Chinese Letter

Svetislav Basara

translated from the Serbo-Croatian by Ana Lucic
Dalkey Archive Press 2004 [1984]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2004
Our narrator is probably called Salajdin Bejs, but he likes to change his name, with Fritz the most common choice. He has been instructed by two men to write "about a hundred pages" on "whatever he wants" — or so he says, anyway (at one point he also thinks his mother has been kidnapped by white slave traders).

It's not clear whether Fritz is an adult who's not all there or whether he's an angstful teenager with an active imagination, literary pretensions and a typewriter, but it hardly matters. The glimpses we get of his life — brief exchanges with his mother and sister, fantasies about a girl who lives in one of the other flats, visits to a friend who works as a pathologist in a morgue — are fragments in a surreal narrative, mixed up with comic existential monologues.

"Today my name is Fritz again. I have one problem: I exist. My biggest success in life is that I'm not dead yet. My biggest failure in life is exactly the same thing: I'm not dead yet. I was born and as a result I suffer all the consequences. If I exist, that's because I wanted to. I don't see any other possibility. I honestly envy those who don't exist. Those with no names and shape. Those who have no clue that they don't exist. But sooner or later they'll be drawn into the game too. Everybody succumbs in the end. If it weren't so, people would stop having children."

Chinese Letter is a lively, inventive comedy which would make fine theatre of the absurd. It's easy reading, entertaining and hard to put down.

December 2004

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%T Chinese Letter
%A Basara, Svetislav
%M Serbo-Croatian
%F Lucic, Ana
%I Dalkey Archive Press
%D 2004 [1984]
%O paperback
%G ISBN 156478374X
%P 132pp