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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Fragile Travelers

Jovanka Živanović

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To purchase Fragile Travelers

Title: Fragile Travelers
Author: Jovanka Živanović
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 113 pages
Original in: Serbian
Availability: Fragile Travelers - US
Fragile Travelers - UK
Fragile Travelers - Canada
  • Serbian title: Putnici od stakla
  • Translated and with a Preface by Jovanka Kalaba

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Our Assessment:

B : nice idea, quite well played out

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 18/4/2016 .
World Lit. Today . 11-12/2016 Michele Levy

  From the Reviews:
  • "Živanović suspends reality in this delicate, beautiful short book to explore the questions plaguing humankind and pay homage to the power and importance of having a connection with another -- a soul mate to offer support in life and in the darkest corners of the mind." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Religious and classical images heighten the spiritual dimension. (...) Parallel allusions further instantiate opposing realms." - Michele Levy, 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:

       Fragile Travelers begins with the disappearance of Petar Naumov: the pot is on, but he's run out of coffee, so he sets out, in his slippers, to get some from the kiosk on the ground floor -- and doesn't return. Živanović's tone here is already very playful, and with a slightly surreal, slightly comic, slightly dark and philosophical edge sets the stage and atmosphere for the rest of the novel. So, for example, she also offers two possible scenarios for how his disappearance was discovered, nicely spinning each of them out.
       As to the explanation of what actually happened to Petar, that's quite simple:

On his way to buy some coffee, Petar ended up in a woman's dream -- and got stuck there.
       Petar is: "a family man without stain, an architect by profession with extraordinary analytical abilities". He's been married, to Andelija, for almost a quarter of a century, and they have a daughter, Vanja. Andelija is away when Petar disappears, but is naturally troubled by his disappearance -- and then, when he returns (because he does return) by what he might have been up to in his absence.
       The woman whose dreams Petar gets stuck in is art teacher Emilija Savić, who is in her mid-thirties and involved with Žarko. Emilija and Petar's paths have apparently crossed before -- Petar remembers: "that we'd been to several parties and weddings together, and that we'd exchanged a few sentences" -- in this small country where everyone knows everyone and Petar is a well-known personality, but they were hardly acquainted. Neither can quite explain how Petar came to figure in Emilija's dreams, though Emilija feels somewhat guilty, imagining that she must bear some responsibility -- they're her dreams, after all, constructs of her mind.
       The novel is presented in fairly short chapters, from varying perspectives: an omniscient narrator repeatedly provides an overview, while elsewhere Petar and Emilija's own versions of events alternate. As to what it all means, everyone remains rather unsure: as Petar notes;
If those dream travels were a sign of something, I couldn't decipher it.
       Matters get more complicated back in real life, as Emilija and Petar try to deal with the fall-out of their rather intimate -- on one level -- experiences, while their relationships with their significant others are also adjusted in the light of what they've been through. It's a struggle -- leading, for example, Petar to try to find even more fanciful explanations for it all:
(W)hat if Emilija Savić wasn't, in fact, a protagonist in this story in the first place ? What if there was only one dreamer -- me ? In that case the story would be only mine, and Emilija Savić and I wouldn't have any actual affinity. It was a good thought, a true lifesaver. The question was whether I wanted to be saved in that way. Once we get entangled in our illusions and allow them to grow into us, letting them go becomes the hardest thing. The process of shedding our illusions is always a matter of forced separation, sad and hurtful, in which whole pieces of us get torn away and are lost forever.
       They do figure it out, this meeting of minds, or souls, on a different sort of plane than that of everyday reality, and they come to terms with it -- so that life can continue normally on that other, real plane. It's quite cleverly and nicely done, a story of human connections and understanding, helped especially by the way Živanović balances what could easily come across as too ridiculously serious with her playful tone(s) and light touch. There's some nice depth here, too, even as the short novel reads breezily and quickly.
       All in all, quite good quirky fun.

- M.A.Orthofer, 5 September 2016

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Fragile Travelers: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Serbian author Jovanka Živanović was born in 1959.

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© 2016 the complete review

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