||The Library (collection) by Zoran Živković|
|Original: Serbian, 2002
Translated by Alice Copple-Tošić, 2010
|Everyday logic against the outré illogical|
Zoran Živković is an Serbian author of some repute. Though I hadn’t heard of him prior to my contact with Kurodahan Press, his list of achievements is impressive, his scope of writing is intriguing, and his insight within stories is enticing. When I did contact Kurodahan and requested a care-package of translated Japanese SF for review, I couldn‘t strip my eyes from the synopsis they had glued themselves to:
A cycle of six thematically linked stories, droll renditions of the nightmares ensuing upon misplaced, or (of course) excessive, bibliophilia. A writer encounters a website where all his possible future books are on display; a lonely man faces an infinite flow of hardback books through his mailbox; an ordinary library turns by night into an archive of souls; the Devil sets about raising standards of infernal literacy; one book houses all books; a connoisseur of hardcovers strives to expel a lone paperback from his collection.
I read that synopsis… then looked at my then-500+ collection of books stacked in my condo and thought to myself, “I face hardships of library acquisition and disposal every month!” Granted, only 23 of the now-580+ books are hardback, I find it difficult to part myself with the ones I have chosen to hoard.
I’ve gone from a dabbler in SF (2006), to a reader in SF (2007), to a blogger in SF (2010), to a borderline archivist (2014). I don’t shelve and archive everything, but I like to think I have a good ear/eye/nose for knowing which books to keep shelved… just in case, you know? However, this has not been proven to be the case; I still wish I had Brian Aldiss & Harry Harrison’s anthology Farewell, Fantastic Venus (1968) and Theodore Sturgeon’s collection Starshine (1966).
Zoran Živković is often compared to Jorge Luis Borges for his use of magical realism, in which surreal circumstances penetrate an otherwise urbane reality in which the unwitting victim-cum-protagonist (the same man or a series of different man with the same obsession) plods along in his life while dealing with these seemingly bizarre occurrences; however, this man (or these men) applies their everyday logic to deal with the outré events, yet doesn’t skip a beat. The result: a man flummoxed by the phantasmagoric.
Through each story, the reader witness a man brought into subtle conflict with the bizarre, the uncanny, the unthinkable, the imponderable. The reader, as a third-person perspective witness of the events, understand the surreal aspects of each story, but the man always takes these matters in stride, applying a cold logic to the illogical with varying results.
“Virtual Library” enters the modernized world where an author sees his entire life’s work before him even though he’s not yet dead. Some stories like “Home Library” and “Smallest Library” could very well have been written by Kafka though in different pose and on a more upbeat note. Yet throughout the collection of stories here, there’s a keen sense of humor, albeit the narrator’s offered humor rather than the conscious humor of the victim-cum-protagonist. This humor culminates in “Noble Library” where the man desires to rid his library of an ever returning paperback novel—hilarity ensues yet the man is stalwart in ridding himself of the literary abomination. Regardless, each story garners smiles of relevance in a fellow book lover. They’re delightful!
Virtual Library (shortstory, 2002/2010) – 4/5
As the saying goes, one’s man’s trash is another man’s treasure, but in this case one man’s trash is his own treasure; this trash, however, is his junk mail. That same man is intrigued by the heading “Virtual Library – We have everything!” Here, virtual is used in its truest sense. As a writer himself, he discovers his own work freely available, along with a number of unknown titles and tentative dates of his death. He corresponds by email but learns very little. 16 pages
Home Library (shortstory, 2002/2010) – 5/5
On an innocent Tuesday while checking his apartment’s mailbox, he discovers a large bound book entitled World Literature, in which is printed fine script on thinnish onionskin paper. He takes he largish tome to his spartan abode and returns to his mailbox, only to discover the exact same tome. He takes this book, an arms’ full of books, then numerous trips with a suitcase in the dead of the night. Relieving himself of furniture, the tomes stack from the walls to the ceiling. 16 pages
Night Library (shortstory, 2002/2010) – 5/5
He runs from the cinema to the library so that he can borrow a book for the weekend. Thankfully, he enters a few minutes after closing time yet finds the doors unlocked. He deposits his umbrella and inquires within only to find no one about… then he hears the doors lock. Inside, he spies a well-suited figure take place at the central desk.,where he inquires about borrowing a book. He’s told that its a Night Library in which all tales of lives are held; naturally, he inquires about his very own. 22 pages
Infernal Library (shortstory, 2002/2010) – 4/5
Hell conjures images of sulfurous stench, fiery pits, and brutal methods of torture, but not a man sitting behind a computer in a dark, drab room. Hell’s clerk tells the man that since having the computer, a singular interesting fact had arises: 84.12% of hell’s inmates don’t like to read. What better way to torture souls than to expose them to them to the literature of the world—nearly endless volumes in hell’s library—for all of eternity? That clerk, however, calls it therapy. 14 pages
Smallest Library (shortstory, 2002/2010) – 4/5
Under the Great Bridge where well-knowledged men sell secondhand books, the man visits a seller at the end of the line—a blind man. The blight yet insightful man can smell the frustration of the writer, so he prescribes three tattered tones to the man. As he gets home and readies to discard the junk, he discovers a fourth book—its title: The Smallest Library. What follows in another title page without an author’s name. He shuts the book and opens it again, only to discover a new title, a new story. 24 pages
Noble Library (shortstory, 2002/2010) – 5/5
Upon entering his proud library of fine hardcover books, the man spies an unwelcome addition to his collection—a solitary paperback book. A tad disgusted by the undignified piece of publication, he, however, cannot simply throw it away; instead, he shreds it, only to discover it upon his shelves one more. There on, he contemplates forms of typical suicide so that the book can end its own pitiful existence—one if by water, two if by air. Yet each time the book reappears like daily hunger. 16 pages