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Infidelities: Stories of War and Lust    by Josip Novakovich order for
by Josip Novakovich
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2005 (2005)
Hardcover, Softcover
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Croatian-American Josip Novakovich writes with elegance and depth, whether with humor, sympathy, or questioning those 'who conduct war with folly and paranoia'. His landscapes are mostly the Balkan countries. This book is a composite of eleven of the author's short stories, ten ranging in time from 2000 through 2003, and a first-time publication of the eleventh, 'A Purple Story'.

Spleen centers on a woman hiding while masked thugs broke down her door and destroyed household items. 'In the basement one was smashing jars of jam and peppers, suddenly he quieted because probably he'd found the wine bottles.' After an attempted rape, she ran away to the monastery, and was driven to Mostar where she went on by bicycle into Croatia. She meets a man, Dragan, who looks familiar. She wonders if he has a scar and why he doesn't remove his shirt. When the thugs broke into her home, she stabbed the man who tried to rape her. She says, 'Love and lust aren't synonyms, as everybody knows, and hate and lust aren't antonyms, as I found out.'

In 'The Stamp', 'vengeance was sought, but now 'he' dreams of forgiveness.' He writes to his family and friends, giving each a different story. To a friend, 'Tomorrow I will not be alive anymore; I am dying of an unspeakable pulmonary illness.' To his sister, 'I must go far away. Good-bye. We will never see each other again. I wept when I wrote that.' He writes his last journal before he throws a bomb into the parade, intended for the monarch in the second car. But his hesitation after pulling the pin puts the bomb in the third car. He is arrested, and informed that the archduke and his wife were shot by others. He is remorseful for what he has done, but his compatriots are not. A letter is brought to him from the monarch's children, 'We forgive you ... We know that you are a good soul, you have repented.'

The one that affected me most was 'A Purple Story', ironical yet compassionate. Ranko and his wife Laura climb Sljeme to collect mushrooms. Ranko, on a waiting list for a heart-transplant, receives the long-anticipated call, to say that a heart is available. His hospital roommate has been shot and is not expected to live long. They while away the time playing chess, and the roommate improves in health. Another day he awakens to find a high-up military official in the chess-player's bed. Ranko is told he can go home, that the heart was given to the general, who has died as it was defective. He disposes of his cell phone - 'If there's a heart, I don't want to know about it ... Let's go to the mountains and look for mushrooms.'

Josip Novakovich, considered an acerbic optimist, writes with sagacity, moral messages underlying his words and story endings. The effects of war (before, during, and after) influence his casting of characters. A small dose of Novakovich gets under a reader's skin, leaving one eager for more.

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