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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


In Search of the Grail

Svetislav Basara

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To purchase In Search of the Grail

Title: In Search of the Grail
Author: Svetislav Basara
Genre: Novel
Written: 1990 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 221 pages
Original in: Serbian
Availability: In Search of the Grail - US
In Search of the Grail - UK
In Search of the Grail - Canada
  • The Cyclist Conspiracy, Part Two
  • Serbian title: Na gralovom tragu
  • Translated by Randall A. Major

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Our Assessment:

B : continuing wild and varied ride

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       In Search of the Grail is The Cyclist Conspiracy, Part Two -- the sequel (or continuation -- or "offspring", as the Foreword has it) of The Cyclist Conspiracy, itself a free-wheeling, multi-layered, open-ended patchwork piece -- indeed, one that allows for (or already exists in ?) many variations, as one of the characters, Joseph Kowalsky, claims in a letter to the author printed in this volume:

     A few months ago, I read your "novel," The Cyclist Conspiracy. Although I knew practically every word of it ahead of time -- in fact, I've read forty-odd versions of The Conspiracy -- my curiosity was boundless. I am sure that you will not be unpleasantly surprised when I tell you that as many as thirty-eight authors have written the same novel (the same arrangement of chapters, same facts, same characters); I must admit that there have been stylistically more successful attempts, but in the end your version was chosen to be printed.
       Once again, "the subversive organization 'Evangelical Bicyclists of the Rose Cross'" is rolled out in service of an unusual collage-novel that includes what are presented as transcripts from the Nuremberg War Trials and an unpublished interview with a Time-correspondent, an autobiographical account by Stalin (himself an Evangelical Bicyclist, "assigned to be the annihilator of communists and communist ideals") and an alternate history of the death of the Marquis de Sade, and its very own constitution (specifying the novel's coat of arms (Article 2), noting that: "The novel, like the earth's crust, has several semantic layers" (Article 3), and that it is published by Dalkey Archive Press (Article 5)).
       This is a novel where one character warns/tells another: "[Umberto] Eco is writing one of the chapters of this novel" -- and, indeed, a chapter ascribed to Eco ('The Supercomputer') eventually appears in its pages. Another character sends the author a telegram, announcing his death -- the day before.
       The Brotherhood is a history influencing and altering force -- though in practice not always entirely successful: their attempts to stop the French and Russian Revolutions fell short (but, hey: "we did cause the First and Second World Wars"). In his letter to the author, Kowalsky warns: "whatever is written -- it produces a certain influence, perhaps a crucial one", history itself affected -- though not always as planned or hoped. Among the complications: for all the absolute statements here, and decrees and codification (that constitution, as well as 'The Code of King Charles the Hideous') the (larger) text is influenced and modified by other forces too; one editor's (foot)note pointing out at one point, after identifying a snuck-in bit of text:
In our hurry (the novel had to go to the printers) there was no chance to peruse the entire text, and thus it is not to be excluded that there are more of these falsified passages in the novel.
       Yet for all the documentary(-style) material assembled here -- including illustrations, drawings, and maps --, it's also pointed out -- again in a footnote -- that:
The Bicyclists are, above all, opponents of all forms of documentary, of all facts, and they are believers in blind faith.
       In Search of the Grail has the ambition of its title: a search to create a(n other world), imagining the potentials of a Grand Insane Asylum, of supercomputers -- and of a 'Land of Falsifiers'. It's an amusing, fantastical, often heady mix -- and one of the Nuremberg questioners' interjections applies to much of the rest of the novel too: "Wait a second. It's hard to follow what you're saying".
       In Search of the Grail is also specifically historical: though roaming far, in time and (largely European) place, there's a definite Yugoslavian focus, with that (then still just existing) country described as: "a particular False Creation" (and which: "the first volume of The Conspiracy is conceived to cause an even higher degree of dissolution within"). Events, in a sense, overtook fiction: this 1990 novel looks back on the artificiality of the pieced-together nation, but can't imagine the brutal dissolution that soon followed. Nevertheless, it remains an interesting novel of the times -- and a fun, if very wild and messy, conspiracies-tale.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 November 2017

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In Search of the Grail: Other books by Svetislav Basara under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Yugoslavian (Serbian) author Svetislav Basara (Светислав Басара) was born in 1953.

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© 2017-2019 the complete review

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