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Books for Dads

By kileyt
0 ratings
tagged: man books
All these books have been raved about by one or more guys in my circle of friends, not to mention critics of both genders. With Father's Day falling right at the start of summer reading season, books are a perfect gift. This list spans fiction, poetry, and non-fiction–a little something for everyone.


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A taut, masterful novel of friends and enemies, family and fate, and the relative nature of freedom.

When Myrden returns to his tough St. John’s neighbourhood after fourteen years in prison, he is swarmed by old friends and enemies, and a wife who hasn’t exactly been waiting for him. A cruel twist of fate has made Myrden famous: any wrongfully accused man released after such a lengthy incarceration is soon to be rich.

He clings to his young granddaughter and an old love, hoping his coming sett …

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Chapter One
They had made a mistake. They had realized. Everything he had moved through. The trail behind him. The institutional walls that kept him. The day in and day out. The tangle of men. It was meant to go away.

Each step he took from his cell to the admitting office was fixed in his memory. Years of what was there and what wasn’t. If the thought came to him. He’d shut it off. The things that were missing.

He tried not to feel himself moving. Tightened up against each action. Refused to see the eyes set steady on him. Being led toward 9 a.m. Release.

He had sat in the same admitting office fourteen years ago. He had taken in every detail then. Went spitefully through the process. Money and valuables removed. Receipt signed by him. File started. Name. Address. Next of kin. Religion. Offence. Photo taken. Strip search. Shower in the stall across the way. Clothes returned to him. Cell assigned. His mind troubled by the process for months after. Picking it over, again and again. Impossible to make different.

Now, he was in that room again.

The sheriff handed him the receiver.

“Hello,” he said. The feel of the phone in his hand was something he did not like.

“Hi, Poppy. I see you on TV all the time. You’re famous. You’re coming home, right? I can’t wait to see you.”

Her little voice. Tears blurred the floor where he was looking.

He said few words because words were hard for him after all this time. Then he hung up.

The sheriff gave him his belongings and, with a bowed head, said: “This way.”

He left the admitting office. Saw the shower stall across the corridor. He should be made to take one now. Before they let him out. Clean him off. Scour him. But it didn’t happen. Only what came in mattered.

He followed the uniform through the locked door and across the yard. The high walls topped with coils of barbed wire. The towers with guards in them when he first came in. No guards there now. Video cameras everywhere. Nothing moving in that yard. Just the two of them. Him and the uniform. He looked back at the windows. The faces there watching him go. Time dead in their eyes.

Up ahead, there was a female guard. On a wooden walkway behind a tall wire fence. She unlocked the gate to let them pass alongside the visiting area. Like a school portable when he was young. Then through another locked gate. Keys rattling. Through another door. Not made of steel or wire. A room made of wood instead of cinder block. The sound of it underfoot. Different air. Different mood. Almost normal. Easy. People waiting to visit. Ordinary people who could come and go. Outside life written all over them. The metal detector. Passing through. Thinking he might set it off for no good reason. The video camera showing the other side of the main door. The crowd gathered there in the parking lot. Moving around but silent on that screen. Waiting for his release. He saw the book for signing in and out. Resting on a ledge. The different signatures. He passed by the visitors. They watched him move. Like they had never seen a man move before. He listened carefully. Edgy. Waiting to hear the buzz of the main door. He thought it might not come. The weight in his chest. His breathing. His shoulders aching. Trying not to show anything. Just another day. One exactly like all the others.

“They’re here about you,” the sheriff smiled toward the door.

The female guard was there. Just as the door buzzed. A hand on a button somewhere in the pen. That’s how it always happened. Fingers on buttons somewhere you did not see. Doors buzzing. The female guard leaned and pushed open the metal door. He would not look at her. She was smiling a little. Trying to mean business but be nice.

