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The Prince Of Fire

The Prince Of Fire

Radmila J. Gorup
Nadežda Obradović
With a Foreword by Charles Simic
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  • Book Info
    The Prince Of Fire
    Book Description:

    Winner of the 1998 Misha Djordjevic Award for the best book on Serbian culture in English.

    Editors Gorup and Obradovic have collected stories from thirty-five outstanding writers in this first English anthology of Serbian fiction in thirty years. The anthology, representing a great variety of literary styles and themes, includes works by established writers with international reputations, as well as promising new writers spanning the generation born between 1930 and 1960. These stories may lead to a greater understanding of the current events in the former Yugoslavia.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-8078-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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    (pp. ix-xii)
    Charles Simic

    Ah, the Serbs! Until recently no one knew very much about them in the United States, and now almost everybody has opinions, which like all opinions that have their source in newspapers and television broadcasts, are not only superficial, but often plain wrong. A book of contemporary Serbian stories ought to make things clearer, or more likely, it may make their historical predicament even more baffling for the reader. That is as it should be. The difference between journalism and literature is that the first specializes in simplifying complex issues while the latter makes complex issues even more multifarious. Given...

    (pp. xiii-xviii)
    Radmila J. Gorup

    The genre of the short story has a long and important tradition in Serbian literature. Serbian writers courted this medium before attempting to master the novel, and consequently the novel developed more slowly than the short story in Serbian letters.

    The life of the contemporary Serbian short story is associated with the avant-garde journals in which stories are usually published. Consequently, the genre is perceived as a testing ground for new narrative techniques. In that sense, the contemporary Serbian short story is a genuine reflection of contemporary Serbian literature as a whole. Moreover, every author included in this collection has...

    (pp. 1-8)
    Aleksandar Tišma

    True, my uncle was an overproud genius of sorts, but he was not crazy. I say this despite the interpretations the family is wont to dole out with the conventional dispiritedness of those confronting something that transcends the bounds of ordinary understanding. In doing what he did, Uncle was obeying a monstrously overdeveloped conceit and, in my view, an inordinate sense of compassion.

    When he was introduced to my aunt, at a party for young ladies during the holidays, she was already engaged to a very ambitious director of a sugar refinery just outside town, a man who would later...

    (pp. 9-16)
    Milorad Pavić

    In the story you are about to read, the protagonists’ names will be given at the end instead of the beginning.

    At the capital’s mathematics faculty, my younger brother, who was a student of philology and military science, introduced us to each other. Since she was searching for a companion with whom to prepare for Mathematics I, we began studying together, and as she did not come from another town as I did, we studied in her parents’ big house. Quite early each morning, I passed by the shining Layland-Buffalo car, which belonged to her. In front of the door...

    (pp. 17-54)
    Borislav Pekić

    There are some men whose lives are traces of hot iron impressed into the ground. Wherever they walk, the ground burns beneath their feet. Long after they have passed, the smoke of scorched earth still hurts one’s eyes. Each resembles a star, the birth of which we see—but do not hear—millions of years after it has gone out. The death of an old sun resembles the birth of a new one; the death of such a man is always the birth of something new and unknown.

    They are creatures of Fire. Fire is their Element. It is their...

    (pp. 55-70)
    Miodrag Bulatović

    The café was small and dingy. Olja and I sat in a corner so that neither Ananije nor Fotije, who were sitting a table or two away, could see us, not to mention Sima and Nikifor, who were sitting behind the door. The café was dark, and but for its small windows you would have thought you were in a dugout rather than an inn on the outskirts of the town from which few people left sober. Its dark-colored walls were very high, so that we could not see them properly; they towered above us, sheer as ramparts. Olja and...

    (pp. 71-82)
    Dragoslav Mihailović

    I was sick; after last night’s fever my whole body hurt and you could have thrown me out with the trash. Still dressed, I lay down on the bed I had risen from on the morning of that dismal, smoky November day; I read for a while and briefly disappeared somewhere. And then I came back home.

