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Leeches Hardcover – April 28, 2011

3.8 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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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

"Intense...there is a genuine sense of danger and a fascinatingly twisty plot" --This text refers to the Unknown Binding edition.
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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 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: #2,354,129 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Tanstaafl 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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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
David Albahari's "Leeches" is clearly not a book for everyone. If existentialism were studied while dropping acid and then talked out in the next few mornings in a haze of a hangover, you might end up with the same result, especially if hopped up on a couple pots of coffee laced with hash.

Albahari's Serbian hero pulls on a piece of literary yarn in a carefully knit sweater and unwinds a long, babbling thread that seemingly has no end, no paragraph breaks and minimal punctuation. Those without patience will find the book tedious but perseverance pays off for those willing to sacrifice their better judgment and stay in the game.

Various themes are covered during the tale; violence, paranoia, the Kabbalah, conspiracy theories, antisemitism, mathematics, symbolism, ethnic cleansing and, eventually, murder. And all are viewed through the heavy smoke of marijuana which is ever-present between our hero and his friend who he visits often in order to tell his day's events.

The writing is solid, even if it's mostly stream-of-conscious meandering. Some key phrases are over-used (I looked left, I looked right, etc.) but after a while they nearly become the hallmark - and could have deeper meaning.

Or am I being paranoid? Perhaps I'll ask an old Jewish man for advice.
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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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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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