Everything came in. Everything went out. That one door opened to the outside. No handcuffs. Fresh air. Fresh noise and movement that hurt his ears and eyes. Everyone turned to face him. Came toward him. Almost rushed. No restraints. His body filled with warning. Muscles stiffening. His bundle of belongings tucked tighter under his arm. His big hands dangled by his sides. People in the crowd spoke his name right away. They called him Mister Myrden. All of them calling that name out. There were cameras and microphones. Just as there had been before he went in. Some of the same people. Standing there with changed faces. Everything else the same. The need in them still rabid.

The air was cold. There was wind out here. No walls for it to run up against. It stung his skin. He felt it in his hair. In his scalp. In his fingertips so they pulsed to his heartbeat. The landscape beyond the crowd stretched away. Further and further. Such endless height and distance. Dizziness in his head and stomach.

“Mister Myrden. Mister Myrden . . .”

His name again and again. And the push of them blocking his way so it was difficult for him to get through.
He was driven to his wife’s house by his son, Danny. Nineteen years old. The second youngest of five boys and one girl. The house belonged to someone else. He had no idea who. He never asked. He only knew that his wife lived there now.

He sat in the back because the front was too much for him. The big window. The movement of everything at once. It pained his eyes. He thought he might throw up. He watched out the door window in a daze. A smaller piece of glass. The view sharp and confined, framed there. And it kept going along. So many people outside. Moving around as they pleased. Nothing was stopping him. Holding him back. Preventing him.

The car slowed at a set of lights. A thin woman in a coat walked by. Glanced in at him. Nothing to hold her eyes there. Just another man sitting in a car. She kept going. Walking. Her legs a blur. He shut his eyes. He feared that it might be wrong. Opening his eyes, he looked over his shoulder. They were moving again. Cars and vans following him. The people in there all wanted to know what he thought. How does it feel to be a free man? What are your plans? Who really killed Doreen Stagg? Mister Myrden. Freedom. Plans. He watched toward his son. He saw Danny’s hand on the steering wheel, the tattooed words on his fingers.

From the Hardcover edition.

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One Last Good Look

One Last Good Look

also available: Paperback

These are stories of first rites: hunting accidents, sibling rivalry, infatuation, death in the family, romantic breakups, sustaining friendships, and the yearning for love, laughs, and understanding.

The storyline is one of the oldest in literature -- that of a young man making sense of the world and choosing his place in it.And part of his place in the world is as a writer. In One Last Good Look Gabriel English works on a novel (This All Happened). Michael Winter tells his story in an intimate, …

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Light Lifting

Light Lifting

also available: Paperback
tagged : canadian

This was the day after Mike Tyson bit off Evander Holyfield’s ear. You remember that. It was a moment in history – not like Kennedy or the planes flying into the World Trade Centre – not up at that level. This was something much lower, more like Ben Johnson, back when his eyes were that think, yellow colour and he tested positive in Seoul after breaking the world-record in the hundred. You might not know exactly where you were standing or exactly what you were doing when you first heard ab …

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Combat Camera

Combat Camera

also available: Paperback
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Once a celebrated war photographer, Lucas Zane is burnt out after covering twenty years of war. Drunk, hallucinatory, all ambition fled, Zane earns the rent working for an impresario of shoestring pornographic movies. Here he encounters Melissa and hatches a plan that might save her, his career, and quite possibly himself.

The power of theCombat Camera lies in its voice, a voice that is restless, ceaseless, meandering, tragic, sometimes very funny, a mind and a voice maintain an almost hypnotic …

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Beautiful Losers

Beautiful Losers

also available: Paperback
tagged : literary

One of the best-known experimental novels of the 1960s, Beautiful Losers is Cohen’s most defiant and uninhibited work. The novel centres upon the hapless members of a love triangle united by their sexual obsessions and by their fascination with Catherine Tekakwitha, the 17th-century Mohawk saint.

By turns vulgar, rhapsodic, and viciously witty, Beautiful Losers explores each character’s attainment of a state of self-abandonment, in which the sensualist cannot be distinguished from the saint.

