The Prince of Fire:
An Anthology of Contemporary Serbian Short Stories

Radmilla J. Gorup + Nadezda Obradovic (editors)

translated from the Serbo-Croatian
University of Pittsburgh Press 1998
A book review by Danny Yee © 2007
Having been amazed by the Serbian and Yugoslavian novels I have read, I was surprised to read in the introduction to The Prince of Fire that Serbian short stories are considered more notable.
"The genre of the short story has a long and important tradition in Serbian literature. Serbian writers courted this medium before attempting to master the novel, and consequently the novel developed more slowly than the short story in Serbian letters."
The quality of the stories in this collection does something to demonstrate this.

The Prince of Fire contains thirty five stories, arranged by chronological birth order of their authors. Only a few of the authors were familiar to me: Danilo Kis, Milorad Pavic, Borislav Pekic, and Svetislav Basara. Brief biographical notes precede each story, but these unfortunately don't give a date for the stories themselves, making it hard to understand the context in which they were written.

Most of the stories are firmly planted in South Slavic culture and history. Events from the World Wars feature in many: Jovan Radulovic's "Linea Grimani", for example, or Mladen Markov's "The Banat Train". Others go further back, to the medieval period or to folklore and myth: one example is David Filip's title piece, about wandering Jewish scholars; another is the longest story in the collection, Pekic's "Megalos Mastoras and His Work, 1347 AD", about a master wood-carver in Byzantine Greece during the Black Death. Details of rural culture are prominent in stories such as Radoslav Bratic's "A Picture Without Father", a child's perspective on his father's death. And several stories are overtly political: Milisav Savic's "The Locksmith was Better" links Borges and Tito.

Though a couple of the stories have footnotes explaining historical or cultural background, in none of them is this necessary. They encompass themes and ideas that are universal: returning to a childhood house or town, the power of art, the presence of death, postmodernist experiments with narrative, and so forth. Most of the stories have something in the way of humour, but this is irony and sarcasm rather than comedy, as in Basara's mordant "Letter from Hell".

This brief survey does little justice to the range of The Prince of Fire.

February 2007

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%T The Prince of Fire
%S An Anthology of Contemporary Serbian Short Stories
%E Gorup, Radmilla J.
%E Obradovic, Nadezda
%M Serbo-Croatian
%I University of Pittsburgh Press
%D 1998
%O paperback
%G ISBN 0822956616
%P 371pp