    I was approaching it from the main street, and the first thing I noticed was that all around a lot had changed. All our little street, which bore Njegoš’s name, once so dusty and covered with cinders but now black-topped, was heavily settled,...

    (pp. 83-90)
    Svetlana Velmar-Janković

    Today, Sima Nešić would be called an interpreter; in his time they called him Sima thetarguman. But it is not such a big difference, since targuman means translator. Sima could translate from seven different languages and speak just as many. As a boy, he would roam for hours through the city’s main trading district called the Dubrovnik Bazaar (today a section of Seventh of July Street between Prince Mihailo Street and Jugovi æ Street). He walked past cramped little wooden shops listening to what Jews, Tzintzars, and Greeks shouted out loud or muttered to themselves as they traded— words...

    (pp. 91-102)
    Živojin Pavlović

    Around three months ago, my cow gored me in the belly, and it made me think, “There must be a God!”

    Just like everybody else in my village, preacher, I ain’t—well—what you’d callreligious. When there’s a holiday, we take off; we celebrate our patron saints, there’s no doubt about that. And when there’s a funeral or a baptism we always call you—you know that yourself. But like the others, I always say, “While you’re alive—you’re alive, but after that—who cares?”

    That’s how we all are, and I was, too. Till this last winter, when...

    (pp. 103-110)
    Mladen Markov

    The Serbs from Samoš, the old-timers of Banat, had been smuggling since the first days of occupation. They carry flour and eggs to Panèevo and return with bags full of money bills.

    In the evening, in the light of an oil lamp, Grandpa counts the money. In the middle of the room, on the earthen floor, a pile of money bills. Grandpa runs his bony hand through the pile, as if winnowing wheat.

    His eyes are beaming.

    The Isakovs most often travel with their grandson who, due to his innocent looks, serves as a shield. They are cunning—they are...

    (pp. 111-118)
    Grozdana Olujić

    Later he tried to recall who had brought the African violet into the Records Office and why. But all he could remember was how the dusky, lovely sound of its name had rung out as the greenish faces of the clerks floated behind the glass partitions, as in some huge aquarium. He remembered, too, that he had felt an involuntary pull: the African violet hinted at humid, torrid African nights, at the scented armpits of the jungle and the snakelike bodies of black women, something intoxicating and dangerous for which he had no name, had never come close to, nor...

    (pp. 119-130)
    Danilo Kiš

    Although I had sworn that I would never set foot in there again, nevertheless, one evening, after a two-year absence from Belgrade, I stopped by the Writers’ Club. I had already convinced myself that associating with writers is unpleasant, full of misunderstandings, envy, and insults. But I was also aware that this type of spiritual struggle,escrime littéraire,bitter and sterile, is also a part of the literary craft, like writing reviews or proofreading. In addition, I recalled Chekhov’s advice to a young writer, his challenge to leave the provinces and mix with the literary circles in the big city...

  13. THE GIFT
    (pp. 131-136)
    Momo Kapor

    Having traveled from Paris to Belgrade for their Christmas vacation, they spent the first three days delivering money, medicine, and various small parcels their friends in Paris had sent to relatives back home.

    On the third day, on Sunday, they found themselves in New Belgrade, in a section of the city they had never been to before—a complex of high rises known as Block 45. The immense gray defensive walls of the huge apartment buildings, resembling cement honeycombs, seemed immensely drab in comparison to the City of Light. The entire area was encircled, as if a muddy watersnake had...

    (pp. 137-142)
    Branimir Šćepanović

    I was silent for a few moments, expecting him to ask me something or to make some sort of gesture that would indicate at least a modicum of curiosity. But he didn’t even look at me. He seemed to be listening to the wind howling secretly, just like that night long ago when Anton burned to death. Then suddenly his lips curled into a frozen smile that I was unable to decipher.

    “Is that the only reason you came?”

    “I had to come, you’re the only person who can understand what happened to me.”

