cover image Leeches


David Albahari, trans. from the Serbian by Ellen Elias-Bursac, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24 (320p) ISBN 978-0-15-101502-3

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.)