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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Conversation with Spinoza

Goce Smilevski

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To purchase Conversation with Spinoza

Title: Conversation with Spinoza
Author: Goce Smilevski
Genre: Novel
Written: 2002 (Eng. 2006)
Length: 136 pages
Original in: Macedonian
Availability: Conversation with Spinoza - US
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  • A Cobweb Novel
  • Macedonian title: Разговор со Спиноза
  • Translated by Filip Korzenski

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Our Assessment:

A- : very well written, interesting concept

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       'A Cobweb Novel' ? (And, yes, instead of chapters the book is divided into 'Threads'). And then a Note to the Reader at the opening of the book, explaining:

The threads of this novel are spun out of conversations between you and Spinoza. So wherever there is an empty space in the words of Spinoza, just say your name and write in the blank space.
       (And, yes, there are real fill-in-the-blank spaces ("You are fairly close to me , ________, only a step away from my body , and yet very far from me.")
       It all sounds too clever by half (or more), so it comes as a pleasant surprise that, despite such games, Conversation with Spinoza is both very approachable and enjoyable. Smilevski writes very well, easily drawing in the reader with the fluid presentation of his story -- and it doesn't get too musty or confused in his cobweb.
       The second-person form is problematic: most readers, presumably, don't like being told what they say -- especially if the words don't sound at all like what would come from their mouths. Spinoza's conversation-partner is unlikely to be a figure any reader (save Smilevski himself) identifies with . Nevertheless, the set-up works, more or less: for the most part, Spinoza narrates a story (his life-story), with his dialogue-partner only occasionally intruding and directing where it goes. Both parts -- the life-story, and the occasional back back-and-forth between conversationalists -- are compelling enough to compensate for the minor irritation of the second-person form.
       The Spinoza of the book is the historic Spinoza, and Conversation with Spinoza is essentially a reflection of and on his life and philosophy. Smilevski presents this very effectively -- in part also because he allows (or forces) Spinoza to re-tell his life-tale and revisit certain episodes. As the author explains in 'Instead of an Epilogue: Why Spinoza ?':
The novel's first section deals with a Spinoza who thinks, a typical homo intellectualis, who turns, in the second section, into a homo sentimentalis. In the first section, he thinks; in the second, he feels. The approach has resulted in a certain parallelism between Spinoza as a character and the character of the reader: what the reader could only vaguely sense in the novel's first section Spinoza imparts in the second section.
       (Yes, Smilevski is a very controlling author: not only does he put the reader in the text, he has to explain exactly what he did -- somewhat superfluously, in this specific case (though perhaps readers will be pleased to find validation of their readings when they come to Smilevski's book-ending explanation).)
       This theoretical approach Smilevski offers can, of course, be hit or miss: it sounds clever enough in theory, but it still has to be put into practise, and that's where it sinks or sails. Fortunately, Smilevski shows great command in actually telling and presenting a story: Spinoza's life is compellingly related here, especially his relationship with Clara Maria van den Enden.
       Clara is a particularly fascinating figure, and among the most powerful scenes in the novel is when Spinoza follows her on a walk, she limping ahead faster and faster, constantly repeating to herself: "Who am I ? Clara Maria." until she succeeds in losing "both the answer and the question".
       It's Clara who then also confronts Spinoza with the fundamental issue separating them (and which is, in a sense, Spinoza's fundamental problem):
     "You don't understand me at all. You always answer my questions as if I were asking you, What about reason then ? But I'm, in fact, asking you, What about life then ? "
       Conversation with Spinoza is both short and quick, but with it's (re-)examination of specific episodes from his life, as well as a variety of nicely presented titbits (a fascination for corners ...) offers what feels like a very full portrait of the philosopher (and a decent introduction to his philosophy). Both enjoyable and smart, the novel doesn't get too carried away in the games it plays, and Smilevski rarely over-reaches (the explanatory-epilogue arguably being an exception -- though even that is of interest).
       Worthwhile and recommended.

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Conversation with Spinoza: Reviews: Goce Smilevski: Other books by Goce Smilevski under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Macedonian author Goce Smilevski (Гоце Смилевски) was born in 1975.

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© 2007-2012 the complete review

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