    “What is there to understand? That...

    (pp. 143-150)
    Mirko Kovač

    Sitting here with my friend, Dr. Frano Musić, I will tell a tale about death, the story of how I got tangled up in its strange and mystical ordeal. Although it happened recently, it all began way back at the end of September 1963. The days are beautiful at that time, the heat has ebbed and a mild period begins that is conducive to thoughts about fleeting life. After a long absence, I was visiting my hometown, without knowing why I had come. I arrived on the bus from Dubrovnik, where I was spending my vacation. The return to my...

    (pp. 151-162)
    Slavko Lebedinski

    On our street, the first below Dušan Street, angry knives with tin handles and dark blue bruises were held in high esteem. So were doves with metal rings on their legs. And yet, having one switchblade was not as big a deal as having two. So don’t dare to ask a Dorćol guy why he carries one in each pocket when he goes out in the evening. There’s nothing much to talk about—things are clear.

    There’s nothing to hide about this, either. In Dorćol, people would die violent deaths at the end of the day, with a dash of...

    (pp. 163-176)
    Filip David

    The inn stood where several roads crossed. Jews from the north, south, east, and west stopped there for the night and then journeyed on. At Beneventa, Aron ben Sh’muel Hanasi was at the center of the events recounted here. But, as sometimes occurs, from one tale, another issues, and from that, another. The tale from which the others here emerge and into which they flow is recorded, in part, in the Chronicles of Ahimaazo, in Hebrew and rhymed prose.

    We learn from the Ahimaazo manuscript that it all began like this: Hanasi, a miracle worker and mystic, highly educated and...

  18. THE DUEL
    (pp. 177-192)
    Vida Ognjenović

    Walking is a very important part of family and social life in this town. There are many serious people who, every day at a set time, proceed along the same path. There are those who do this only as guides for their distinguished guests. Most common are those who fulfill this obligation on holidays or Sunday evenings when the weather is nice. Then, dressed in their best clothes, they pass by the Patriarchate several times, stop on the square by the fountain, look to see who is there, chat with neighbors, and then home. Every now and then, young people...

  19. D. S.
    (pp. 193-200)
    Vidosav Stevanović

    D. S. is (or was) my father. A few random photographs are all that is left of him, the only heirlooms I have—tangible, yet stiff and unconvincing. All who once knew him have forgotten him completely; but memories of the dead are forgeries anyway—people only tell you what they think you want to hear. His parents are no longer alive, either. They have been dead and buried for a long time: thus vanished the last of those for whom he was precious and important. D. S. has disappeared; he is an empty void.

    He was killed at a...

    (pp. 201-214)
    Ratko Adamović

    As he made his way toward the path that was marked through the undergrowth, he didn’t think he had passed that way earlier and he wondered how anyone could pass that way at all. However, it was not energy he lacked, for the very thought that the next day he could start working on that stretch of stone with his easel, under the sun, on the comfortable carpet of moss, made every new thorn that pricked or branch that lashed him in the face seem less hostile and painful.

    He finally reached the large iron gate. It looked so mighty,...

    (pp. 215-220)
    Moma Dimić

    “He is like you, same features, a little less rounded in the face. And the hair too, everything; only he doesn’t have a beard. I don’t know how you haven’t met him; at every wedding or dance party he stays till dawn. He’s never sad, always cheerful, with a smile on his face. I should say, like you, in fact.”

    With a hospitable smile, my host points to the picture on the wall of the son who is in Germany. I notice only that all things in the room—two beds, stove, table, bench—are pushed in one corner, against...

    (pp. 221-228)
    Milisav Savić

    Jorge Luis Borges, the greatest storyteller of this century, most probably was not awarded the Nobel Prize for literature because of his deep hatred of communism, which, according to the blind writer, was the unfortunate offspring of Western liberalism. For Borges there was no better remedy for communism than a right-wing military dictatorship similar to the one that overthrew the left wing–disposed President Allende of Chile.

