Balkan Tragedy by David Albahari (Trans Ellen Elias Bursac) - review by John Murray

John Murray

Balkan Tragedy

Balkan Tragedy


Harvill Press 168pp £12 order from our bookshop

IN 1994, AT the height of the Bosnian conflict, David Albahari left his native Serbia and settled in Canada. Since then three of his fourteen novels have been translated into English, but this is the first to be published in the UK. The subject of Gotz and Meyer is an earlier Balkan tragedy: the extermination of virtually all of Serbia's Jews in 1942. Their numbers were so small that the Nazis calculated it to be economically viable to gas most of them in batches in a sealed Saurer truck. Gotz and Meyer were the two drivers who transported the women and children victims from the cruelly named Fairgrounds Camp, which was across the river and easily visible from Belgrade. The prisoners had been promised relocation to a pleasant work camp in Romania, and as they each had no more than one square metre to turn round in and the children were allotted a mere teaspoonful of rmlk per day, they were eager to go anywhere. After a few kilometres, either Gotz or Meyer would get out of the truck and hook up a tube from the exhaust into the Saurer, then jump back in and drive on. Reusing the carbon monoxide from the exhaust was, as the narrator gently points out, an early example of painstaking recycling, something that appealed to the scrupulous Nazi mentality, which duly itemised everything and left all its account books for posterity to reel at.

Our unnamed narrator, a lecturer in literature in modern Belgrade, spends a great deal of time studying all these receipts and dockets in the city's Jewish Historical Museum. He was a Jewish baby in 1942 and miraculously escaped through the foresight of one of his aunts. Nearly all of his

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