Yesterday’s People

17Jul10

I’ve finally caught up with Yesterday’s People, short stories by Goran Simic, and think it’s a remarkable, heart-wrenchingly good set of eight stories. The book is only 125 pages, but this is quality not quantity, and it’s a very potent collection.

A survivor of the Siege of Sarajevo, Simic uses plain, unadorned language to communicate a great deal, and not just details but subtleties behind them. It might be argued that this is material that speaks for itself, but it isn’t that simple — a lot of flourish in the presentation would have put the writer on display as much as the ideas behind the stories. Simic has taken the right stylistic approach but also presents the most salient details and the ones that illustrate the futile and bizarre nature of war.

Personally, I read these stories and found myself longing for a more compassionate world. It may only be eight stories, but I feel at least four of them are now engraved in my memory: “Minefield,” with a pathetic soldier becoming somehow key to both sides, “Another Bear,” on the fate of the zoo in wartime, “The Game” with a close group of soccer friends pushed in different directions, and “A Story About Soil,” concerning family and homeland.

Simic is a friend and colleague, and published my book of poems in 2007. I consider this more personal comment than book review (and have made a distinction on this blog between comments and reviews).  But don’t just take my word for it – here’s Michael Bryson writing for Danforth Review: “In prose showing the ongoing influence of Chekhov, Simic paints portraits of ordinary people caught in extraordinary circumstances … Simic illustrates his tremendous sensitivities to the victims of the world’s grand schemes. Simic has produced stories that can be read beside Hemingway’s tales of World War I … as well as the work of Kakfa and the post-communists: Orwell, Kundera, et al.”

I’ll go a step further, and say I found this more moving than A Farewell to Arms, and equal to For Whom the Bell Tolls, which remains one of my favourite novels. Buy the book from Biblioasis.

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