Infidelities: Stories of War and Lust

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9780060583996: Infidelities: Stories of War and Lust

Tragicomedy of the highest order, this stellar collection is Croatian writer Novakovich's best ever.

Hailed as one of the best short story writers of the 1990s, Josip Novakovich was praised by the New York Times for writing fiction that has "the crackle of authenticity, like the bite of breaking glass." In his new collection, he explores a war–torn Balkan world in which a schoolchild's innocence evaporates in a puff of cannon smoke, lust replaces love, and the joy of survival overrides all other pleasures.

As Serb, Croat, and Bosnian Muslim armies clash in the cities and countryside of the former Yugoslavia, it's hard to tell the front lines from the home front. The characters in Infidelities––soldiers and civilians alike––are caught in the ridiculous, often cruelly whimsical contradictions of war and the paranoia and folly of those who conduct it. In "Ribs," a Croatian woman whose husband has already been taken by the war will go to any length to keep her son out of the army, including sleeping with the draft officer, a tryst that leads to an unexpected, and disturbing, spiritual vision. A Buddhist soldier in the Bosnian Muslim military isly accused of being an informer to the enemy Serbs after his detachment ambushes itself in "Hail." A draft dodger is in the hospital for a transplant, in "A Purple Heart," when a high–ranking Croatian general steals the heart for himself (and dies) while the dodger suddenly discovers a new thirst for life. In "Spleen," a Bosnian émigré in America learns that even in the throes of passion she cannot find release from the haunting memories of her homeland.

These stories cover a broad sweep of time, reaching back to the first shots of World War I in Sarajevo and forward to the plight of Balkan immigrants in contemporary America. Throughout, acts of compassion, gallows humour, even desire arise from a landscape devastated by tragedy.

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About the Author:

Josip Novakovich's stories have appeared in many publications, including The Paris Review, TriQuarterly, and Ploughshares. He teaches at Pennsylvania State University and lives near State College, Pennsylvania.

From Booklist:

Although Novakovich left Croatia some years ago, he continues to write about his homeland with flinty precision and a peppery brew of sublimated emotions. A wry and compassionate observer, Novakovich is especially heedful of the tragic ludicrousness of ethnic hatred and war. His first novel, April Fool's Day (2004), was enthusiastically received, and here, in his third short story collection, he proves once again to be a commanding storyteller, writing with equal insight into moments intimate and political. In "Spleen," a woman who fled Bosnia after being assaulted eventually settles in Cleveland only to find that her attractive new Bosnian neighbor may be her assailant. In "Neighbors," a Serbian shop owner married to a Croat and living in Croatia can't decide whether to stay or go after his shop is vandalized. An immigrant from the "old Yugoslavia" has a curious exchange with a beautiful Russian on a crowded Manhattan subway. Fluent in the many shades of meaning conveyed in the subtlest of gestures and the briefest of conversations, and gifted with a stinging sense of humor, Novakovich fashions take-charge tales of displacement that embody the fracturing of war and the misdirection of lust, the dream of sanctuary and the chasm of loneliness. For other novels about exile and immigration, see the Read-alikes column opposite. Donna Seaman
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