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DescriptionA devastating novel about the attrocities of WWII, and the unspeakable things people did to survive, by one of Yugoslavia's great literary voices. Lamian is a survivor, but a survivor of a very special kind. He was a Kapo, a prisoner who served as a camp guard in order to save himself. But has Lamian saved himself? The war over, he resumes life in the Bosnian town of Banja Luka, works in a land-surveying office, rents a room, eats as many hot potatoes as he likes, not even bothering to salt them--the quantity is what matters. If only he could stop looking over his shoulder and flinching on the street in the fear that some stranger will step forward, smack his face, and say in a loud voice, "Here's one!" If only he could stop worrying about Helena Lifka, who turned out to be a Yugoslav, and Jewish too; one of the women he made come naked into the toolshed where he hid the gold, and sit on his lap in exchange for bread and butter and a little warm milk. She could turn up any day, an old woman now, and point an accusing finger. In this masterful novel, Aleksandar Tisma shows step by step how fear can turn an ordinary human being into a monster.
New York Review of Books
December 01, 2020
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About the Author
Aleksandar Tisma (1924-2003) was born in the Vojvodina, a former province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that had been incorporated into the new Kingdom of Yugoslavia after the First World War. His father, a Serb, came from a peasant background; his mother was middle-class and Jewish. The family lived comfortably, and Tisma received a good education. In 1941, Hungary annexed Vojvodina; the next year--Tisma's last in high school--the regime carried out a series of murderous pogroms, killing some 3,000 inhabitants, primarily Serbs and Jews, though the Tismas were spared. After fighting for the Yugoslav partisans, Tisma studied philosophy at Belgrade University and went into journalism and in 1949 joined the editorial staff of a publishing house, where he remained until his retirement in 1980. Tisma published his first story, "Ibika's House," in 1951; it was followed by the novels Guilt and In Search of the Dark Girl and a collection of stories, Violence. In the 1970s and '80s, he gained international recognition with the publication of his Novi Sad trilogy: The Book of Blam (1971), about a survivor of the Hungarian occupation of Novi Sad; The Use of Man (1976), which follows a group of friends through the Second World War and after; and Kapo (1987), the story of a Jew raised as a Catholic who becomes a guard in a German concentration camp. Tisma moved to France after the outbreak of war and collapse of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, but in 1995 he returned to Novi Sad, where he spent his last years. David Rieff is a writer and policy analyst. The son of Susan Sontag, he is the author of several books, including A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis, Slaughterhouse: Bosnia and the Failure of the West, Swimming in a Sea of Death: A Son's Memoir, and, most recently, In Praise of Forgetting: Historical Memory and Its Ironies. He has also written for The New York Times, Le Monde, The Nation, and several other publications and teaches at the New School for Social Research. Richard Williams is a translator of Serbo-Croatian literature.