Minuet For Guitar (In Twenty-Five Shots)
Vitomil Zupan, trans. Harry Leeming
Dalkey Archive, December 2011
Scope: microscopic to galactic
Tones: philosophical, dark, sarcastic
With: tiny flecks of the bucolic
Concerning: Slovenian partisan Berk, fighting in World War II
As well as: former German soldier Joseph Bitter, meeting Berk at a Spanish resort in 1973
With lots of: grenades, starvation, lice
In the form of: slip-sliding from time-frame to time-frame
Highlighting: the senselessness and horror of war
Also: the overwhelming power of memory
Also: forces beyond the individual’s control
Frequently references: War and Peace, The Good Solider Švejk
Occasionally references:All Quiet on the Western Front
Most repeated sentence: “You don’t ask questions in the army.”
Sentence worth copying down: “When I got [Tolstoy’s Resurrection] back, I found a thin slice of salami in the book, with great oily stains on either side.”
Sentence worth memorizing: “Moorland hay has a special juicy tang.”
Minor set-back: Occasional stiffness of prose, possibly a result of translation
Major set-back: Female characters are either annoying or sex objects or annoying until they become sex objects; this does not change over the course of 400 pages.
One compelling thread: Political peril among the partisans – Berk’s refusal to join the Communist Party or participate earnestly in sessions of self-criticism spells trouble for his future in Ljubljana.
Most compelling thread: The slow-growing tension in dialogue between Berk and Bitter in 1973, as they discuss government and war while drinking in Spanish tourist traps.
Most wanted for a future edition: a map!
Further reading, if you like the sound of this book: the World War I novel The Good Soldier Švejk
If you’re interested in the general era, but prefer few to no battle scenes and tighter prose: Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Français.