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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Northern Lights

Drago Jancar

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To purchase Northern Lights

Title: Northern Lights
Author: Drago Jancar
Genre: Novel
Written: 1980 (Eng. 2000)
Length: 254 pages
Original in: Slovene
Availability: Northern Lights - US
Northern Lights - UK
Northern Lights - Canada
Aurore boréale - France
  • Slovene title: Severni sij
  • Translated from the Slovene by Michael Biggins
  • From the Northwestern University Press series, Writings from an Unbound Europe

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fine picture of Central Europe on the eve of World War II

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Drago Jancar's Northern Lights is set largely in 1938, in the small Slovenian city of Maribor. It is largely told in the first person, by the central character, Josef Erdman, though significant parts are also related in the third person.
       Erdman is apparently an Austrian businessman, originally from Linz and now affiliated with a Viennese firm. He gets off the train in Maribor, one of the many "Central European K. & K. cities, all of them alike". The K. & K. cities (the imperial and royal cities of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) now resound only with an echo of the Empire that was dissolved some twenty years earlier, each a reminder of the world that was but has now been rent asunder. Arriving in Maribor he is faced with the "shuddering silence that hovered over Central Europe". That a storm threatens in the distance isn't completely clear yet, but even peripheral Maribor grows more unsettled day by day.
       Erdman seems lost in the city: his purpose is unclear. He is a suspicious figure -- and he is unsure even of himself. Being interviewed by the police chief he realizes he is: "Suspicious to myself, not just to him."
       Erdman keeps some dubious company. He begins an affair. He is, generally, a lost soul -- and that in a city itself unsure of its place and of the future.
       He finds himself unable to move on, overwhelmed by events around him, powerless, losing himself in lethargy:

It's spinning, this world is spinning faster and faster and there's nothing I can do about it. It' spinning, sinking me into a deep sleep as it spins.
       Jancar paints a rich portrait of Central Europe on the verge of war. True danger is largely still at a distance, but like the spectacular Aurora Borealis (the northern lights) of that year, warning lights flare brightly and sounds blare loudly. Violence does catch up with Erdman and Maribor -- a brutal, small flash of violence -- but mainly it is the spectre of the future that unsettles the community.
       Maribor is a city where, despite there being a so-called Jewish Quarter, "you'd be hard-pressed to find a single Jew in 1938", and yet this does not mean that Maribor can ignore the issues raised elsewhere. It is clear throughout the novel that Maribor will not remain untouched by events.
       Jancar also presents a few scenes of what is to come, eerily telling of what happens to certain characters. It is a very effective, disturbing device.
       Jancar also ties up the novel quite nicely. Along with the northern lights come magnetic storms that cause the needles of compasses to "shudder fitfully around its north-pointing position of repose", jerking to east and west. The clear, guiding position of the needle was only briefly thrown off by the events of the times, but Erdman can never completely regain his own balance again.

       Northern Lights is a fine, well crafted book about Central Europe on the eve of the Second World War, well worth reading.

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Northern Lights: Drago Jancar: Other books by Drago Jancar under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Slovenian author Drago Jancar was born 13 April 1948. He has written numerous novels.

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