The Size of the World – Branco Andic
First Published: In Serbian as Velicina sveta, by Prosveta, 2008
This Edition: 2015, Geopoetika Publishing
From the back of the book: “The Size of the World offers a finely structured story about a world long gone but forever existing in its protagonists. It depicts Andic’s experience of growing up and coming of age in the former Yugoslavia, from the early 1960s till the late 1980s, presenting an image of a typical Yugoslave childhood of the time, with some notable differences that formed the author’s character and his world-view…This portrait of the artist as a young and somewhat older man is a pleasure to read.”
Thoughts: I picked this book up in one of many busy, bustling bookshops in Belgrade. As our book stores dwindle in the UK, it was refreshing to watch people milling around the stands, picking up titles and inspecting them carefully before making their choices. My own choice was somewhat restricted by the fact that I cannot read Serbian, but a selection of translated prose gave me access to some modern and classic works, and I am very grateful for the opportunity.
I’m still not entirely sure if this book is fiction or not. If it is not, then it is a piece of non-fiction written in the style of fiction, and it works fabulously.
The protagonist is now an adult, but reflections on his own childhood act as a background for reflection on his son’s coming of age as, his own ever-increasing maturity and the early experiences of his father.
A sporting theme recurs throughout, from trying to engage his teenage son, to idolising his dad as one of the finest swimmers on the beach. How can you not be one of the greatest when you’re wearing hand-decorated swimming trunks? But the sport really serves to illustrate the subtleties of family relationships. The trophy on the cabinet: Do you allow your son to believe it was from an Olympic race, or admit that perhaps dad isn’t the champion you think he is?
Alcohol is another topic to create a wake-up call. Surely, from a family of wine-makers, the traditions and tastes will be passed through the generations? How is Dad supposed to act then, when his son’s first alcoholic request (and the second, and the third,) is for beer?
Some of the memories visited are touching, and some made me cringe. There is a finely portrayed moment where the child gets it so wrong. But that’s what happens as you grow up, sometimes you put your foot in it, and it’s unfair to expect a little person to understand the difference between having some money and being a millionaire. Still, the scene on holiday where the penny drops recalled to my mind moments in my own childhood where a misunderstanding left me confused and wondering why people were pulling funny faces at my comments.
The tiny moments of victory experienced within a family are cherished in this book. When your own festive calendar doesn’t match with celebrations authorised by the state, it must be a huge internal struggle. But reading about how the family managed to balance what had to be done, with what they felt they should do, really makes me grateful for never having encountered such dilemmas.
I am very pleased with my random selection, and will keep an eye out for other translations from Geopoetika.
Edibility Rating: 3 Monster Points
Favourite Line: “Only amateurs and self-important tourists count miles. For travellers by trade, they just fill in the space from here to there.”