In a book review published by the Wall Street Journal this week, Sam Sacks considers the second installment of Lojze Kovačič’s Newcomers translated by Michael Biggins. The review can be found here in full. The following is excerpted from the piece:
The second volume of Lojze Kovacic’s absorbing wartime chronicle “Newcomers” (Archipelago, 384 pages, $22) now arrives, continuing the remembrances of the autobiographical narrator, Bubi. Book One, published in 1984 (and in English in 2016), recounted Bubi’s family’s expulsion from Switzerland to the Slovene territory of Yugoslavia at the outbreak of World War II. The second installment, again translated from the Slovenian by Michael Biggins, follows the young man’s adolescence in Ljubljana during the war years. As before, the piquant particularities of childhood are set before a backdrop of global confrontation. Bubi tells of his schooldays, his troublemaking with friends and his sexual awakening while, all around him, running battles between Yugoslav partisans and Nazi occupiers are waged in the streets.
Book Two deepens one’s appreciation for Kovacic’s major stylistic gambit, his prolific use of the ellipsis. Recalling his first visit to the opera house, Bubi is awestruck by “the tiers of balconies . . . all the way up to the ceiling . . . the white, bulging loges like cells of a beehive with gilt ornamentation. And the gigantic crowns of the chandeliers suspended in air . . . But most of all the silence . . .” The punctuation has the twofold effect of reflecting gaps in memory while conveying a feeling of constant anticipation for whatever might appear next.
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.