The Balkans: a seething cauldron of centuries-old racial hatreds and periodic massacres perpetrated by one ethnic group upon another. The newspapers fill with one atrocity after another, and eventually the mind and heart numbs to the sufferings of whichever unlucky group is being victimized this time. Perhaps the only way to truly appreciate the horror of the tragedy is to scale it down from the general to the specific, from the anguish of the many to the agony of one. This is the approach Aleksandar Tísma takes in The Book of Blam, originally published in 1972. Set in post-World War II Yugoslavia, in the city of Novi Sad, the novel chronicles the despair of Miroslav Blam, the only member of his family to survive an infamous Hungarian slaughter of Jews and Serbs on the banks of the Danube in 1942. |
Blam survived the roundup only because a traitorous journalist who was once his mother's lover vouched for him with the Hungarians. Now it is after the war, and though Novi Sad has seemingly returned to normal, Blam is beset by the ghosts of those he has outlived. As he walks the streets of his city and goes through the motions of his life, he remembers the woman he loved, the friends he lost, and his own failure to "face the rifle barrels like his father and mother, the search patrols like his sister, Estera; he has failed to go down to the Danube like Slobodan Krkljus and bend over an old man on the ground, deaf to all warning and moved only by the thought of the moment, the thought of assistance. He had seen nothing, learned nothing." Tísma offers neither consolation nor redemption for his protagonist. Instead, Blam is left only with the hollow expectation of a future war in which he will, at last, be able to make the supreme sacrifice, thus "committing an act of the most profound truth," while the reader is left with the uncomfortable realization that in a world riven by sectarian violence, Blam's tragedy is not unique.
Source: Alix Wilber, Amazom.com.