The Great Slovenian Novel

PhpThumb_generated_thumbnailZack Hatfield at The Los Angeles Review of Books:

Whereas literary fiction has long valued carefully chosen distinct moments and their ability to become salvific, Kovačič seems to democratize life’s value and vacancies among every single lived minute. This might sound familiar. Like Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle and Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, Newcomers is a European saga published in installments that begins with the author’s youth and creeps outward, describing life with a rare acuity that not only captures both its dramas and banalities, but also considers them with equal significance. Like Knausgaard, Kovačič’s opus is animated by a matrix of shame. Like Ferrante’s, it depicts a rapidly changing geography and political climate, withNewcomers taking place in Slovenia directly before World War II and Ferrante’s series picking up in Naples during its almost immediate aftermath. The space Kovačič’s book occupies falls between the poles these two authors operate within: between the fetishized ordinariness of Knausgaard and the theater of Ferrante, Kovačič unfurls a ream of anecdotes and character descriptions, rambling, yet tightly told chronology of his family’s undeserved perdition as they descend deeper and deeper into moral and literal penury. Narration is synonymous with reliving. Unlike Ferrante or Knausgaard, two authors whose interrogations of daily experience sometimes yield half-formed answers to life, Kovačič denies his personalia any retroactive wisdom. Newcomersemancipates itself from conventional literary form, finding refuge in what his readers would now deem familiar modernism. The result is a text reluctant to open itself up. Like the war its characters are wading into by the end of the first book, Newcomersis not concerned with justifying itself. Therein lies its paltry transcendence.

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