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Becoming Human

Becoming Human

also available: eBook
tagged : social, spiritual

Acclaimed as a man "who inspires the world" (Maclean's) and a "nation builder" (Globe and Mail), Jean Vanier has made a difference in the lives of countless people -- including those with disabilities and the many young people who have been moved by his life's work.

Becoming Human is a modern classic that continues to resonate among the generations. In a world of competition, where the strong dominate the weak, Vanier calls on each one of us to open ourselves to those we perceive as different or …

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Beyond Remembering

Beyond Remembering

The Collected Poems of Al Purdy
by Al Purdy
foreword by Margaret Atwood
edited by Sam Solecki

By the time Al Purdy succumbed to lung cancer at his waterfront home in Sidney BC on April 21, 2000, he was universally acknowledged to be one of the greatest writers Canada has produced. In five decades as a published author he had produced over forty books and received innumerable distinctions, including two Governor General's Awards and the Order of Canada. A hands-on writer who delighted in co-producing specialty publications and small press titles in addition to his major collections with l …

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FOREWORD by Margaret Atwood
I began to read Al Purdy's poetry about the same time it changed from being odd and ungainly to being remarkable - in the early sixties. I was just into my twenties, writing a lot of poetry but not liking much of it; like most young poets then, I wanted to be published by Contact Press - a highly respected poet-run co-operative - and I read everything issued by it; and thus I read Purdy's Poems for All the Annettes in 1962, when it first came out.
I was somewhat frightened by it, and did not fully understand it. This was a new sort of voice for me, and an overpowering one, and a little too much like being backed into the corner of a seedy bar by a large, insistent, untidy drunk, who is waxing by turns both sentimental and obscene. For a young male poet of those days, this kind of energy and this approach - casual, slangy, subversive of recent poetic convention - could be liberating and inspirational, and some found in him an ersatz father figure. But for a young female poet - well, this was not the sort of father figure it would be altogether steadying to have.

Then, in 1965, The Cariboo Horses - Purdy's breakthrough book - came out, and I found that the drunk in the bar was also a major storyteller and mythmaker, though still wearing his offhand and indeed rather shabby disguise. This is poetry for the spoken voice par excellence - not an obviously rhetorical voice, but an anecdotal voice, the voice of the Canadian vernacular. Yet not only that either, for no sooner has Purdy set up his own limits than he either transcends or subverts them. Purdy is always questioning, always probing, and among those things that he questions and probes are himself and his own poetic methods. In a Purdy poem, high diction can meet the scrawl on the washroom wall, and as in a collision between matter and anti-matter, both explode.

It would be folly to attempt to sum up Purdy's poetic universe: like Walt Whitman's, it's too vast for a precis. What interests him can be anything at all, but above all the wonder that anything at all can be interesting. He's always turning banality inside out. For me, he's above all an explorer - pushing into nameless areas of landscape, articulating the inarticulate, poking around in dusty corners of memory and discovering treasure there, digging up the bones and shards of a forgotten ancestral past. When he's not capering about and joking and scratching his head over the idiocy and pain and delight of being alive, he's composing lyric elegies for what is no longer alive, but has been - and, through his words, still is. For underneath that flapping overcoat and that tie with a mermaid on it and that pretence of shambling awkwardness - yes, it's a pretence, but only partly, for among other things Purdy is doing a true impersonation of himself - there's a skillful master-conjurer. Listen to the voice, and watch the hands at work: just hands, a bit grubby too, not doing anything remarkable, and you can't see how it's done, but suddenly, where a second ago there was only a broken vase, there's a fistful of brilliant flowers.

