Sunday, August 11, 2013

Reading Journal: April Fools Day, by Josip Novakovich (2005)

I probably won't come up with a better descriptor for this novel than Francine Prose did when she called it the "Croatian Candide," but there was a second comparable I discovered as I read it, Kafka, which I hope wasn't only because the book has an Eastern European totalitarian backdrop. More than anything, what struck me about this was how humourously absurd everything was, right down to chapters titled "After a soccer war, Croatia becomes a banana republic," and (slight spoiler alert), the trifecta of "Ivan tries family happiness," "Ivan discovers the thrills of adultery" and "The joys of cuckolding come to a sorry end." The desire to laugh at this simple man's existence is juxtaposed with a very real account of growing up under Tito and the dissolution of Yugoslavia, and though the character comes of age with the country, bringing to mind a figure like Saleem Sinai in Midnight's Children, and the writing is dense, the work never feels heavy-handed or overly political, and the absurdities of this one man's life only paint the political realities with the same brush by implication. My enjoyment lessened in that book's latter third, which grapples with the metaphysical when Ivan is presumed dead and/or to be a ghost, but overall it's a remarkably pleasing read. (Full disclosure: Josip lead one of my fiction workshops at Summer Literary Seminars, Vilnius, in August, 2011... regretfully, I'm only now getting around to reading his novel.)

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