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Povratak u Nais.

Sasa Hadzi Tancic (b. 1948) is a prominent Serbian writer of the "middle" postwar generation, with ten collections of short stories, two novels, and two books of poetry to his credit (see WLT 69:2, p. 398). He is also the author of two volumes of literary essays, in which he analyzes the works of other writers and sets forth his own literary credo. The book under review, Povratak u Nais (Return to Naissus), reflects his literary predilections and his willingness to experiment. Several longer and shorter stories run the gamut from straightforward realism to poetic prose; in most of them, however, the author manifests an inclination toward modernistic expression.

The two longer selections, the title story and "The Vision of an Angel in the Church of St. Panteleimon Near Nis During the Meeting of the Serbian Ruler Nemanja and the German Emperor Barbarossa," depict the distant past of the author's native region, Nis, where he has resided most of his life. After it was built in the third century by the Celts, Nis became an important strategic town and was fought over by many powers. It was the birthplace of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great, who, despite his worldly preoccupations, paid considerable attention to his beloved city. Without going into extensive detail, Hadzi Tancic conjures the atmosphere of Constantine's city in the fourth century, the emperor's devoted love for Nis, and his often brutal struggles to defend it when danger threatened. The author successfully expresses his own allegiance to the city, despite the pronounced ethnic and cultural differences between Constantine's era and today. Another historical event, the twelfth-century encounter between Nemanja and Barbarossa while the latter was passing through Nis on his way to the Crusades in the Middle East, again enables the author to reconstruct the past. This time he skillfully blends political, cultural, and religious differences by way of a monk's opposition to Nemanja's attempts to curry' favor from the mighty emperor at the expense of the Byzantine Empire, the cradle of Christian orthodoxy. The author's lyrical prose greatly enlivens the presentation of real characters and events.

The poetic flavor is retained even more successfully in the short pieces, some of which could be labeled extended poems in prose. Again the author skillfully blends prosaic and poetic elements, helping himself liberally by coining new words and expressions. Although he moves to the present in these selections, he cannot resist frequent references to the distant past, as during his visit to a museum in Nis and while observing the headless statue of the goddess Diana. The following story-ending excerpt is a good example of Hadzi Tancic's style: "For days, months, years (most likely I will thus meet my death), looking at Diana's sculpture and trying to imagine her real face, I always thought of a singular face that encompasses the past and future and that will in some way include the faces of all the people yet to come. Sunk in such reverie, I forget myself as a person searching for the face of the marble statue. I see and feel myself as an eternal seeker of the universal face of mankind." In this merging of the universal and the here-and-now lies the greatest merit of the author's storytelling.

It is unfortunate that there are so many typographical errors in the book. While reflecting the unstable conditions in the Serbian part of Bosnia, where the book was published, they nevertheless mar the artistic enjoyment of Povratak u Nais.

Vasa D. Mihailovich University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
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Author:Mihailovich, Vasa D.
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1998
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