    Members of the Nobel Committee would not have objected so much to a hatred of communism (and they did not, if it came from a communist-country writer), but they also did not like...

    (pp. 229-238)
    Miroslav Josić Višnjić

    We did not know which way to turn.

    It was night. Refugia stumbled. Then she fell. To the right and to the left of where she lay stretched out on the ground, I saw two bright points. I was not certain people were living there, but I so wanted to hear people’s voices.

    I begged Refugia to get up somehow, to look, to listen. She breathed heavily, but said nothing.

    I took out my last cigarette and lit it. Then I went into the bushes. I was looking for blackberries. I felt thorns; warm blood covered my hands.

    Refugia ate...

  24. SMILES
    (pp. 239-246)
    Milica Mićić Dimovska

    His widow stood there, looking at the bust tightly wrapped in a red scarf. He should be facing the passing trains, she thought, instead of turning his back to the railroad tracks. She smiled sarcastically, because bitterness alone was not enough to satisfy her anymore. It was too soothing for her state of mind, too full of self-pity, and who really deserves self-pity? The living don’t; that was her old conviction, and now, suddenly, she could afford to be not only bitter but also sarcastic at his expense, and even more so at her own. Her lips kept twitching, as...

    (pp. 247-258)
    Radoslav Bratić

    We all stare at the lump on Father’s throat, as it saps and drains his body, shriveling it before our very eyes—and no one knows what to say to him. The wound has torn open and turned outward. Inside, there’s a gaping black hole. It presses on his windpipe and releases fiendish pain. It makes a caricature of him. You only have to look at the nerve strapping his face—throbbing and stabbing as if it were full of poison and venom. It warns him that life is short. We all stand there, as if we’ve forgotten how to...

    (pp. 259-266)
    David Albahari

    1. My father’s hair turned gray on March 18, 1961.

    2. Two large, clear teardrops welled in his eyes.

    3. “Not from unexpected self-pity,” he protested later, “but because of the change. A change which demanded that I understand time, that I notice its passage and admit to its implacability. That I obey it more diligently.”

    4. Until then, therefore, my father did not acknowledge the implacability of time or its necessity.

    5. In this, my father was similar to the heroes of antiquity.

    6. Or were the heroes of antiquity aware of time after all?

    7. (Did the heroes...

    (pp. 267-272)
    Saša Hadži-Tančić

    An unhealthy sense of relief. Momentary oblivion achieved by writing down a small sign of the cross, making it possible for them not to think about the world; they could focus on themselves alone. They were at the end of their rope, and they wrote without thinking. From the heart to the pen. Perhaps by placing these crosses on the paper they would be able to peer into the murky depths of their being; it was time to take stock of everything in their lives. Their ears buzzed and their chests hurt. As if they were listening to the incessant...

    (pp. 273-276)
    Tiodor Rosić

    Angelina and her husband, Vasilije Obradović, lived on the ground floor at 31 Deligradska Street, next to a coppersmith, near the Prokupac bar. Angelina was a housewife, she bore three children, she knitted, cooked, and cleaned the house. At the age of eighteen months, each child dried up, withered, and died of some strange illness.

    The children died, Angelina’s sight deteriorated, she lost her desire for knitting, for further births, she didn’t even keep house the way she should. She complained that her hands were growing, they were changing into paws, everything has stopped, people and automobiles no longer move....

    (pp. 277-284)
    Radosav Stojanović

    Even now, from time to time, when I shut my eyes and plunge myself into darkness, I hear the clock from the old house beating its own time serenely. Yet as the years pass, I feel less and less its soothing pulses and I have become ever more lonely, sad, and nervous. Sometimes months pass during which I neither remember the clock nor hear its clear, tranquil progress through time. As though the time in which now I live and the pulses that the clock measures do not have anything in common. My own time became crushed into small change,...

