cover image Minuet for Guitar

Minuet for Guitar

Vitomil Zupan, trans. from the Slovenian by Harry Leeming. Dalkey Archive, $23.95 (360p) ISBN 978-1-56478-689-0

Built upon his own experience, Zupan (1914–1987) masterfully renders the partisan experience in WWII Slovenia, beginning in 1943 when narrator Berk joins the resistance struggle against the Germans. Berk has already fought with the Liberation Front and was imprisoned in an Italian concentration camp. In spite of the brutality he’s endured, the novel begins gently with Berk, a smug daydreamer and womanizer, meeting Anton en route to his first posting. Anton, battle-wizened and nostalgic after fighting in the Spanish Civil War, and Berk fight side by side, witnessing the death of comrades, tending to each other’s wounds, and saving each other time and again. Against the backdrop of partisan sacrifice, Zupan lays out the deadly political situation in conflicted Yugoslavia, foreshadowing the bloodbath and tyranny that will follow. An intertwined narrative set in 1973 Spain finds Berk and a German who’d fought against the partisans debating war, warriors, and governments. Disappointingly, Berk’s predatory view of women fails to evolve, but other insights deepen. Zupan’s literary gifts are on full display in passages that range from startlingly lyrical to graphically realistic, achingly surrealistic to boldly philosophical. An intensely imagined exploration of war, translated well by Leeming (1920–2004). (Dec.)