Newcomers: Book Two


Translated from by

Published: 1/28/20



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Book Description

The second installment of Lojze Kovačič’s Slovenian masterpiece begins with our hero, Bubi, once again making mischief in the labyrinthine streets, rooftops, bridges, abandoned butcher shops, and cinemas of wartime Ljubljana, with a coterie of scrappy sidekicks. Scenes of first sexual encounters – which are more mimicry than acts of desire – are interspersed with hijinks that replicate the violence raging across Europe. From the goofy, heady plots of childhood, Bubi emerges as a determined student of art, trading his handmade comic books for scraps of food and working day and night on a mural of Snow White for a nearby orphanage.

Kovačič’s control of language, and Michael Biggins’s expert translation, form a remarkable fidelity to a time in which a thirteen-year-old Swiss kid, exiled and yet protected from the worst horrors of the Holocaust, envisions Nazi Germany as “a gigantic, black, marble block filled with Hitler Youth brats with whom I would have to stand at attention, striking some drum.” Book Two is so packed with arresting historical detail, so attentive to the intricate material world of 1940s Ljubljana, as to render the contemporary moment flimsy in comparison.

Kovačič has often been compared to Proust for his ability to recapture the past, though there is something of Tolstoy in him as well—the dense feeling of reality his work evokes—and of the writer Danilo Kiš, whose “family cycle” so richly recalls the wartime Hungary of his childhood. These are admittedly august names, but Kovačič belongs in their company. Newcomers is a novel of grand and appalling power. It is a human-smelling work, slick with sweat, trembling with appetite. And deeply sad in its loneliness and privation, too. It wounds us in the way our own memories do. It is a marvelous and humane feat of clarity and consolidation.
Dustin Illingworth, The Nation

Book Two deepens one’s appreciation for Kovačič’s major stylistic gambit...Ultimately, “Newcomers” crystallizes into a classic artist’s coming-of-age story, as Bubi is drawn to painting and then writing, where, as in this rich and fascinating novel, he will search for a way to synthesize the enchantments of youth with the hard realities of the war.
Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

In this second part of the famous Slovenian writer’s autobiographical novel, the narrator details the dangers and humiliations of his boyhood living in occupied Slovenia in the Second World War ... Reeling from the loss of his home in Switzerland, and surrounded by a language he can’t quite master, Bubi confronts the challenges and humiliations of growing up in a strange environment. Narrated with uncanny naïveté, the novel flits between memories of tenderness and shocking violence as Bubi navigates friendship, family, and his burgeoning sexuality in a land under hostile occupation."
Translated Lit,"Most Anticipated Books of January 2020"

I loved the way Bubi understands himself in relation to his language. In the early part of this book, his spoken Slovenian is phonetically written with a Germanic accent which fades as the years pass by...Newcomers is written in the first person and in a kind of stream of consciousness style which I loved...I felt the prose style helped me gain a stronger understanding of what Kovacic tried to put across. There was a strong sense of being within each scene rather than viewing it as a passive observer...I was gripped by Newcomers: Book Two.
Stephanie Jane, Literary Flits

Praise for Newcomers

"Kovacic impressively catches the mood of the early years of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The volumes are masterpieces. They are bitter, but grippingly intense in their description... Newcomers is a mnemonic sleight of hand of botanical exactitude, a weighty historical document whose significance will only grow."

Sign and Sight

"Epic and panoramic... Newcomers turns stereotypes on their heads, as novels of the century should do—stereotypes such as the dignity of rural poverty, the unifying sanctity of the Slovenian language, and the noble heroism of resistance."

Erica Johnson Debeljak, Context

"One of the major Slovenian prose writers of the last sixty years."

Words Without Borders

"Lojze Kovačič is one of the most important writers of our time, one who confirms our world in both text and deed."
Miljenko Jergović

An excerpt of Lojze Kovačič’s “A Boy and Death” was published on Words Without Borders.

In this translated essay in Primerjalna Književnost (Comparative Literature), published by the Slovenian Study for Comparative Literature, Alenka Koron writes about Lojze Kovačič’s work and influences, using the author’s personal library as a central focus. The essay starts on Page 107 of the PDF, which features many other fascinating, translated analyses of Slovenian literature.