Albahari, David 1948-

views updated

Albahari, David 1948-


Born March 15, 1948, in Pec, Serbia, Yugoslavia (now known as Serbia); permanent resident of Canada since October, 1994; son of Isak (a physician) and Mara Albahari; married Bojana Zivkovic (an English teacher), January 26, 1985; children: Natan, Rebeka. Ethnicity: "Jewish." Education: Studied English language and literature at the University of Belgrade, graduated in 1970; participated in the International Writing Program, University of Iowa, 1986. Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: Hiking, collecting stamps, rock and roll.


Home—Calgary, Alberta, Canada.




Serbian PEN Centre, Association of Literary Translators (Serbia).


Ivo Andric Award, best collection of short stories published in Yugoslavia in 1982, 1983, for Opis smrti; Stanislav Vinaver Award for short stories, 1993, and Branko Copic Award for fiction, 1994, both for Pelerina; international writer in residence, Markin-Flanagan distinguished writers program, University of Calgary, 1994-95; Canada Council Arts grant, 1995; NIN Award, best novel published in Yugoslavia in 1996, 1997, for Mamac.



Sudija Dimitrijevic (title means "Judge Dimitrijevic"), Matica srpska (Novi Sad, Serbia), 1978.

Cink (title means "Zinc"), Filip Visnjic (Belgrade, Serbia), 1988.

Kratka knjiga (title means "Short Book"), Vreme knjige (Belgrade, Serbia), 1993.

Snezni covek, Vreme knjige (Belgrade, Serbia), 1995, translation by Ellen Elias-Bursac published as Snow Man, Douglas & McIntyre (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 2005.

Mamac, Stubovi kulture (Belgrade, Serbia), 1996, translation by Peter Agnone published as Bait, Northwestern University (Evanston, IL), 2001.

Tsing, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1997.

Gec i Majer, Stubovi Kulture (Belgrade, Serbia), 1998, translation by Ellen Elias-Bursac published as Gotz and Meyer, Harvill Press (London, England), 2004, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2005.


Porodicno vreme (title means "Family Time"), Matica srpska (Novi Sad, Serbia) 1973.

Obicne price (title means "Ordinary Tales"), ICS (Belgrade, Serbia), 1978.

Opis smrti (title means "Description of Death"), Rad (Belgrade, Serbia), 1982.

Fras u supi (title means "Shock in the Shed"), Rad (Belgrade, Serbia), 1984.

Jednostavnost (title means "Simplicity"), Rad (Belgrade, Serbia), 1988.

Pelerina (title means "The Cloak"), KOS (Belgrade, Serbia), 1993.

Izabrane price (title means "Selected Stories"), Vreme knjige (Belgrade, Serbia), 1994.

Words Are Something Else: Writings from an Unbound Europe, translated by Ellen Elias-Bursac, edited by Tomislav Longinovic, foreword by Charles Simic, Northwestern University (Evanston, IL), 1996.

Neobicne Price, Stubovi Kulture (Belgrade, Serbia), 1999.

Drugi Jezik (title means "Second Language"), Stubovi Kulture (Belgrade, Serbia), 2003.


Prepisivanje sveta (title means "Copying the World"), KOV (Vrsac, Serbia), 1996.

Teret: eseji, Forum Pisaca (Belgrade, Serbia), 2004.


(With others) Drugom stranom: Almanah novog talasa u SFRJ (rock music history and criticism), Istrazivacko-izdavacki centar (New Belgrade, Serbia), 1983.

(Author of preface) Sabitaj Buki Finci, Seacanja (history), Jevrejski kulturni i humintarni fond (Belgrade, Serbia), 1995.

Contributor to periodicals, including In Motion Magazine. Work translated into other languages, including Hebrew, Polish, Italian, German, Slovak, and French.


Savremena svetska prica (title means "Contemporary World Short Stories"), Prosveta (Belgrade, Serbia), 1982.

(With Mihajlo Pantic) Najbolje price 1989 (short stories), Decje novine (Gornji Milanovac, Serbia), 1989.

Savremena americka knjizevnost (title means "Contemporary American Literature"; fiction and poetry), Gradac (Cacak, Serbia), 1989.

Uhvati ritam: Rok I knjizevnost (title means "Catch the Rhythm: Rock and Literature"), Globus (Novi Sad, Serbia), 1990.

Najkrace price na svetu (title means "The Shortest Stories in the World"), Cicero (Belgrade, Serbia), 1993.


Beschreibung des Todes: Erzahlungen, Wieser (Klagenfurt, Austria), 1993.

Sudija Dimitrijeviac, Narodna knj. Alfa (Belgrade, Serbia), 1996.

Mrak, Narodna knj. Alfa (Belgrade, Serbia), 1997.

Antologija Jevrejskih Pripovedaca, Srpska Knjizevna Zadruga (Belgrade, Serbia), 1998.

Svetski Putnik (fiction), Stubovi Kulture (Belgrade, Serbia), 2001.

Translator of books into Serbian, including Him with His Foot in His Mouth, by Saul Bellow; Selected Stories, by Peter Carey; Pale Fire and Despair, by Vladimir Nabokov; In a Free State, by V.S. Naipaul; The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon; Fool for Love, by Sam Shepard; Selected Stories, In My Father's Court, and Selected Stories for Children, by Isaac Bashevis Singer; and Too Far to Go, by John Updike.


Serbian writer David Albahari is among the literary lights of the former Yugoslavia. He has produced novels, short stories, and essays in addition to editing and translating other works. He won the 1983 Ivo Andric Award for the 1982 short story collection Opis smrti, a volume with "thought-provoking writing" that "is an amazing combination of the contemporary and the philosophical," praised Branko Mikasinovich in World Literature Today. Albahari writes in a postmodernist style, a style which often draws attention to the act of writing itself. "Postmodernists such as David Albahari ask whether there is a story to be told and whether one should write at all," observed Radmila Gorup in a World Literature Today review of Albahari's 1988 novel Cink.

