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Infidelities: Stories of War and Lust

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Lucy & Phyllis is a Certified B Corporation that meets the highest standards of social and eveironmental impact.

Tragicomedy of the highest order, this stellar collection is Croatian writer Novakovich's best ever.

Hailed as one of the best short story writers of the 1990s, Josip Novakovich was praised by the New York Times for writing fiction that has "the crackle of authenticity, like the bite of breaking glass." In his new collection, he explores a war–torn Balkan world in which a schoolchild's innocence evaporates in a puff of cannon smoke, lust replaces love, and the joy of survival overrides all other pleasures.

As Serb, Croat, and Bosnian Muslim armies clash in the cities and countryside of the former Yugoslavia, it's hard to tell the front lines from the home front. The characters in Infidelities––soldiers and civilians alike––are caught in the ridiculous, often cruelly whimsical contradictions of war and the paranoia and folly of those who conduct it. In "Ribs," a Croatian woman whose husband has already been taken by the war will go to any length to keep her son out of the army, including sleeping with the draft officer, a tryst that leads to an unexpected, and disturbing, spiritual vision. A Buddhist soldier in the Bosnian Muslim military isly accused of being an informer to the enemy Serbs after his detachment ambushes itself in "Hail." A draft dodger is in the hospital for a transplant, in "A Purple Heart," when a high–ranking Croatian general steals the heart for himself (and dies) while the dodger suddenly discovers a new thirst for life. In "Spleen," a Bosnian émigré in America learns that even in the throes of passion she cannot find release from the haunting memories of her homeland.

These stories cover a broad sweep of time, reaching back to the first shots of World War I in Sarajevo and forward to the plight of Balkan immigrants in contemporary America. Throughout, acts of compassion, gallows humour, even desire arise from a landscape devastated by tragedy.

ISBN-13: 9780060583996

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication Date: 09-20-2005

Pages: 272

Product Dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.61(d)

Age Range:

Series: P.S. Series

Josip Novakovich's stories have appeared in many publications, including The Paris Review, TriQuarterly, and Ploughshares. He teaches at Pennsylvania State University and lives near State College, Pennsylvania.

Read an Excerpt


Stories of War and Lust
By Josip Novakovich

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Josip Novakovich
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060583991


When I found out that a Bosnian family had moved into our neighborhood, just across from my place, I was thrilled. I had left Bosnia seven years before, and I hardly ever saw anybody from there.

To me now it didn't matter whether the neighbors were Muslims, Croats, or Serbs from Bosnia; the main thing was that they were Bosnian, that they spoke the language I loved and hadn't heard in a while, but when I learned that they were a Croatian family from Bugojno, I was all the more delighted. And nostalgic. Perhaps I could have gone home, but I didn't trust it: my hometown was in Republika Srpska. Under the NATO supervision, it was already possible to go back, and probably nothing bad would have happened, but I still couldn't see sleeping there without streetlights around. I recalled the events before my departure. Some people had already fled from my hometown because they'd heard the Serb army was coming, but I didn't believe they would bother me. If they were targeting people ethnically, I thought I was safe, since I was half Serb, half Croat. Then, one night, somebody knocked on the door and shouted, Open up! Police.

I looked through the door and saw two men with masks over their heads. That's not what you'd expect police to look like. What would police need to talk to me about anyway?

I went to the kitchen, took a sharp, midsized knife, put it in my sleeve and waited while they tore the door down. I hid in a clothes cabinet. The two thugs went through the house, overturning the tables, smashing the china, and they shouted for me to come out. One walked into the basement, and the other opened the toilet. At that moment, I sneaked out of the closet, walking softly, barefoot. But he saw me and ran after me and knocked me down. The knife slid out of my sleeve and fell on the floor but he must not have heard it because he'd knocked down a pile of plates on the way, and they crashed on the floor. He tore my clothes off. Meanwhile, the man -- or should I say, beast -- downstairs kept smashing the jars of jam and pickled peppers; suddenly he quieted because probably he'd found the wine bottles.

The thug pinned me to the floor and as I tried to throw him off my body, he whacked my head against the boards. I am pretty strong, and I think I could have thrown him off if he hadn't whacked my head each time I moved. It hurt terribly. I thought migraines were the worst headache you could have, but this was worse, it hurt deeper inside, and I was dizzy, as though my brain had turned around in my skull and was now loose and wobbling.

He slid a little lower and sat on my thighs. You must help me to get it hard, he said.

I don't want to.

You must. Here, take it into your hand.

I did with one hand.

It's awkward like that, can I sit up, I asked.

Sure, no problem.

I sat up sideways, felt on the floor for the knife, grabbed its handle, and without hesitation stuck the knife into him. I wanted to get him in the middle of his abdomen but I missed and stuck it to the side, the left side. I did not think it went deep.

He shrieked and didn't react when I leaped to the side and ran straight out of doors. And so I ran into the hills, naked, in the cold November night. I nearly froze, turned blue, and didn't know where to hide, except in the Benedictine monastery on top of the hill. I broke into the chapel in the middle of matins, five in the morning now, still dark. The poor men crossed themselves, hid their faces, prayed in Latin, and I heard one word, which I liked, misericordia. But one of them, said, Brothers, don't be silly. Help her! He took off his brown garment, put it over me, and stood there in his striped shirt and long johns.

The monks gave me hot water and coffee, and when I stopped shivering, I wanted to run away. I told them what had happened and advised them to run away as well. The one who had intervened for me drove me west, to Mostar. As he drove he wanted to hold hands with me. No harm, I thought. And indeed, what harm was it? This fifty-year-old man, holding hands. He did not ask for anything more. I think he just loved some female creature comfort. I did not wait for further developments. I stole a bicycle in Mostar, and rode it all the way into Croatia, to Metkovic. That was not hard since the road mostly goes downhill. And in Croatia, I appealed to Caritas, where they gave me papers and let me go abroad, to the States. Now that was more adventure than I had hoped to get.

I've always wanted to be a homebody. I never got the joy of travel, wanderlust. Nearly the only aspect of travel I enjoyed as a kid was the homecoming. I'd rush to the side of the train as it crested the hill before my hometown, and seeing the first glimpse of the church steeples and the minaret and the old castle made me happy. So it's all the more miraculous to me that I have become a world traveler, an American.

And my workplace, a bank, is nice. Next to it, there's a restaurant, Dubrovnik. I don't need to go into it, but just knowing it's there comforts me; it's a bit of homeland. And just recently, I did go into it with my fellow bank teller, a Polish woman named Maria. We walked up the stairs into the restaurant and entered a tobacco cloud. The guests in the stinging smoke gave me an impression that a group of angels was noisily resting in the cloud. Since I couldn't make out many details I saw only the silhouettes blowing smoke from their cigarettes, feeding their blue cloud, as if the moment the cloud vanished, they would all fall to earth. I liked to imagine that the gathering was a choir of smoked angels but I knew it was unlikely that any of them were angels; most were recent immigrants from Herzegovina and Croatia, and some had participated in the war.


Excerpted from Infidelities by Josip Novakovich Copyright © 2005 by Josip Novakovich.
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