FOREWORD by Michael Ondaatje
We were very young and he was hitting his stride - Poems for All the Annettes, The Cariboo Horses. There had been no poetry like it yet in this country. Souster and Acorn were similar, had prepared the way, but here was a voice with a "strolling" not "dancing" gait or metre, climbing over old fences in Cashel township... (And who ever wrote about "township lines" in poems before Al did?)
And with this art of walking he covered greater distances, more haphazardly, and with more intricacy. Cashel and Ameliasburg and Elzevir and Weslemkoon are names we can now put on a literary map alongside the Mississippi and The Strand. For a person of my generation, Al Purdy's poems mapped and named the landscape of Ontario, just as Leonard Cohen did with Montreal and its surroundings in The Favourite Game.

We were in our twenties (and I speak for my friends Tom Marshall and David Helwig, who were there with me) and we didn't have a single book to our names; we were studying or teaching at the university in Kingston.

. . . And Al and Eurithe simply invited us in. And why? Because we were poets! Not well-known writers or newspaper celebrities. Did Kipling ever do that? Did D.H. Lawrence? Malcolm Lowry had done that for "Al- something or other" in Dollarton, years earlier. These visits became essential to our lives. We weren't there for gossip, certainly not to discuss royalties and publishers. We were there to talk about poetry. Read poems aloud. Argue over them. Complain about prosody. We were there to listen to a recording he had of "The Bonnie Earl of Murray." And sometimes we saw Al's growing collection of signed books by other Canadian poets. (My favourite dedication among them was "To Awful Al from Perfect Peggy.")

All this changed our lives. It allowed us to take poetry seriously. This happened with and to numerous other young poets all over the country, right until the last days of Al Purdy's life. He wasn't just a "sensitive" man, he was a generous man.

Most of all we should celebrate his fervent, dogmatic desire to write poetry. A glass-blower makes money. A worm-picker has a more steady income. Al, a man who had the looks and manner of a brawler, wanted to be a poet. And what is great is that he was a bad poet for a long time and that didn't stop him. That's where the heroism comes in.
And when he became a good, and then a great poet, he never forgot the significance and importance of those bad poets - they were rather like those small homes and farms north of Belleville, "a little adjacent to where the world is," and about to sink into the earth. He had been there. It gave his work a central core of humbleness, strange word for Al. It resulted in the double take in his work, the point where he corrects himself.

"I have been stupid in a poem..."

As he was not ashamed to whisper in a poem - this in a time of mid-century bards. Al never came with bardic trappings.
"Who is he like?" you ask yourself. And in Canada there is no one.

I can't think of a single parallel in English literature. It almost seems a joke to attempt that. He was this self-taught poet from up the road. What a brave wonder.
So how do we respond to all that Al was and stood for?
The great Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid, who was pretty close to Al in some ways, had by the time of his death become the embodiment of what his country's culture was, and stood for, and stood against. Fellow Scottish poet Norman MacCaig recognized MacDiarmid's contribution by saying: "Because of his death, this country should observe two minutes of pandemonium."

Table of Contents
Foreword by Margaret Atwood 17
Foreword by Michael Ondaatje 19
Preface 21

The Crafte So Long to Lerne (1959)
At Evergreen Cemetery 25
From the Chin P'ing Mei 25
On the Decipherment of "Linear B" 26
Whoever You Are 27
Where the Moment Is 27
Love Song 28
Gilgamesh and Friend 29
At Roblin Lake 30