    (pp. 285-298)
    Jovan Radulović

    Of the former Glišan’s inn, which later became an Italian border watchtower, now only ruins remain—gray, full of lichen—and there are fewer of those every day. The dried-out lime mixed with sand is crumbling and stones barely hold together; during the autumn rains even these start sliding, causing whole corners of the building to fall. First, one can hear creaking, squeaking, and then resounding thunder—one feels guilty without reason, searches for something within oneself, although one doesn’t know what that might be.

    There is no real road to Glišan’s ruins. It did exist once, but it is...

    (pp. 299-314)
    Dragan Velikić

    Janko Belog tore the yellow wrapping off the parcel as he stood in the doorway of his apartment. He looked carefully at the thin elongated hard-cover notebook as if he were searching for some hidden sign. The mailman kept coughing impatiently, waiting for the signature, but only when he stamped his right foot on the cement floor did Janko raise his head; mumbling some words of apology, he signed the blank.

    After one year of patient waiting, here finally was the first response. He was so excited that he stood indecisively for a full five minutes before the door until...

    (pp. 315-324)
    Radoslav Petković

    I loved people, but now I live far from them. My cell is carved high in the cliffs, far from the monastery; the wooden bridge that leads up to it is mostly rickety and worm-eaten—sometimes I look with satisfaction at the dark unhealthy color of its decay, which turns away those who come here merely out of curiosity. And there are always many of those pitiful ones who would compensate for their own emptiness by looking at suffering of others. When it rains outside, below the walls of the cell, already worn smooth by countless downpours, the water becomes...

    (pp. 325-332)
    Svetislav Basara

    Dying was bad enough, but then I suffered another shock: I had been condemned to hell. Quite unjustly, to my mind, but here, they say, that’s the way everyone takes it. You may well be marveling: How could someone dead be writing a letter? I admit this is not conventional. But one must consider things from a pragmatic point of view. These days, apparently, hell is not as far from the world as it used to be. The more experienced convicts claim that hell and the world touch, overlap . . . Moreover, though this may be difficult to believe,...

    (pp. 333-342)
    Mihajlo Pantić

    Here’s what—as A. D. would say. I don’t like winter. I don’t like summer either. I don’t like anything. I even don’t like the transition between the seasons, although, I admit, in all of that there is a certain dynamic, a certain (even if false) change. But, all the same, I don’t like them. I barely live through the winter, hardly manage to get to the summer, and then it seems to me that it will never pass . . .

    On one such controversial summer August evening (I don’t remember the day, I lost count, for there was...

    (pp. 343-354)
    Mileta Prodanović

    At moments of leisure, in a room facing the narrow San Zachario Canal, he remembered that he needed to answer Ursini. He could write him a short essay on how bad the insects were there, paying special attention to mosquitoes, which secretly ruled that watery wet feminine rich and so on city (see the story “Regina Maris e Mosquito,” author unknown). He could write him about the evening walk he had been planning and his reflections on the same. There were fish living in the canal below his room. He thought how mosquitoes probably do not present any kind of...

    (pp. 355-366)
    Nemanja Mitrović

    Fog extinguished the pulsating lights of the fireflies. Soon it would be winter; morning was much closer to evening than evening to morning. A fire danced in the fireplace as if there were no one else in the spacious parlor. Motionless and silent, the master of the castle watched his hands as they laid out a game of solitaire. He stroked the table a few times, then rose, setting aside the deck of cards. From the corners, the cats followed his movements with eyes slit by narrow pupils. He poured wine from a narrow-necked bottle; each sip could be heard...

    (pp. 367-372)
    Vladimir Pištalo

    Now I’m going to tell you a story about a madman,” Mara said to Miloš when they were left alone in the pool room, surrounded by the ghosts of the haunted art colony Yaddo. Miloš was a composer; he wore his thinning hair gathered in a pony tail. In Belgrade they used to say about his compositions that the orchestra performing them didn’t have to know how to play musical instruments. Mara was a playwright. Her story was interrupted by the sound of billiard balls as she changed positions and aimed.

    “I lived on the Lower East Side and was...