The Houses of Belgrade

Borislav Pekic

translated from the Serbo-Croatian by Bernard Johnson
Northwestern University Press 1994 [1970]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2004
Arsenie Negovan is 77 and hasn't left the house since he was injured in rioting in 1941; for nearly three decades he has watched over Belgrade through binoculars. But now he ventures forth in an attempt to save one of the houses he owns from demolition — only to find that Belgrade in 1968 is not what it used to be, and that it once again faces riots.

With a deteriorating grasp on the present, Arsenie's thoughts wander back over his life, which has revolved around the houses he built and owned: he gave them women's names and thought about them far more than about his wife. The episodes which have seared themselves into his memory, and to which he returns repeatedly, include a family quarrel at a funeral, an obsession with his brother's house and his attempts to obtain it for himself, air raids and riots during World War II and, going even further back, a Bolshevik pogrom in 1919. Arsenie also talks to himself, rethinks his ideas about architecture and property, looks back at his relationships with builders and architects, and rewrites his will.

The structure of The Houses of Belgrade reflects the erratically selective memory of an old man, but it is worked together in such a way that narrative drive never falters. Arsenie Negovan is self-centred, obsessed and cantankerous, but appealing nonetheless; through this unusual lens Borislav Pekic presents a strange but revealing thread of Yugoslavian history.

November 2004

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- books about Eastern Europe + Eastern European history
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%T The Houses of Belgrade
%A Pekic, Borislav
%M Serbo-Croatian
%F Johnson, Bernard
%I Northwestern University Press
%D 1994 [1970]
%O paperback
%G ISBN 0810111411
%P 212pp