“The Adventures of Boris K by Leila Samarrai”, LOOK BACK IN LAUGHTER, Aleksandar Novaković
This collection of thematically and temporally interconnected stories (which would make some readers hastily declare it a novel), published two years ago by „Everest Media“, represents a piece which, due to many of its features, stands out from the contemporary Serbian literary production. There is something, at its core, surprising in the author Leila Samarrai’s approach. While most Serbian authors, be they genre authors or not, tend to follow the „treaded paths“, with the aforementioned authoress you have to, quite literally, “machete” through the jungle of meaning, historical, cultural and pop-cultural references, citations, transrational twists reminiscent of the Monty Python-esque brand of humor and the long-ago relevant bebop jokes which are insistent on nonsense and complete absence of catharsis. Ultimately, comedy, like satire, opposite to tragedy, is turned to anti-catharsis. The authoress’ style also contains traces of Daniil Kharms’ “Incidences”, as well as, obviously (nomenestomen(tion)), a Kafka-esque paranoia, where Boris K. is, just as Josef K., a man stuck in a trial (Victor Pelevin would call it a transition from nothing to nothing), as well as a postmodern coquetting with stereotypes, twisting them, with metatextuality. At times one gets the impression that the average reader, whoever or whatever they might be, needs footnotes to understand some of the authoress’ stories fully. But, is that really necessary and are we, actually, indulging this imaginary reader too much?
If she wanted to, the authoress could have gone the easier route: “premasticate” the prologue, shorten the stories, simplify the characters to the level of stickmen, halve the book and sell it at the stand of, as our Croatian neighbors adequately put it, a pimped-out publisher. But that was not the case. What’s more, had this been done it would have been rather predictable and mediocre. This way, we have a layered tale before us of a man who, at his core, “is similar to us, but better than us” (the definition of a tragic hero) and is cast in this hodgepodge of a world which is falling to pieces. Situated, not by accident, in Phenomenonpublic, a pseudo-country and a pseudo-democracy, Boris K. is a man whose life, identity, life circumstances, the world around him, all change faster than the statuses on social networks. Boris K. is “a 21st century boy – everybody’s toy”, but, as the English would say, “nobody’s fool as well”. Speaking of dystopias, we must mention Winston Smith from Orwell’s “1984”. Paranoia and societal pressure exist, Oceania where Smith lives is nothing else but a microcosm in the same manner that Phenomenonpublic is. But, unlike Smith, Boris K. has places to go. Nobody is stopping him. His freedom of choice is, at first glance, absolute. But every so often a self-appointed tribune of the plebs a la Megaimportanceshire can appear who will ruin his good fortune. Let’s not forget: there is a strong satirical lining within these stories, predominantly taking aim against liberal capitalism, kleptarchy, corporations, xenophobia, and prejudices of all kinds. And, of course, what the Phenomenonpublicans love most is to wail for their deceased to whom they attribute traits which, during their lifetime, they had not seen. The living are friable – the dead are indestructible. Sound familiar? It should.
LOOK BACK IN LAUGHTER
Exaggeration, some would say, a baroque approach to the subject matter, others would say, neither should be viewed as a fault. Quite the contrary! Let us remember that one of the greatest satirists, the Irish author Jonathan Swift, had used precisely exaggeration, and even extremely vulgar and gallows humor elements, to adorn Lemuel Gulliver’s wanderings. And this is not odd because it is exactly the grotesque, the banal, the dislocated that remains etched in one’s memory. And it is exactly this quality which exists in Leila Samarrai’s writing and represents the best quality of this collection next to an almost childlike playfulness, humaneness and a parent-like relationship towards the main character. Tales of the travels and troubles of Boris K. present, to the aforementioned imaginary average reader, a sizable challenge. They will try to read it via spacing, to skip, as is their practice with domestic bestseller books, a sentence or two and find themselves in a tight corner. However, if they focus, their efforts will be rewarded. What’s more, they’ll go back and pay attention to a covert joke or quip. They will perceive it either as a part of a bigger story or a standalone tale which does not need to belong to a wider context. Be that as it may, reading this interesting, Hamvasian book will pay off for them, as much as the sequel to Boris’ adventures which, from what I’ve heard, the authoress is bringing to a close.