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Thursday, 22 October 2015

Till Kingdom Come - Andrej Nikolaidis (translated by Will Firth)

Opening a new Andrej Nikolaidis is always a journey, if you’ve read any of his earlier works you have no doubt as to the onslaught of political thought, the rejection of mainstream thinking, the rants inserted into the plot and then an enjoyable addendum (of some sort).

“Till Kingdom Come” is being talked of as the final work in a loose trilogy (referred to as “The Dark Generation” in Nikolaidis’ home country of Montenegro), the first two works “The Son” and “The Coming” both translated by Will Firth, both previously reviewed here and both available through Istros Books.

In a recent interview, translator Will Firth said the work was “fun to translate – I don’t get to say that very often – and should be stimulating for readers who enjoy black wit coupled with keen insights.” Our first two works contained “soundtracks” at the conclusion with suggested songs to listen to for each chapter, and I must admit I was looking forward to another “soundtrack” where the “Sex Pistols” are aligned with some obscure youth uprising or something similar, however I was to be disappointed, our latest one does not have suggested tunes, however it does contain photos for our author’s mobile phone!!!

As per our first two instalments, our novel is set in Ulcinj in Montenegro, this time it has been raining for six months and the fortifications, and ancient escape tunnels, as well as every house and inhabitant have been inundated with water. A nice adjunct to the dry humour:

Radovan came from some God-forsaken place in the Krajina borderlands. He claimed he was a close relative of a well-known Bosnian Serb folk-singer. Having a nationalist bard like that in the family opened many doors for him here. That’s the kind of time it was. Montenegrin etho-fascism was comparable with the German variety in terms of its intensity. Its relative lack of coherence and effectiveness at killing can be put down to Montenegrins’ legendary laziness and incompetence in organization.

Our plot here is a little off kilter; we have a first person narrator, a journalist who has left the media to become a speech writer for the head of the police department. Finding out suddenly from a stray relative (his Great Uncle Tripko, his grandmother’s brother), that his actual grandmother is not at all related and having been brought up by this woman (he’d been told his mother and father had died) he goes on a journey to search for his real mother his real identity.

Throw into the mix the fact that our narrator has visions of what he believes to be other people’s lives, but when he visits the places in these visions, places he’s never been to before, the visions are real.

As in real “noir” novel we have an anti-hero searching for somebody, in this case himself (or at least his mother) and the addition of the visions makes you wonder their relevance, is this book a mystery novel? Who is our narrator? Is he the son of some secret service agent? Is he the product of war criminals? How about revisiting his childhood photo albums?

All the photos were fakes. But very well done, I was told, the work of a master retoucher – a true professional. They were all produced in the same workshop in the space of a few days. It was as if someone had been given the task of fabricating a watertight family history. Grandmother hadn’t been to Oslo, Germany, London or Brussels, at least not in those photos. She had never argued with my mother in Ilica Street or had a congenial coffee with her is Visoko. Who was that young woman in the photos with her? Who was my mother, Ida Hafner? – And my grandmother? – Was she really mine? – And who the bloody hell am I? SO many questions that couldn’t be ignored once they had finally been asked...

Our nrrator’s searches lead him to research into pagan rituals, where he discovers “dissociative disorders”:

Dissociative disorders or dissociative identity disorders...are marked by changes in a person’s sense of identity, their memory or consciousness. People with this disorder can forget important events from their past, or temporarily forget who they are, or even assume a new identity. They can leave their habitual environment and wander off. In an episode of depersonalization, people quite suddenly lose the feeling of their own ego. They can feel thay have left their own body and are observing themselves from the outside. Sometimes they move as if they are sleepwalking, in a world that has lost its reality. Similar, but more intensive episodes occasionally occur in schizophrenia. However, the experiences of the schizophrenic person do not have the ‘quasi’ quality that the person with depersonalization reports.

A real mystery indeed, however the plot is not that important, this book is another vehicle for Andrej Nikolaidis’ acerbic wit, his dark observations of society, Montenegrin and European. Our narrator even visits the offices of Istros Books (the publisher of the book itself) as part of his identity search, the definition of “Istros” as found on the publisher’s website is also included.

I found this work not as tight as the two previous works in the loose trilogy, however there are still pages and pages of wonderful observations, debunking of normal societal behaviours, rational explanations for the bizarre. Another fine work from Andrej Nikolaidis and yet another fine book from the independent publisher Istros Books, one where I have reviewed many works.

For a full copy of the interview with the translator Will Firth go to

Review copy courtesy of Istros Books.

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