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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


David Albahari

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To purchase Tsing

Title: Tsing
Author: David Albahari
Genre: Novel
Written: 1988 (Eng. 1997)
Length: 99 pages
Original in: Serbian
Availability: Tsing - US
Tsing - UK
Tsing - Canada
Tsing - France
Zink - Italia
  • Serbian title: Čink
  • Translated by the author

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Our Assessment:

B+ : effectively unfocussed

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
World Literature Today . Winter/1990 Radmila Gorup
World Literature Today . Fall/1998 Branko Gorjup

  From the Reviews:
  • "'Zinc' is a short novel of multilayered composition. Three separate narrative lines overlap: the author's attempt to write a story, recollections of his father (particularly the latter's recent death), and his trip to the United States. Of the three, the father's death -- or rather, the theme of the struggle between death and life -- is the most relevant. The novel is written as a series of fragments of varied length, from a one-sentence aphorism to a story-long segment, introduced nut of chronological order, which can be read either separately or as part of a whole. In either case the synthesis occurs only in the reader's mind." - Radmila Gorup, World Literature Today

  • "Tsing falls short of incorporating some other frequently used postmodern techniques such as parody, irony, and humor, and does so for two obvious reasons: the narrator's exquisitely equipoised meditation on the death of his father, and the investigation into the meaning of the father-son relationship. The story itself, however, because of its powerful forward-moving pace and its compelling theme rendered in a crisp and minimalist language, makes the narrator's self-reflexive and metafictional asides extraneous, less cumbersome. (...) Albahari's Tsing is a wise book, a book of meditation, not so much on death itself but rather on the nature of absence, of what happens when we lose a parent. It challenges the possibility of substitution -- life cannot be replaced by representation." - Branko Gorjup, 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:

       In Tsing the narrator is somewhat at loose ends -- and that's reflected in the narrative. His father has died, and that and memories in general weigh heavily on him. Writing is an outlet (or excuse), but he's having trouble with that too -- and he's having some difficulty putting his finger on exactly what the problem is. At one point he suggests:

I had begun a story, then my father got stuck between me and the story, or rather his death, and then everything became too complicated.
       From the first Tsing is about the impossibility of anything absolute or certain; in fact, it begins proposing an alternative: "This book should have begun like this" the narrator suggests -- a writerly trick that allows the book to begin almost exactly like that and yet start completely differently.
       This is very much a writer's book. Facing reality is daunting, memory almost overwhelming; writing is an escape:
Everything is either real or imagined; or everything is at the same time both real and imagined; in other words, it does not matter what one writes about: it is the very act of writing that is important, narration is important, the story itself. Everything else is just a coincidence, intentional or unintentional, a mere chance, symbolism.
       So Tsing is also an attempt to describe the author's efforts at making this story, even as he barely knows what angle to go at it from:
Should I write about love ? No, this is a story about loneliness.
       Spare, elliptical, Tsing is also a book of memories, returning repeatedly to the father's last illness as well as bringing up much older memories. There are also scenes from the narrator's travels, to the US especially. The surreal elements are most obvious here, as, for example, the narrator explains he can't establish a true relationship with America because: "I recognized in everything the repetition of movie scenes". It's not so much that he can't distinguish between real and imagined, it's that in his mind the overlap is so great that there is little difference between the two. So also with his own fiction, on which reality constantly intrudes.
       He understands everything literally is how one woman diagnoses his problem, but it's a literalness that allows for the unreal. The disconnect with others is a frequent theme -- and sometimes made ... literal, as when a woman lets him stay at her apartment in exchange for the promise to water her many plants:
I returned to the apartment and waited for the woman to call from Denver. "How are my flowers ?" she asked. I looked around: I didn't notice any change. "Why don't you ask them yourself ?" I replied and stretched my hand holding the receiver toward the rhododendron, then toward the ficus, then toward the avocado. I don't know what they talked about. I took the receiver with my other hand and stretched it toward the camellia. Its leaves seemed to sag a little, but it could have been only because of a different point of view, different intensity of light, different time of day. A moment later the sound of the signal announcing the end of conversation could be heard from the receiver.
       "I have to compose myself", the narrator tells himself, and Tsing is both effort and result. It seems like a very playful fiction, using literary tricks, but really it is just ungrounded: there is no fixed centre, only a whirr of uncertainty, and what foundations there are -- memories, incidents -- are themselves not firm enough. How easily some small detail in some memory can overwhelm and crowd out nearly everything else is something Albahari conveys very well.
       A very short book, Tsing is an effective attempt at coming to terms with the death of a father, with the narrator's focus on writing only a more literal way of experiencing and trying to express the emotions and thoughts that anyone might have. It's very personal, and yet there's the feel of the universal to it.
       The style and approach may be irritating to some, but on its own terms Tsing is an impressive small achievement.

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Tsing: 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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