Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada



In association with Amazon.it - Italia

the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


How to Tie Your Shoes

Nikola Petković

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase How to Tie Your Shoes

Title: How to Tie Your Shoes
Author: Nikola Petković
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 125 pages
Original in: Croatian
Availability: How to Tie Your Shoes - US
How to Tie Your Shoes - UK
How to Tie Your Shoes - Canada
  • Croatian title: Kako svezati cipele
  • Translated by the author

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B : solid reckoning-with-the-father novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
E-Novine . 18/6/2011 Vladimir Arsenić

  From the Reviews:
  • "Podeljen u tri celine, što je i tipografski naglašeno: tok bolesti, terminalna faza i smrt, te post mortem, roman u stvari pripoveda priču o odrastanju o sticanju vlastitog, uvek problematičnog identiteta. (...) Roman Nikole Petkovića kratak je i efektan. Napisan je u rafalnoj paljbi sažetih poglavlja koja čitaoca ne opterećuju. (...) U mnogo čemu roman Kako svezati cipele podseća na Vudija Alena. (...) Kako svezati cipele je simpatičan roman, nevelik po obimu, ali po načinu na koji pristupa uvek zanimljivoj, moglo bi se reći arhetipskoj, temi značajan i zanimljiv." - Vladimir Arsenić, E-Novine

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.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       The three-part How to Tie Your Shoes is a (clearly autobiographical) novel of a son -- now in his mid-forties -- dealing with his father's terminal illness and consequent death. The two had a complicated relationship, the father abandoning the family when Niko was young boy, and periods of estrangement continuing also in adulthood. Unrepentantly old-school, the father is also a relic of the old country, the Yugoslavia that has long crumbled into smaller, testier pieces; typically, the father's origins-story changes -- remaining recognizably Yugoslav, but shifting depending on the localized circumstances (which were long very uncomfortable -- with Niko avoiding them by going to study and teach in the US).
       In this, as in so many respects, the father changes his story according to circumstances or feeling -- certain of himself, and indifferent to the opinion of others (but irritated that others don't see it his way; he's a very my-way-or-the-highway kind of guy):

He changed his stories so often that no one in their right mind could bother to follow them, much less to verify their content. To him, they were all true.
       The father has cancer, a rot that spreads and eventually does him in. Niko tries to be there for his father, but the old man doesn't make it easy, and their history is a complication that they can't really resolve; of course, How to Tie Your Shoes is Niko's attempt to resolve his issues with his unpleasant father, or at least make some sense of them.
       Facing the death of his father -- inescapably imminent -- Niko wonders:
Will I miss my father once he dies ? I don't know.
       An old-school macho, the father was also emasculated by losing his wife -- Niko's mother -- to another man, a blow right to the roots of his ridiculous (but locally widespread) masculine pride:
See, here in the Balkans, when a man takes your woman away from you, regardless of whether he does it just to screw her or to marry her, it's a disaster. Not only does wife snatching strip you of your macho pride, but it also makes your dick shrink by at least two centimeters. And I'm talking here about an irreversible process.
       Masculine identity -- in the form of playing the hard, gruff, tough man -- is certainly one of the biggest hurdles to any relationship between father and son here, as is the father's belittling of practically anything Niko does. Certainly writing -- especially poetry -- and teaching don't impress him -- and he has no problem in conveying that. With Niko the father of a child who is now the same age Niko was when his father abandoned him, Niko now seems even more aware of the undermining effects his father's words and actions have had on him.
       Presented in short chapters -- scenes, reflection, episodes -- How to Tie Your Shoes forms a solid portrait of father, son, and their relationship, even as it only occasionally delves deeper into specific events. But the lasting pain of the father's abandonment is well-presented, while Niko's attempts at some form of reconciliation and understanding allow for an interesting exploration of the relationship, and of Niko's understanding of his unpleasant father.
       As a writer, Niko is also aware of the dangers and difficulties of using words to deal with reality:
Language is a cock-sucking son of a bitch, an asshole ... plain crap, a coward that hides behind its own imagined objectivity. And the way it gains that objectivity is via precision. On its way to precision it doesn't follow the route of poetry, no, it goes for the route of lies.
       The hopeless physical collapse of the father nicely mirrors the son's struggles to make some sense of his complicated relationship with his father and the effect it has on him: it simply can't be made whole, the disease is too tenacious -- popping up in one new organ even after it's been addressed elsewhere. Death offers a re-start -- to the reëvaulation -- but the finality is one of acceptance of the pain and damage the father caused, more than anything else.
       How to Tie Your Shoes is quite well done. It is more angry than dark, but also very controlled, Petković concerned here with writing -- capturing and conveying, literarily -- rather than just spewing. There are some clever bits here, and a dark humor too, especially in many of the observational asides of the local society -- his father's (lost) Yugoslavia (and generation) as well as contemporary Croatia. Indeed, the former-/Yugoslav backdrop -- a country rent apart, and almost collapsing in its infighting, and now having regained a very different form of tenuous stability -- is effectively used throughout.
       Somewhat bleak, if not entirely grim, but a solid literary work of a complex, hopeless father-son relationship.

- M.A.Orthofer, 3 June 2017

- Return to top of the page -


How to Tie Your Shoes: Reviews: Nikola Petković: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       Croatian author Nikola Petković was born in 1962.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2017 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links