: Book Review – Till Kingdom Come by Andrej Nikolaidis, (Istros Books, 2015)

cover70803-mediumPub Date Aug 24, 2015
Inpress Books
Istros Books
Till Kingdom Come
by Andrej Nikolaidis
Mystery & Thrillers
Translated by Will Firth

Finished

Blurb: A cynical local reporter finds out that the grandmother who brought him up is really not his relative. Suddenly, the past he has called his own turns out to be a complete fabrication; from the stories of his parents to the photos in the family albums. So starts the most important investigation the reporter has ever undertaken, one in which the main suspect is the mother he never knew.
Could it be possible that the woman who gave birth to him was actually one of an elite band of trained killers employed by the Yugoslav Secret Services to liquidate political opponents abroad, and his entire childhood the carefully orchestrated plan of this same organisation. Our hero’s journey will take him to the site of wartime atrocities, on the trail of fake suicides across Europe, to the doorstep of an Occult Scottish clan and finally to the empty grave of his own mother.
Through his own unique and now recognizable style, Nikolaidis takes us into a world of criminal intrigue and a dissection of our humble human existence. Powerful, rich in philosophy, the reader is as powerless as the hero to free themselves of this binding narrative and find their way through the existential dilemmas.

I poured myself another whisky and stared at the empty streets that Maria and I would reign over with composure one day when everything was finished, when the water receded and the sludge it left behind dried, and the bones of those it had purged from the world were crumbled by the sun and blown away by the wind. My queen slumbered in her chamber while I, the tired ruler, stood a lonely vigil over my kingdom. 

Nothing is what it seems in the new interesting slim novel (or novella) by Andrej Nikolaidis, titled Till Kingdom Come, third work of the Montenegrin author,  after The Coming and Son, to be released in English by Istros Books and translated from Montenegrin by Will Firth.

Identity and trust seem the themes that Nikolaidis presents to the reader, when in reality it is not so much the identity and personal reliability that interests the prize-winning novelist and journalist, as its projection in a historical (economic and political) dimension. How much manipulation, misunderstanding, distortion of truth is there in the story that others tell us and we absorb as by osmosis and believe like truth. Exactly how much truth is there in history, shown or parallel, or even more if recent.

Everything we believe in is a fairy tale. The firmness of our belief does not depend on the persuasiveness of the story but on our determination to remain blind to all evidence that could turn the story on its head. If we decide to seek the truth everything collapses like a house of cards. Truth levels everything before it like an earthquake and carries it away like a flood. As soon as doubt arises everything is doomed: Nothing remains of all we believed in happily relied on and made the foundation of our existence – only ruins covered in stinking sludge. 

Maybe the whole book is a deep and personal reflection about (post) communism and democracy, about the recent (horrors) of the Balkan War, about the underground work of the Secret Services, about the role of media, and only marginally about a man, a journalist, who discovers incidentally that the woman who raised him is not who she claims to be, that his past has been built just for him but in reality it’s all a lie.

But when that big, black blowfly came thumping on my door one morning at the crack of the dawn, before the dustman had even collected the rubbish, and introduced itself as Great- uncle Tripko, your grand-mather’s brother- don’t you remembre me? Things had really gone too far.

The investigation that follows brings the narrator, assisted by a police inspector (Todorovic), to discover himself in the folds of history with the capital “H”, to a point of no return.

The style is very personal and original, combining a mixture of black, bitter humour, with an extreme seriousness of purposes, with philosophical and metaphysical reflections that enrich the narrative structure giving depth to the plot.

Paradoxically, in its complexity, it is not a difficult book to understand. Perhaps it lends itself to additional readings, to perceive completely the wordplay, the shades and the atmospheres.

Set in part in the tourist town of Ulcinj, where the same Nikolaidis lives, Till Kingdom Come is a kind of existentialist noir, which retraces the history on the search for truth, a notion hard to define, especially when what you find is only a mask that hides other truths in a game of mirrors of difficult solution.

Such a truth is only a partial truth and therefore not the truth at all.

Andrej Nikolaidis was born in 1974 in to a Montenegrin – Greek family and was raised in Sarajevo, Bosnia/Herzegovina. In 1992, following the breakout of ethnic strife in Bosnia that soon erupted into an all – out war, Nikolaidis’ family moved to Ulcinj, his father’s hometown in Montenegro . An ardent supporter of Montenegrin independence, anti – war activist and promoter of human rights, especially minority rights, Nikolaidis initially became known for his political views and public feuds, appearing on local television and in newspapers with his razor – sharp political commentaries. His writings for Monitor and Slobodna Bosna aroused controversy and he received threats, including death threats, after publishing several articles about “facing the past.” During a talk show on Radio Antena M, one listener, while he was on air, said that he would kill Nikolaidis. Nikolaidis recently contributed an essay to the book, Welcome to the Desert of Post – socialism: Radical Politics after Yugoslavia (published by Verso, 2015). He now works as a freelance journalist and also writes for the UK newspaper, The Guardian. His novels have been translated into 12 European languages. Nikolaidis lives in Ulcinj.

With thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for allowing me access to an early digital ARC of this book.

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