Poems for All the Annettes (1962)
Poem for One of the Annettes 35
Postscript [1962] 36
Archaeology of Snow 37
The Listeners 41
For Norma in Lieu of an Orgasm 42
Spring Song 44
The Quarrel 45
O Recruiting Sergeants! 46
Evergreen Cemetery 47
Mind Process re a Faucet 49
Rural Henhouse at Night 50
Indian Summer 51
Remains of an Indian Village 51
The Blur in Between (1962)
Night Song for a Woman 53
Pause 54
The Old Woman and the Mayflowers 54
The Machines 55
Winter Walking 56
The Cariboo Horses (1965)
The Cariboo Horses 57
Thank God I'm Normal 59
Percy Lawson 59
Song of the Impermanent Husband 61
Mountain Lions in Stanley Park 63
Mice in the House 64
Lu Yu 64
Winter at Roblin Lake 65
In Sickness 65
Sestina on a Train 67
Necropsy of Love 68
Complaint Lodged with LCBO
by a Citizen of Upper Rumbelow 69
Old Alex 70
Hockey Players 71
Home-Made Beer 74
One Rural Winter 75
Roblin's Mills 77
The Country North of Belleville 79
Country Snowplow 81
What It Was - 82
The Viper's Muse 83
Death of John F. Kennedy 84
Fidel Castro in Revolutionary Square 86
Late Rising at Roblin Lake 88
Peonies Beside the Lake 88
Helping My Wife Get Supper 89
My Grandfather Talking - 30 Years Ago 90
Method for Calling Up Ghosts 91
The Old Girl Friend 92
Postscript [1965] 93
Transient 95
North of Summer (1967)
The North West Passage 97
Arctic Rhododendrons 99
Eskimo Graveyard 100
Trees at the Arctic Circle 102
Metrics 104
Tent Rings 107
Still Life in a Tent 109
When I Sat Down to Play the Piano 112
What Can't Be Said 114
Dead Seal 115
HBC Post 117
The Sculptors 118
At the Movies 120
Washday 121
What Do the Birds Think? 123
The Country of the Young 126
Poems for All the Annettes, Revised Edition (1968)
News Reports at Ameliasburg 127
House Guest 128
At the Quinte Hotel 130
Notes on a Fictional Character 132
Wild Grape Wine (1968)
The Winemaker's Beat-Étude 133
Detail 135
The Beach at Varadero 136
Dream of Havana 137
Hombre 138
Shoeshine Boys on the Avenida Juarez 141
Watching Trains 143
Shopping at Loblaws 145
Poem for Eda 147
Further Deponent Saith Not 147
Attempt 149
Love at Roblin Lake 150
Dark Landscape 150
Interruption 153
My '48 Pontiac 154
Roblin's Mills [II] 156
Wilderness Gothic 158
Boundaries 159
Lament for the Dorsets 160
The Runners 162
The Road to Newfoundland 164
Over the Hills in the Rain, My Dear 166
Private Property 167
About Being a Member of Our Armed Forces 168
Sergeant Jackson 169
Autumn 171
Skeleton by an Old Cedar 172
"Old Man Mad about Painting" 173
Death of a Young Poet 174
The Drunk Tank 176
Joe Barr 177

Love in a Burning Building (1970)
Poem 181
Married Man's Song 181
Idiot's Song 182
Joint Account 183
The Quest for Ouzo (1971)
At the Athenian Market 184
Hiroshima Poems (1972)
Remembering Hiroshima 185
On the Bearpaw Sea (1973, 1994) 187
Sex & Death (1973)
Tourist Itinerary 195
Melodrama 196
Flying Over Africa 197
The Jackhammer Syndrome 200
Depression in Namu, BC 202
Arctic Romance 203
Eastbound from Vancouver 203
A Graceful Little Verse 205
Dead March for Sergeant MacLeod 206
Wartime Air Base 207
Picture Layout in Life Magazine 208
The Horseman of Agawa 209
Temporizing in the Eternal City 211
Hands 213
In the Caves 214
Flat Tire in the Desert 218
The Battlefield at Batoche 219
The Beavers of Renfrew 222
Wilf McKenzie 225
Excess of Having 226
The Time of Your Life 227
The Peaceable Kingdom 230
Intruder 233
For Robert Kennedy 234
Power Failure in Disneyland 235
In Search of Owen Roblin (1974) 238
Sundance at Dusk (1976)
Lament 274
Kerameikos Cemetery 275
The Hunting Camp 275
Inside the Mill 277
Pre-School 278
The Children 279
Deprivations 281
In the Darkness of Cities 283
Alive or Not 285
Antenna 286
Paper Mate 287
Subject/Object 289
The Colour of Reality 291
Borderlands 291
Separation 292
Place of Fire 293
Ten Thousand Pianos 294
Shall We Gather at the River 295
"I Am Searching for You" 297
Rodeo 299
Homage to Ree-Shard 300
At Marsport Drugstore (1977)
Pour 303
A Handful of Earth (1977)
The Death Mask 305
Along the Ionian Coast 306
Funeral 308
In the Dream of Myself 309
Starlings 310
A Handful of Earth 311
Prince Edward County 313
Being Alive (1978)
Monastery of the Caves 315
On Realizing He Has Written Some Bad Poems 316
After Rain 317

