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Leeches Hardcover – April 28, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A marijuana-loving Serbian journalist is drawn into a mystic morass after witnessing a woman getting slapped in this cerebral adventure from Albahari (Snow Man). After the unnamed journalist narrator witnesses the slap on the banks of the Danube, he tries to follow the woman (and fails) and is beset by bizarre happenings as he tries to divine the woman's identity and unravel the confrontation, which comes to take on cosmic importance. Soon, his apartment is vandalized, marking the first of several anti-Semitic threats he receives as his labyrinthine journey takes him through the cafes, graveyards, and synagogues of Belgrade, aided by his friend and fellow drug aficionado Marko, the mathematician Dragan Misovic, and a group of rabbis. The serpentine plot—densely packed, heavy on theology and its exploration of Jewish-Serbian identity—is sure-footed, though it is sometimes overwhelmed by its devices, such as equations, sacred shapes, and Kabbalistic rituals. Still, Albahari finds space and time for comic relief, and his characters remain consistently intriguing as they move through a mysterious Belgrade that can't shake its history. (Apr.)
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Review

"A masterpiece, a thrilling maelstrom of conspiracies and counter-conspiracies" Die Zeit "Kafka for our times" Neue Zurcher Zeitung "Albahari is one of the great writers of this world and we do not know it, or not enough" La Vie Litteraire "Intense...there is a genuine sense of danger and a fascinatingly twisty plot" -- Kate Saunders The Times "Has the paranoid, hallucinatory feel of a mind slowly breaking down... It's a bold response to Serbia's bloodstained history" -- Claire Allfree Metro --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (April 28, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151015023
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151015023
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,817,658 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Dick Johnson VINE VOICE on March 31, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book nearly wore me out. Kabbalistic hair-splitting will do that. But, so will a three-hundred page paragraph. This is a literary tale written about Serbia, the Jewish community in Serbia and a non-Jew protagonist being the hope of that community. It is also about this same man being either the bait or the fish.

Our hero, a writer, is drawn into a never-ending short-lived story that has him not only going in circles, but also looking for meaning in those circles; even though sometimes a circle is just a circle. Sometimes. When someone knows what I am going to do before I do, how do I know that someone really did know that? Or, was that someone just playing with my mind by saying so? Or, by denying it?

Madness is highly overrated, I am told. But, what if I was lied to? And, is that what I want? No, I really want to know if I am doing something important for the side of good or if I am being used by the side of bad. I really, really want to know the truth. The problem is, I don't know who I'd believe was telling me the truth.

Albahari has the reader become a part of this segment of Serbian society in a very tough time. While he hasn't written an easily read book, it is a book that will play with your mind. Trying to unravel that which may not be meant to be unraveled can be fun. It is worth the effort.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Meg Sumner TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Is anything truly meaningless?

In David Albahair's newest novel, Leeches, his protagonist battles with the concept of what is trivial and what is significant in his life. A common enough problem for anyone, but for someone having gone through the political and ethnic war in the Balkans, it's more complex. The novel begins with him witnessing a random act of violence: a woman is slapped by a man. The shock of it sears him, yet it seems tame compared to the violence perpetrated throughout the region during the conflict. Now obsessed, he tries to find out who the woman is and why the incident took place.

As he takes on his search, he finds himself looking for clues everywhere. Suddenly everything has a broader meaning, and he feels enlightened to recognize signs that others ignore. Graffiti, scraps of paper on the ground, the angle of a door opening; all appear to him as related to his search. His closest friend Marko tries to get him back to reality, cautiously but clearly pointing out the flaws in his thinking. Is he suffering from some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder or is he simply paranoid? Or could it be as they say, that even a paranoid person is right sometimes?

The novel proceeds rapidly with him consulting a mathematical expert, Dragan Misovic ("you must get over your fear of math"), and Kabbalah mystics in order to piece together what he can accept as a reality. The Belgrade setting is perfect for the labyrinth of the story, as he seeks answers through old and new portions of the city, amid ruins and new construction.

In one portion of the novel, I came across what is possibly the best explanation for why people become racist, and why ethnic hatred is so prevalent.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Alcee Arobin VINE VOICE on May 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Several times throughout this wonderful novel the protagonist considers the parallels that his story shares with Borges' short story about a villainous and infinite text, "The Book of Sand." In that story, a fictional Borges initially stands in awe of the inexhaustible document, for which he very symbolically trades in an old family Bible. The Book of Sand promptly turns from a treasure into a nightmare.

The nameless narrator of Leeches is covertly gifted a similar text, a Kabbalistic manuscript that lures him into a web of political and cultural conspiracies rooted in the resurgence of Antisemitism in prewar Serbia. He returns again and again to the manuscript, which he discovers is quite literally a living document. Imbued with the secrets of Jewish mysticism, the animate words are in a constant state of movement and expansion - a textual golem.

Not surprisingly, the narrator is confounded by the burning issues of semiotics. Words are the substance by which we are able to give shape to the formlessness of thought and memory, just as in the Jewish tradition God spoke the universe out of the void. But words are also unreliable, a point the narrator illustrates with his circular, stream-of-consciousness narration. Due to the inevitable slippage between signifier and signified (that is between word and concept), meaning can never be fixed. Reality is thereby essentially subjective, meaning that the narrator is tasked with recounting his story to us via a form that is incapable of expressing the truth.

As this review no doubt indicates, this is a highly philosophical novel, and one that is not always easy to read. It is so labyrinthine that, like the Book of Sand, I would not be surprised to pick it up for a second time and find a different story.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By J from NY VINE VOICE on May 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
David Albahari's "Leeches" is a bit like reading a Thomas Pynchon novel while high. While the narrative is all over the place, it all just seems to make sense and the entire book is based on one incident: a Serbian journalist witnessing a woman being physically assaulted on the banks of the Danube.

In true beat-surrealist-deconstructionist tradition, Albahari makes this perpetually stoned newsreporter's witness take on divine proportions. Because of his attempt to stop and understand this one incident, he becomes the subject of worldwide attention and is targeted for assassination by a group of anti-semites. Familiarizing himself with the Kabbalah, he is initiated into it's rites and mysteries, even attending secret ceremonies. One cannot always tell if what happens is real or imagined.

A fascinating gem of a book that also reminds one of Denis Jonson, Albahari clearly has a future in the Brion Gysin school of fiction. Recommended for those with patience.
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