Blesok no. 96, May-June, 2014
Novel of a New Narrative Youth
Petar Andonovski (born in Kumanovo, 1987) is a senior student at the Department of General and Comparative Literature, Blaze Koneski Faculty of Philology – Skopje. He has published Mentalen Prostor (Mental Space) (2008) book of poems, his poems are present in the haiku poetry anthology Nov Haiku Bran (New Haiku Wave), (Struga Poetry Evenings, 2011) and he has published his poetry and short stories in Nashe Pismo, Razgledi etc.
Petar Andonovski’s script Oči so boja na chevli (Shoe-Colored Eyes) is structurally divided into two parts. The first part comprises fourteen and the second part has twelve short chapters whose length (from one half to two A4 pages) not only moulds the outstanding dynamics of the novel, but it also establishes the narrative drama which has not so far been seen in the newer Macedonian prose. Both parts of the novel are united under the introductory motto, a line by the Macedonian poet Aco Karamanov: Gledajte, moite ochi imaat blesok na vashite lakirani chevli (Look, my eyes reflect your lacquered shoes), and the novel’s ending is a short note about the motivation lying behind the creation of the novel, namely, the author’s endeavor to narratively interpret the Macedonian photographer Yanaki Manaki’s photograph Mrtva priroda so chevli I fotografija (Still Life with Shoes and a Photograph) (1916-19). All of this refers above all to the technical details of Petar Andonovski’s novel Shoe-Colored Eyes.
Petar Andonovski’s novel Shoe-Colored Eyes is so far the most complete debut work in my decades-long reading and reviewing newest Macedonian literature not only as a university professor of Macedonian literature, but also as a reader and lover of newest Macedonian literary production. Andonovski’s short prose work Shoe-colored eyes is a fascinating novel with simple, yet, strong dramatics, with incredibly precisely built characters, a novel without beginner’s clumsiness or expected mistake, a novel with ideologically strong message; with deep, expert psycho-analysis of the atmosphere of unrest, whose internally coherent narration is developed with minimal interventions, but with maximal effect; without visible effort, and, finally, it is the first debut novel so drastically standing out from everything that has emerged these last few years on our literary stage.
The novel Shoe-Colored Eyes is divided into two parts. When it comes to the content, the first part narrates Emma’s story, a middle aged literature professor whose obsession are clean men shoes; she follows the shoe owners with no intention to approach them or to intrude into their everyday life. As the story unfolds, we learn about her rough life with her father, a retired JNA (Yugoslav People’s Army) general, whose motto A good general is before all a general at home is detrimental to Emma. His parenting mainly consists of giving orders to Emma, and one of his basic orders is the one about cleaning shoes. Hence, Emma makes a fetish of clean shoes, as her own psychological attempt to attain the ‘good daughter’ ideal. In her search after the Oedipus solution how to be ‘the despotic father’s perfect child, she starts following owners of clean shoes in her city, until one day she accidentally runs into a middle aged man with exactly such shoes. As her world falls apart (the few close people depart from her life, her father dies…), following the shoes of this random passer-by becomes the sole sense of life which guarantees that Emma’s world will not completely go to pieces. On the other hand, the second part tells the story of the random passer-by, it is about Nestor, former renowned writer; his debut novel has been wrongly understood as being anti-state novel in the former system, so he has ended up in 8-year-long imprisonment. When he goes out of jail, Nestor lives quietly and in a constant paranoia, scared of all the possibilities in the world, and exactly in that moment the withdrawn and harmless Emma notices his shoes. Even though Nestor wants to write his next big novel, he over and over again misses that possibility due to his fear that he will err and will repeat the political plight of his debut novel and that he will again be pursued. As his story unfolds, we learn that his obsession with clean shoes also has Oedipus roots – he spends his childhood with his aunt who is a parallel character to Emma’s father. As guardian, Nestor’s aunt wants him to become a writer, and because, as Emma’s father, she has a hygienic obsession, she implements harsh discipline measures with which she eventually succeeds in making Nestor a writer, even if it is only one novel in question. Just as she constantly punishes him by sending him in the dark to make him invent a good story with which he will save himself from the ‘closet prison’ (her version of creative writing classes), in the same way later on, when Nestor grows up and when for the first time he publicly fills the clean and empty paper by writing his first novel, he becomes a political inmate. This closes the circle of his attempt to depart a darkness and of his unfortunate entrance into another one. This narrative structure imposes itself as a metaphor for the harsh ideology as well (in which family cruelty turns out to be systematic cruelty of a wrong regime), but is also a majestic narrative description of the topic of “essential guilt” of an artist, of the creation as an attempt to escape the darkness of life, of purity taken as almost moral and psychological category etc. The story tragically disentangles when Emma by accident starts following Nestor. She follows him solely because of his shoes, but by doing so, she unintentionally activates his paranoia from the secret services which he acquired as a political inmate. In an almost Hitchcock– like twist, Nestor mistakenly takes Emma to be a spy, strongly believing that the old system has not changed, that Emma is part of the secret police and uses all means trying to outwit her, not knowing that her sanitary obsession is as strong as his paranoia. Hence, although Nestor tries to escape his plight of being followed (this time by Emma), he fails to outsmart Emma’s obsession and in the novel’s finish we see the two psychological victims to the painful transition in a situation completely out of control which leaves both protagonists absolutely defeated.
