September 28th, 2005


September Books 8) Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture

8) Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture, by Apostolos Doxiadis

Nice little story, of the eccentric uncle who has wasted his life on proving Goldbach's conjecture; but the plot, such as it is, is pretty cliched and the author misses numerous chances to illuminate the background of Greece through the twentieth century (not to mention the other places where the novel is set - Cambridge, Berlin, Princeton). No doubt it has done well among the maths students types.

September Books 9) The Banovina

9) The Banovina, by Donka Stančić and Miško Lazović

I spent yesterday exploring the autonomous province of Vojvodina, north of Belgrade, finishing with meetings in its capital, Novi Sad - the only one of the eight capitals of the former Yugoslav federal units I had not previously visited. The people of Vojvodina are justly proud of their government building, and the officials we met with gave me a copy of this book about it - in English, though I found this image of the Serbian original on-line:

The building, shaped like a huge Danube river barge, was built to the design of Dragiša Brašovan after Novi Sad became the administrative centre of the Danube banovina under the 1929 royal dictatorship. This was an area including all of what has been the Vojvodina since the second world war, but going south of the Danube as far as Kragujevac and also including the wee corner between Osijek and Hungary now part of Croatia (and briefly part of Eastern Slavonia in the 1990s). Apparently three buildings were commissioned to be the government centres of newly created Banovina capitals in 1931; the one in Novi Sad, the Banski Dvor in Banja Luka which I know well, and another in Skopje which may not have been built (or more likely did not survive the 1963 earthquake).

The book describes the political and architectural process of the Banovina building's construction in loving detail, and notes briefly that it was bombed by NATO in 1999. It seems in good order again now. Thank heavens that the rapidly rotating succesion of Bans under the royal dictatorship (eleven of them in twelve years) decided to face the building in white marble rather than Brašovan's original plan of red brick, which would have looked terrible. The text does gloss over one or two points, such as the rather Serbocentric character of the Bans' regime and the precise reason why the Germans left in 1945, but I found it pretty interesting.

Looking through the city afterwards we wandered into the Catholic cathedral, very reminiscent of my own local church in Belgium - not surprisingly, as they were both built under the Hapsburgs in the 18th century - except that all the writing was in Hungarian. The people of Novi Sad (Újvidék in Hungarian) have been through a number of regime changes in the last few centuries. Vojvodina now has six official languages, including Ruthenian which was a new one for me. I sort of felt reminded of that exchange from Casablanca:
Major Strasser: You say Third Reich as though you expected there to be others!
Captain Renault: Well, personally, Major, I will take what comes.
The people of Novi Sad have been taking what comes for centuries, and on the whole it hasn't done them too much harm.

September Books 10) The Man Who Fell To Earth

10) The Man Who Fell To Earth, by Walter Tevis

I have seen a few seconds of the film of this book starring David Bowie; the novel was published in 1963. It's a bleak picture of an almost-human alien from an undiscovered planet in our solar system, sent to Earth to try and save his people. He becomes an alcoholic, goes blind and gives up. Depressing.

September Books 11) The Truth About The Armed Conflict In Slovenia

11) The Truth About The Armed Conflict In Slovenia by the propaganda wing of the Yugoslav People's Army

Tedious and unconvincing propaganda issued in July 1991, accusing the Slovenians of not particularly terrible activities during their brief war of independence. Particularly nauseating given what the Yugoslav People's Army and its proxies / successors did over the next eight years in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. At least I managed to pick it up for free and didn't waste any of my own money on it.

44 JNA soldiers are listed as having been killed by the "treacherous" Slovenes during the conflict. Interestingly, I count four with Albanian names, and five with Bosniak names.