The Stone Bird (1981)
The Dead Poet 323
Journey to the Sea 324
On the Hellas Express 325
Bestiary 326
D.H. Lawrence at Lake Chapala 328
In the Garden 331
Birdwatching at the Equator 332
Moses at Darwin Station 333
Darwin's Theology? 336
Moonspell 337
Near Tofino, Vancouver Island 338
Shot Glass Made from a Bull's Horn 339
Red Fox on Highway 500 340
The Nurselog 343
Spinning 344
May 23, 1980 345
The Darkness 346
Arctic Places 348
Fathers 349
Near P�tzcuaro 350
Mantis 351
Bursting into Song (1982)
Orpheus in Limbo 352
Piling Blood (1984)
Piling Blood 353
Menelaus and Helen 355
At Mycenae 359
Voltaire 360
Lost in the Badlands 362
In the Beginning Was the Word 367
Seal People 369
Iguana 370
Adam and No Eve 372
Birds and Beasts 374
Dog Song 2 375
A Typical Day in Winnipeg 376
Vancouver 379
Names 380
The Blue City 382
Double Focus 383
Gondwanaland 385
Victoria, BC 387
Death of DHL 388
Lawrence's Pictures 391
Bestiary [II] 394
Machines 396
Museum Piece 399
My Cousin Don 401
The Boy Accused of Stealing 403
The Strangers 405
Story 407
The Son of Someone Loved - 409
Choices 411
In Cabbagetown 412
The Tarahumara Women 414
The Uses of History 415
In the Early Cretaceous 418
How a Dog Feels to Be Old 420
Birds Here and Now 421
Collected Poems (1986)
Homer's Poem 423
Purely Internal Music 425
"- Great Flowers Bar the Roads" 426
Orchestra 428
Yes and No 430
This from Herodotus 431
On First Looking into Avison's "Neverness" 432
Home Thoughts 434
Elegy for a Grandfather [1986] 435
For Steve McIntyre 437
Caesar at Troy 438
The Smell of Rotten Eggs 441
Pre-Mortem 442

