I've started reading a slim volume of short stories called Steps Through the Mist by Serbian author, Zoran Zivkovic. He is a new author to me. I came upon his work when I was browsing the new book list in my library's online catalog. I was intrigued by the title and have been looking for interesting books of short stories to try. This had the added bonus of being a work in translation, and I've been trying to read more international fiction. Ultimately it was the description that sold me:
"Inside, not all is what it seems. Inside these covers, five women face the deterministic trap of fate... and what they find may surprise you."
"In this intriguing mosaic novel connected by a mysterious, obscuring mist, five women of different ages face off with fate."
Zivkovic's work has been compared with Italo Calvino, Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, and Stanislaw Lem. I'm only the tiniest bit familiar with Kafka, so this will be a new experience for me. I'm not entirely sure what to expect? An abstract work? Surrealism, existentialism? These seem to be words associated with authors like Calvino and Kafka. Ultimately I think labels don't matter, but I suppose I like to see where an author's work fits in the scheme of things. He's won all sorts of awards and has a fairly long bibliography, so I am wondering how I've managed to miss him?
I'm not sure how to describe the first story in the collection, "Disorder in the Head". The story sort of folds down into itself. It reminded me of an M.C. Escher drawing--you know how everything seems to match up perfectly, but nothing really does in reality? It's a story about young girls, freshmen, in a boarding school. Their first assignment is to write down their dreams of the previous night. Miss Emily, the teacher, has chosen three girls to question about their papers. She can tell easily who is trying to deceive her--lying about their dreams. A fourth girl, however, seems to already know everyone else's dreams. Even Miss Emily's.
"Hole in the Wall" is set in an institution where a young woman sits in a white padded room in a straitjacket. She's tried to commit suicide, and now can see into the future. A doctor questions her on her motivations. If she can see into the future and even change the outcome, why would she want to commit suicide?
I believe that Zivkovic is a fantasy writer, but these stories (though I've only read two so far) only verge on the fantastic. At first the stories seem like average stories, but as you read there is some element in them that isn't quite average at all. There's always some little hook that catches you off guard. And the thread running through them is the mist. It seems fitting that mist would play some part in these stories, since there is a connotation of not being able to see clearly and even overtones of superstition to the word. His prose is clean and spare, but the stories are always just a little surprising.
I have to say something about the book itself. It's really exquisitely designed. It is published by Aio Publishing, a small company that publishes works of speculative fiction. I was impressed when I read what their values are. I agree wholeheartedly, which is why I am always looking for books that have been translated from other languages. The book itself is gorgeous. The front cover is two-toned in black with matte and glossy finishes and has a holographic image of a lamp on it. Even the edges of the book itself are black as well as the end papers. The paper is a creamy off-white, and if you notice the 'gutter' (I think this is what it's called?) where the pages meet the spine--you can see the author's name. Each page is the same, and it's a nice touch, not distracting.
It's nice when the outside of a book is as pleasing as the inside. This is why I can't go digital with books! Although this is a collection of stories that could easily be read in an evening, I'm reading them slowly. Sometimes it's better to take stories slowly and in small doses.