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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Cartier Project

Miha Mazzini

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To purchase The Cartier Project

Title: The Cartier Project
Author: Miha Mazzini
Genre: Novel
Written: 1987 (Eng. 2004)
Length: 219 pages
Original in: Slovenian
Availability: The Cartier Project - US
The Cartier Project - UK
The Cartier Project - Canada
  • Slovenian title: Operacija Cartier
  • Translated by Maja Visenjak-Limon
  • Operacija Cartier was also made into a film (1991), directed by Miran Zupanic

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Our Assessment:

B : enjoyable look at grim life in late-1980s Yugoslavia, but does too little beyond evoking and describing it

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Cartier Project is narrated by Egon, a writer with some literary aspirations who manages to just get by by freeloading off of friends, some somewhat questionable small-time schemes, and by penning the occasional tawdry romance-novel (under a pseudonym, of course).
       The novel describes his pretty pathetic life: he's refined his particular way of getting by to an art form, but it's still a fairly miserable existence. He barters for vouchers so that he can eat the slop at the local factory cafeteria, his clothes are threadbare (though one of his prostitute-friends has a john who conveniently enjoys showing off his handiwork in fixing up such things), and he spends much of his time looking for people to sponge off of, especially for drinks. (Pretty much everyone drinks, a great deal.)
       Women aren't a problem -- he gets his fill and constantly moves from one to another (though his friends have considerably more trouble with the fairer sex). But food, alcohol -- and recognition as a writer -- are much harder to come by.
       The world around Egon is a dank and dreary one too, and it's understandable that he doesn't want to be completely part of it. Life in the city is dominated by the foundry, with several of his friends living in the company dormitories: he comes and goes here pretty much as he pleases (though via the fence, not the main entrance), but the worker's life wouldn't be for him. From the ruined library, where he competes with gypsies for cast-off books and paper that might have some re-sale value (the gypsies fortunately generally preferring paper by the pound, while he has more literary interests) to a pathetic literary scene (personified in a self-styled (and -published) Poet who brings out a collection what seems like every few weeks (over a hundred by now, not that anyone cares or notices)), it's a sad, decrepit world. Alcoholic despair is understandably the norm.
       For much of the novel Egon at least has something of a goal: a small piece of foreign, decadent luxury, a marker that gives him an air (or at least a smell) of a different world, he indulges in perfume, specifically in "Cartier". It's his trademark -- but unfortunately, as the novel begins, he's run out. And without the magic potion, he threatens to slip even further into the dreary world around him. So he has to try to get his hands on some money and then on the expensive perfume. That makes for a bit of plot, but Mazzini doesn't make very much of it: Egon's quest is almost incidental, and not all that thrilling.
       There's also Egon's writing career. There's not much mention of his attempts to be a serious writer, but he does submit another of his well-selling soft-porn romances -- only to discover to his considerable shock and dismay that his publisher didn't publish it under a pseudonym but rather his real name, exposing him to the world:

No English female name. Egon Surname was what was under the title.
       (Secretive and embarrassed to the last, he can't bring himself to reveal even this exposed surname to the reader .....)
       It's an amusing idea, but again Mazzini doesn't make much of it, beyond providing one of the genuine laughs of the book when Egon discovers he isn't the only one to write such books under a pseudonym.
       The dead-pan humour in the description of this sorry lot of lives is fairly amusing, and some of the episodes are quite fun. The failure of authority, in particular, is well-done: there are guards, wardens, and policemen all about, but they have little success in keeping order, and this world is sort of an alcohol-dulled anarchy (rather than Communist ideal).
       The descriptions of this world, and many of the small episodes, are fine and fun, but it doesn't add up to quite enough. It's all atmosphere and small stories, without enough of a larger narrative arc (all the more disappointing because either the Cartier-project of the title or Egon's writing endeavours could have provided a firm basis for one). Ultimately, it's too typical for East European tales of the past few decades, enjoyable but not remarkable enough.

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The Cartier Project: Reviews: Operacija Cartier - the film: Miha Mazzini: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Miha Mazzini is a Slovenian author and filmmaker.

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© 2005-2010 the complete review

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