a writer ? thinks the writer. The writer thinks this might be plausible. But would it be useful ? Indeed.
       His novels, though often not very long either, generally have a cumulating density that can bog the reader down; not so these stories, where even when he revisits ideas each new (short) piece seems fresh. And though Albahari often displays some wit in his longer fiction, what's perhaps most remarkable here is how consistently funny this collection is.
       For those who like their authors playing games the collection offers some great ones: 'My wife has light eyes' begins, for example:
     "This will be a simple story," I think, "and it will have no compound sentences."
     "Don't be silly," says my wife. "That sentence is already pretty compound."
       'An attempt at describing the death of Ruben Rubenović, former textiles salesman' starts off the way one imagines Albahari could preface any of his fictions:
     The lines that follow, pages I cannot yet predict, events, sounds, things that happen: all of this is just an attempt. The words I'll use, the sentences I'll string together, the questions, the statements: all of it is unreliable, nothing is leading to some known goal, none of it possesses the firmness of the undeniable. What I'll describe is unknown to you; you will never learn what it is I meant to say. The story you will read is yours alone. Between your reading and my intentions lie endless rifts of incomprehension and human isolation.
       That may be enough to scare some readers off, but few of these stories are anywhere near as dour as the tone here might suggest. And it's hard not to be won over by his approach put into practise -- as in the same story, for example, he later catches everyone off guard by suddenly presenting: "the climax of the story at a time when the author, the characters, and the reader least expect it".
       There are more than two dozen stories in this collection, and it's hard to say of any of them that they are not, at the least, inspired. Albahari continues to surprise (and amuse and entertain) in a lively and inventive collection, and it is certainly the best introduction to an author well worth knowing.
       Recommended.

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Links:

Words are something else: 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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© 2008-2011 the complete review

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