The Woman on the Shore (1990)
The Prison Lines at Leningrad 447
Quetzal Birds 448
Horses 448
Voyeur 450
Barn Burning 452
Red Leaves 454
Orchestra 455
Herodotus of Halicarnassus 456
On the Flood Plain 459
The Others 460
On the Death of F.R. Scott 462
I Think of John Clare 464
Questions 466
An Arrogance 467
For Margaret 469
Lawrence to Laurence 471
The Woman on the Shore 472
Springtime 473
Yellow Primavera in Mexico 473
The Gossamer Ending 475
Over the Sierra Maestras 476
Ulysses Alone 478
Naked with Summer in Your Mouth (1994)
Grosse Isle 478
Home 480
Naked with Summer in Your Mouth 482
Chac Mool at Chichen Itza 483
Woman 484
In the Desert 484
Earle Birney in Hospital 486
Yeats 487
The Freezing Music 489
Flight of the Atlantis 490
Bits and Pieces 491
Procne into Swallow 494
Insomnia 495
Concerning Ms. Atwood 496
Procne into Robin 498
On My Workroom Wall 499
Gary: Self-Portrait 501
Pneumonia 502
On Being Human 507
Seasons 509
Do Rabbits -? 510
Atomic Lullaby 512
Deity 513
Country Living 514
Wandering through Troy 515
Wanting 516
Glacier Spell 517
The Farm in Little Ireland 518
To - 519
Fragments 520
To Paris Never Again (1997)
Lament for Bukowski 521
To Paris Never Again 522
After the War 525
A Job in Winnipeg 526
Departures 528
Bruegel's Icarus 530
The Gods of Nimrud Dag 532
Marius Barbeau: 1883-1969 533
Listening to Myself 534
Machu Pichu 535
Untitled 536
Minor Incident in Asia Minor 537
Her Illness 539
134 Front St., Trenton, Ont 540
Becoming 542
The Names the Names 545
On the Beach 546
House Party - 1000 BC 548
In Turkey 551
Herself 552
My Grandfather's Country 553
Our Wilderness 556
In Cannakkale 557
For Her in Sunlight 559
In Mexico 560
In the Rain 572
The Stone Bird 573
Transvestite 575
New Poems (1999)
Say the Names 579
The Last Picture in the World 580
For Ann More 580
The Girl at Scara Brae 582
Friend 583
In Etruscan Tombs 584
For Curt Lang 586
Her Gates Both East and West 588
To See the Shore (Essay) 593
Editor's Note 599
Index of Titles 601

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The Book of Revenge

The Book of Revenge


A darkly comic recollection of a country that no longer exists, and a lyrical examination of the importance of taking a stand when it counts. Set against a backdrop of horrific world events, this is narrative non-fiction at its best.

To a young boy growing up poor but happy in an industrial town in Serbia, politics means many national holidays that result in parades, piglets roasting on a spit, and getting to see both his hard-working parents at the same time. An observant child, Dragan Todorovic …

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Slaughter Time

It is early morning in the late fall of 1963. The fog is lifting slowly. The light is the color of bad steel and the air is cold.

The pig lets out ­high-­frequency cries that hurt my ears. A universal sign for help in the world of sentient beings.

The animal is heavy, more than three hundred pounds, or so I heard this morning. I don’t know what it means and if it’s good or not, but now, watching this rushing mass through the fence, I can see that the five hundred pounds means power. I don’t quite understand why it will all happen to the animal that was a pet until last night, when my uncle went with my aunt to feed it one last time, murmuring quiet words of approval and love. I know only that the men will kill the pig, but I don’t know how death looks or what it is.

The lower yard is closed from all sides: the gate towards the upper yard, the narrow passage next to the stable, the one that leads to the orchard, and the big wagon entry from the dirt road. Through the laths on the upper gate I am watching the men slowly close in. The sow that runs panicky inside that narrowing circle is huge, and not because I am five years old. Ten or so dark, tense silhouettes are coming closer and closer, their hands spread wide to fill the space between them. The animal speeds up and changes its direction frequently, but every time it comes close to a gap that looks like an exit, another human figure jumps in to close the passage to freedom.

Two knives and a sharpener rest on a transverse beam near where I stand. The knives are long, with wooden handles, narrow and so old that their dark blades look ragged after years of sharpening against stones. Miladin has left them there after finishing his coffee and rakija, so he could fetch them quickly when the time comes.

I feel an unknown fear. Not of what I see but of what is yet to come. I can understand – by the seriousness of men and the rush of women – that this is important business. We all got up before dawn, even we children. Water is already boiling in the big cauldron on the bonfire, and the damp air pushes the smoke low, creating a long, slow curtain that delineates the stage. And, although I’m too young to be in that circle, hunting an animal, I am part of it all. They let me watch on purpose, to harden up, to see how death looks.

Someone is the first to throw himself onto the sow, which loses speed and stops for a second. Others follow and the huge ball of flesh is suddenly on the ground, its legs tied with ropes, two men kneeling on its side, several others holding its snout. The pig is fighting desperately. Miladin, a big, slow, stern man whose hands are huge and the color of soil, and whose face has lines so deep that one could sow wheat in them, picks up his knives.