The atmosphere of a perfect psychological description of fear, paranoia, sickness of being followed is at the same time maximally condensed and luxurious in its description – duality most Kafka-like, which is rarely seen in Macedonian literature in such pure and distilled form. Unlike numerous works which in the last few years have tried to leave a narrative testimony for the tough era of spies, followed ones, victims and secret services, young Andonovski’s novel is an almost narrative miracle, deus ex machina which is imposed on the newer Macedonian literature with its aesthetic qualities as a proof of a great artist. The expertly built dynamics of the follower and the followed (from the psychological drama of being tortured on a micro-family level, to the unfortunate strain of both characters in the social context) is rare in Macedonian literature, and the young Andonovski is almost incomparable to any author who has dealt with similar topics, before and in his/her own generation.
The vigor of Andonovski’s novel, besides in its content, can be found in its stylistic and narrative aspects. Shoe-Colored Eyes is one of the rare works in which uproar is replaced with the calm narrator’s eye who narrates the harsh and rough story with dignity without for a moment losing its authenticity. Besides this, distance cannot be felt in Andonovski’s narration. There almost has not been a novel in the last few years which has managed to pin me down to its pages, without any possibility for me to leave it aside until I read the end.
Short, precise and unpretentious, with his style Andonovski can walk along some of the biggest contemporary names in the world literature such as Houellebecq, Schlink, Tabucchi and finally Kafka. I do not mention the classicists on purpose because Andonovski’s novel is modern, but in the clutter which we usually name “a modern novel”, there is everything. What takes Andonovski’s novel to such heights and what can easily make him a Macedonian classic is what seems to me the most important value of good literature and what seems to fill this novel - duration. It is strange how Andonovski at the same time manages to easily grasp the “someone else’s unsettling” experience and to leave us as readers with the feeling that we are “at home”. It should also be noted that, in Petar Andonovki’s style, every sentence is moderate, not pathetic, fascinatingly calm, Andonovski does not bring fourth his impressions, he does not impose himself on the story. The short novel by Petar Andonovski is a venture describing a world which at the same time lacks substance so much and it is so full with the most intimate recognitions of obsession, desire, life, craving, crime, fear…
This is prose strained to essentials, without leftovers. Petar Andonovski could easily be the next big hope of the Macedonian prose. With the genius content, sense of performance, without empty words and phrases, without losing strength on secondary issues, with reviving the quietness, and still without the anxiousness of somebody who deals with a big topic, with huge strength to describe the characteristic features of the individuals by making no judgment, without even the tiniest intention to cheaply solve the tough problems in describing psyche and atmosphere, without once going through the torture of narrating about narration (the novel sets off with opening the narrative world of the main protagonist), with strength completely new, vivid and active for Macedonian literature, this is a novel of a new narrative youth that does not want to profit from the quick and transient exhilaration, it is prose with a long lasting effect. Shoe-Colored Eyes is a completely new novel, something like a small miracle of the newest Macedonian prose.
Translated by: Martina Spasova