In 1989 Albahari and Mihajlo Pantic compiled and edited a collection of short stories by Serbian and Croatian authors, Najbolje price 1989, a work labeled a "gallant effort" by World Literature Today contributor Vasa D. Mihailovich. This anthology includes pieces by writers written in traditional and experimental styles. "The overall impression gained from Najbolje price 1989 is that the short story in Yugoslavia is very much alive and well," declared Mihailovich.

Translated into English by Ellen Elias-Bursac, Albahari's 1996 short story collection Words Are Something Else: Writings from an Unbound Europe consists of two parts. The first section, written in more traditional literary forms, contains stories featuring an elderly couple and their grown son and daughter, all of whom live in suburban Belgrade. The second half of the collection includes works in experimental forms and addresses aesthetic questions.

Describing the first section of Words Are Something Else, Christian Science Monitor contributor David Kirby observed that "there is a curious charm to this group of stories, stemming less from what the characters say than how they say it," noting that Albahari "finds the significant within the trivial." Later tales in Words Are Something Else include a man's recollections of childhood and a debate between a writer and his wife. In his review, Kirby wrote of both sections when he noted that "a little of this kind of thing—actually, a little of both kinds—goes a long way."

Albahari details his life in the former Yugoslavia and his immigration to Canada in the fictionalized memoir Bait. Written in one long paragraph, the book also deals with his mother, who became a Jewish convert just before the outbreak of World War II. Booklist contributor John Green felt this work presented "artful meditations on the meaning of otherness."

Albahari reached a large body of English-language readers with the publication of Gotz and Meyer, a novel dealing with the Holocaust in Serbia. In little less than a half year in 1942, over five thousand Serbian Jews were killed by the Nazis in mobile killing vans, trucks which ran the exhaust into the airtight compartment where the Jews were riding, supposedly being transported out of the country. Gotz and Meyer takes its name from two German soldiers—"embodiments of the banality of evil" according to a contributor for Publishers Weekly—who drove the truck in which a college professor's relations died. Now the professor is reconstructing the crime and has tracked down the names even of these drivers, obsessed with the deaths and the inability or unwillingness of others to prevent such mass crimes.

Again written in one long paragraph, the 168-page book is "simple and eloquent," as well as "stirring," according to Booklist contributor Hazel Rochman. Other reviewers had similar positive assessments. A Kirkus Reviews critic found the work a "brilliantly disturbing novel," while for People reviewer Francine Prose it was "haunting" and a "dazzling meditation on history, memory, identity and the nature of evil." The Publishers Weekly writer also commended Gotz and Meyer, as a "numbed but moving elegy." For Edward Cone, writing in Library Journal, the novel was an "impressive commentary," and for Alan Wall, writing in European Judaism, it was "compelling." Further praise came from Guardian Online critic Nicholas Lezard, who termed the novel "unimprovable, astonishingly moving and intelligent," and from San Francisco Chronicle Online contributor Jason Thompson, who termed it "a masterful addition to the literature of the Holocaust and a fascinating philosophical meditation on that enormity."

Speaking with Mark Thwaite of, Albahari explained the inspiration for the heavily-researched Gotz and Meyer: "I've known for years that the story about the holocaust of the Serbian Jewish community has never been told, and I was waiting for the right voice to tell it. I thought that it was, in a way, my duty to write about it, and not only about the story itself but also about how one deals with that terrible legacy today."



Albahari, David, Bait, translated by Peter Agnone, Northwestern University (Evanston, IL), 2001.


Booklist, February 15, 1998, Bosiljka Stevanovic, reviews of Mamac and Snezni covek, p. 992; June 1, 2001, John Green, review of Bait, p. 1834; September 1, 2005, Hazel Rochman, review of Gotz and Meyer, p. 57.

Christian Science Monitor, October 31, 1996, David Kirby, review of Words Are Something Else: Writings from an Unbound Europe, p. B1.

European Judaism, autumn, 2004, Alan Wall, review of Gotz and Meyer, p. 136.

Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 1996, review of Words Are Something Else, p. 858; September 15, 2005, review of Gotz and Meyer, p. 989.

Library Journal, November 1, 1996, review of Words Are Something Else, p. 109; August 1, 2005, Edward Cone, review of Gotz and Meyer, p. 64.

New York Times Book Review, August 25, 1996, review of Words Are Something Else, p. 19.

People, December 19, 2005, Francine Prose, review of Gotz and Meyer, p. 55.

Publishers Weekly, June 24, 1996, review of Words Are Something Else, pp. 55-56, September 19, 2005, review of Gotz and Meyer, p. 41.

Review of Contemporary Fiction, spring, 2006, Mark Axelrod, review of Gotz and Meyer, p. 147.

Washington Post Book World, September 8, 1996, review of Words Are Something Else, p. 12.

World Literature Today, autumn, 1987, Branko Mikasinovich, review of Opis smrti, p. 656; winter, 1990, Radmila Gorup, review of Cink, pp. 153-154; autumn, 1990, Vasa D. Mihailovich, review of Najbolje price 1989, p. 668; January-April, 2005, Marijeta Bozvic, review of Drugi jezik, p. 105.

ONLINE, (December 18, 2006), Wendy Boudling, "David Albahari."

Guardian Online, (January 22, 2005), Nicholas Lezard, review of Gotz and Meyer., (October 8, 2005), Mark Thwaite, "Articles & Interviews: David Albahari."

San Francisco Chronicle Online, (December 25, 2005), Jason Thompson, "Faceless Evil Given a Name—or Names," review of Gotz and Meyer.