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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Banquet in Blitva

Miroslav Krleža

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To purchase The Banquet in Blitva

Title: The Banquet in Blitva
Author: Miroslav Krleža
Genre: Novel
Written: 1939
Length: 337 pages
Original in: Croato-Serbian
Availability: The Banquet in Blitva - US
The Banquet in Blitva - UK
The Banquet in Blitva - Canada
Bankett in Blitwien - Deutschland
  • Original title: Banket u Blitvi
  • Translated by Edward Dennis Goy and Jasna Levinger-Goy (from the 'Croato-Serbian', as the publishers put it)
  • Note that The Banquet in Blitva is actually a trilogy: the first two parts were published in 1939, while the third was only published in 1962. This edition only contains the first two parts, Edward Dennis Goy maintaining in his afterword: "despite their ending which leaves Nielsen up in the air (...), these two volumes form a unity and may be offered as such."
  • Despite offering only two-thirds of the trilogy this small (7 3/4 by 5 inches, and less than 350 pages) trade-paperback (!) has a list price of an absolutely unbelievable US $ 25.95

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Our Assessment:

B+ : passionate and sharp, but relentless

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The New Republic . 20/6/2005 Dan Halpern

  From the Reviews:
  • "But The Banquet in Blitva is not simply a polemic, a political agenda barely couched in allegory. (...) The Banquet in Blitva is one of the great satirical novels of the twentieth century. Like all the best satire, it leaves the object of its mockery behind, standing alone as a work of art even for readers who may have no idea what it actually parodies." - Dan Halpern, The New Republic

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 Banquet in Blitva is a trilogy, but, frustratingly, this English translation only includes two-thirds of it (Edward Dennis Goy claiming in his afterword: "despite their ending which leaves Nielsen up in the air (...), these two volumes form a unity and may be offered as such"). The first two parts were first published in 1939, long before the third part (1962), so there is some historic precedent; still, it seems a shame to only have the incomplete story.
       Blitva is an imaginary Central European country, a state like many that were shaken loose from the collapse of the Hapsburg Empire. The borders drawn up after 1917 left more Blitvinians outside the newly declared republic than within its borders, most in neighbouring, hated Blatvia. It finds an identity in a fierce nationalism, but that to the detriment of any true advancement, wasting lives and energy on futile militarist posturing and ill-conceived attacks.
       The leader of this sorry little state is Colonel Kristian Barutanski, a prototypical dictator whose excuse and rationale is always: Blitva:

For Barutanski, only a single thought existed: Blitva. (...) A fanatic, limited, blindly one-sided, undaunted, a typical gambler who put his all on a single card and won, throughout his life hje played the role of the love-sick troubadour who struck his mandolin beneath the balcony of his beloved Blitva.
       He cares little for the citizens of Blitva, or for anything much beyond the nationalist ideal. Firmly in power, he is now faced with some threat from an old schoolmate and former friend, Dr. Niels Nielsen, who, at the beginning of the novel, has written an open letter to Barutanski, clearly and angrily complaining about the foolishness of the leader's actions, past and present.
       The Banquet in Blitva focusses on the conflict between these two foes, Nielsen thrust into a political role he does not want to fill, and Barutanski trying to cling to power and his nationalist ideals at all cost. Blitvian culture, society, and politics are all described, in their absurdity and rigidity, as the two men move (and are moved) against each other. There are significant secondary characters, from Cardinal Armstrong, who has a pet monkey called Giordano Bruno (so-called simply "out of spite for the dignity of human intelligence !") to a frustrated and then suicidal artist, but most of the novel focusses closely on Barutanski and Nielsen.
       Krleza's style is penetrating and passionate, reflecting the self-obsessed and troubled states of mind of these two characters. There's tremendous detail, Krleza not satisfied with simple description but boring to the very depths of these beings -- with their physical and mental states reflecting also the external situation, as when he writes about Barutanski:
And in all this and above all: his teeth were loose, his left eyetooth, his wisdom teeth, his two lower front teeth. His whole skull was loose. Blitva was loose. The international situation was utterly obscure. His physique in general, of late, showed a great mass of ailments. Something was happening to his appendix. His tonsils were rotten. His nerves were giving way.
       The conflict -- a battle for what Blitva might be, and for what role Barutanski and Nielsen might have in leading it to that point, and their personal struggles (with themselves and each other) -- is well-presented, and stories of life in general in Blitva (for everyone from artists to high society) give a good sense of this damaged Balkan state. There's also murder, as well as considerable political intrigue.
       The book is, however, relentless: not so much fast-paced as intense, and never letting up, making for a sometimes wearying read. Still, it's an interesting portrait of these characters and Blitva itself is a wonderfully terrible invention (far too real for comfort).

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The Banquet in Blitva: Miroslav Krleza: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Miroslav Krleža (1893-1981) was a leading Croatian author.

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© 2004-2010 the complete review

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