To the far shore

To the Far Shore

By Marina Malidzanovic

A review of To The Far Shore by Négovan Rajic

Published on November 1, 2007

To The Far Shore
Négovan Rajic

Cormorant Books
$22.95
paper
298pp
978-1-896951

To the Far Shore is as much a requiem for a country as it is a memoir of a man’s youthful adventures. A telling insight into the recent travails of the Balkans, Rajic’s novel opens up the reader to a complicated history that can only be retold as the equally complicated story of an old man seeking exile from a country he loves.

Rajic’s work is heavy, laden with meditations on the soul’s suffering. With a narrator who can serve as a poster child for post-World War II alienation and a landscape as bleak as Dostoevsky’s Russia, To the Far Shore reveals a universe of doubt. As Rajic recounts the last years’ fighting in WWII Yugoslavia he reveals the ideological uncertainty in having chosen the side of the Allied Partizans over the Nationalist forces of the Croatian Ustase and Serbian Cetniks. When Germany is defeated, the Allies thank the Partizans by rewarding them, and the budding socialist movement, with a country.

The young narrator, eager to put the war behind him, enrolls in the faculty of engineering at the University of Belgrade. Drenched with the kind of irony that comes with a man bitterly at odds with what it means to be human, the narrator recounts bitingly how his education was compromised, and the social landscape of his country irrevocably altered, by the very leader he helped put into place – Tito.

The narrator and his old friend Milenko, possessed by the prospect of freedom, plot their exile to Austria. Rajic’s internal struggle over his decision to leave – his simultaneous desire for absolution and irrevocable strength of principle – reveals precisely what is so intriguing about this part of the world. In what novelist Ivo Andric once described as “a place where love and hate exist simultaneously in their purity,” Rajic exemplifies the very dualism of the Balkan soul, one at war with itself, desperate for buoyancy in the small area it occupies. As the young narrator walks us through his memories, his soul emerging and descending from the depths of the dark and murky history of Serbia, the reader realizes that the bloody history of the Ottoman Empire and a communist past continue to contextualize the modern-day former Yugoslavia as much as they did in the country of Rajic’s youth.

Rajic’s ruminations on the misgivings of the psyche can read a little too much like an old man looking back on a time long passed. His narrative is at times simplistic and cautious, his cynicism somewhat trying. To the Far Shore succeeds best when we are compelled to truly feel the absolution he seeks from the reader in having written this book from exile. mRb

Marina Malidzanovic is a former Montrealer who works with immigrants in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.

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