“Hold it tight,” he says as he kneels down on the animal’s throat and holds its snout with his left hand. With a quick movement Miladin raises the animal’s head, stretching its neck, and plunges his knife into its throat. A stream of dark, thick blood bursts from the wound. I see the knife cutting farther, led by the short, jerky moves of the man’s hand. The wound behind the blade has white edges that quickly turn red. Drops of blood cover everyone, and it seems to me that, under that turbid light, everything is dark blue except the pink skin of the animal and the red that shines. Steam is coming out of the cut throat and the pig’s screeching slowly turns into a death rattle, going deeper, deeper and quieter. That sound is horrible. I cover my ears tightly with both hands but I can still hear it. The body of the animal is twitching, strongly at first, then slower and slower as the pressure of life runs out of it. Blood gets into Miladin’s eyes and he wipes it off with his right hand, still holding the knife, smearing dark red into light pink that doesn’t mean a thing.

The animal dies slowly, it lasts maybe two or three minutes, and then it’s still. The men are standing up, wiping the blood off their hands and faces.

“It seems to be easy,” I think, measuring myself against the grownups. “I could do it all, save for that sound.”


The rules
Players separate into two groups, facing each other. The distance between groups is about thirty feet. One person stands in the middle. A player from one group throws the ball at the one in the middle, trying to hit her. If she dodges the ball, it goes to the other side, who does the same. If she catches the ball, the person who threw the ball replaces her in the middle.

The reality
The groups keep coming closer, so the ball hits harder, and it’s more difficult to dodge. Some contestants take pride in being able to throw really hard and they usually aim at the head. The weakest person in the game cannot throw the ball powerfully enough, so she quickly becomes the target, and then everyone hits her.

The game usually ends with the person in the middle, already beaten and bruised, tripping over and falling.

The courtyard was long, narrow at the entrance, widening into an area paved with cobblestones in the back, where we lived. A wooden gate with missing teeth was the only thing signaling to those outside that someone lived there. For many years the gate wasn’t equipped with a lock, and the travelers from the central bus station in Kragujevac – right in front of our home – would come to drink water from the brass faucet protruding from a concrete box close to the entrance. Some­times they would shit or vomit right next to the faucet, so my father decided to install a cheap, ­old-­fashioned iron lock with one of those medieval big black keys. He was a locksmith in Zastava, the car factory, and he knew everything about locks, so he personally chose that one. And he personally kept fixing it.

To the left of the entrance was the accounting department of some trading company in which only women worked. Sometimes they would let me stamp their documents, and that was a great pleasure for me: sinking the rubber stamp into the dirty tin box containing a thin pillow soaked with dark blue paint, the smooth lacquered wooden head of the stamp in my hand, the short and strong blow of the stamp on the paper and – always the same miracle – the square blue imprint in the ­upper-­right corner of the page. As if I knew how to write. As if I had power.

The job these women did was inspiring to me: they kept entering – in their tidy, miniature handwriting – long lines of letters neatly packed between ­hand-­drawn lines, with numbers at the end of the line. When every line of the page was filled in their ­black-­and-­blue hardcover notebooks, they would take the wooden ruler and make more lines for more numbers and signs. It looked like a secret plan, like a map of hidden treasure waiting to be decoded. I never drew, maybe because I was curious and wanted to see everything around me from very close. I loved seeing the smallest details of every structure: the relief of the bark, the first leaves of plants in the early spring, the dust particles on the stone, tiny metal parts inside the lock. I could never draw the outer lines; I could never catch the contours of the object.

I kept asking my parents for cheap small sketchbooks from the paper place on the corner, and when they would bring one, I would draw lines inside and fill the pages with signs that just looked like letters and numbers. I was three years old, and I was very frustrated, because my notebooks never looked like the big ones from the Office of Hidden Treasures.

From the Hardcover edition.

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