Overview

The Use of Man starts with an unexpected discovery. World War II is ending. Sredoje Lazukić has been fighting all through it. Now, as one of the victorious Partisans, he has come home to Novi Sad. He visits the house he grew up in. Strangers nervously show him around. He looks up the mother of Milinko, his best friend. Milinko’s girlfriend, Vera, was the daughter of a Jew, a bookish businessman. Her house stands empty and open. Venturing in, Sredoje is surprised to find the diary of the German tutor that Milinko,...
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The Use of Man

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Overview

The Use of Man starts with an unexpected discovery. World War II is ending. Sredoje Lazukić has been fighting all through it. Now, as one of the victorious Partisans, he has come home to Novi Sad. He visits the house he grew up in. Strangers nervously show him around. He looks up the mother of Milinko, his best friend. Milinko’s girlfriend, Vera, was the daughter of a Jew, a bookish businessman. Her house stands empty and open. Venturing in, Sredoje is surprised to find the diary of the German tutor that Milinko, Vera, and he all shared, Fräulein, who died on the operating table just before the war. Here, however, in a cheap notebook in Vera’s old room, is a record of Fräulein’s lonely days, with the sentimental caption Poésie. . . .

The diary survived. Sredoje survived. Vera and Milinko have survived too. But what survives? A few years back Sredoje, Vera, and Milinko were teenagers, struggling to make sense of life. Life, they now know, can be more bitter than death.

A work of stark poetry and illimitable sadness, The Use of Man is one of the great books of the 20th century.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Set in Yugoslavia prior to and during World War II, this tale of devastation traces the lives of four friends born in the same small town. They went to school together, took dancing lessons, stole kisses, were taught German by an old maid who kept a diary. But when war comes, half-Jewish Vera is sent to a concentration camp while her German cousin becomes a Nazi; Serbian boyfriend Milinko joins the Partisans; and another classmate, also a Serb, becomes fascinated by the magic of killing. Tisma's portrayal of their situation is certainly poignant, but he belabors the obvious in overly melodramatic fashion.Molly Abramowitz, Silver Spring, Md.
From the Publisher
“Aleksandar Tišma may appear to be writing yet another novel dealing with the Second World War devastation of Europe. He is not. It is an amazingly fresh and profoundly wise piece of writing. He brings the reticence of the scalpel to an examination of the nature of violence. He probes with clarity and detachment the secret areas of the human psyche where motives for violence are born. This is a seminal work of post-war fiction, and Bernard Johnson has produced not only an exemplary rendering from Serbo-Croatian, but something of a classic in English."  —Branko Gorjup, Ottawa Citizen

“Tišma’s The Use of Man is a stunning book. I have seldom read anything that authentically conveys the feel of that nightmare—the war, the Holocaust, the brutal aftermath, and the almost equally brutal dreariness of a provincial town frozen in time, caught between Mitteleuropa and the Balkans. The angle of vision—call it compassionate detachment—accounts for some of the impact, but the most impressive achievement is the range of characters. Understated, they all come to life, or to death-in-life, on their own terms.” —Ernst Pawel
 
“The novel is tough, terse, with episodes that will turn your stomach; yet, because it is written in a style of luminous detachment, it becomes hauntingly poetic and even humorous in its bitter ironies. It is a novel whose power is on a scale normally associated with our favorite (dead) authors. Whether you like what he’s got to say or not, the world will not look quite the same after you’ve read this book.” —Toronto Star
 
“The remarkable trio [The Use of Man is the first] make up a Balkan bible presided over by an ironic vision of the imagination, capable of envisioning utter barbarity but not the expiation for sins, dwelling on delusions of paranoia rather than traditional community." —Bill Marx, The Boston Globe
 
“Man has no noble use in The Use of Man, Aleksandar Tišma’s exceptional novel about the Nazi conquest of Yugoslavia.... Mr. Tišma’s deliberate unfolding of his characters’ fates serves to illustrate the novel’s underlying premise: Yugoslavia’s wartime experience—everything from the deportation of the Jews to Tito’s Communism—resulted in his country’s inevitable ruin. That Mr. Tišma manages to convey such large historical ideas without sacrificing the story’s drama attests to his abilities as a gifted and humane writer.” —Barbara Finkelstein, The New York Times
 
“As [Tišma] probes the complexities and ambiguities of people’s behavior under these terrible circumstances, he is unrelenting in his quest for the truth yet compassionate in his judgments of individuals.” —Merle Rubin, The Wall Street Journal
 
"A bleak and moving account of the tender lives of the damned.” —Kirkus Reviews
 
“A masterly evocation of fortitude, resignation, turpitude and sheer bloody-minded self-preservation in the face of fear, violent repression, and leaden-jawed dogma.”—The Times (London)
 
“This novel is written with an undeluded toughness of spirit, the spirit of a European who has seen just about everything there is to see and doesn’t blink or evade. The prose is firm and the structure is tight. Tišma maintains a consistent tone of austere detachment, yet one ends with a great deal of pity for his characters. Reading the novel, I felt I was privileged to meet a distinguished European writer.” —Irving Howe

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590177334
  • Publisher: New York Review Books
  • Publication date: 11/11/2014
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 763,627
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Aleksandar Tišma (1924–2003) was born in the Vojvodina, a former province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that had been incorporated into the new Kingdom of Yugoslavia after the First World War. His father, a Serb, came from a peasant background; his mother was middle-class and Jewish. The family lived comfortably, and Tišma received a good education. In 1941, Hungary annexed Vojvodina; the next year—Tišma’s last in high school—the regime carried out a series of murderous pogroms, killing some 3,000 inhabitants, primarily Serbs and Jews, though the Tišmas were spared. After fighting for the Yugoslav partisans, Tišma studied philosophy at Belgrade University and went into journalism and in 1949 joined the editorial staff of a publishing house, where he remained until his retirement in 1980. Tišma published his first story, “Ibika’s House,” in 1951; it was followed by the novels Guilt and In Search of the Dark Girl and a collection of stories, Violence.  In the 1970s and ’80s, he gained international recognition with the publication of his Novi Sad trilogy: The Book of Blam (1971), about a survivor of the Hungarian occupation of Novi Sad; The Use of Man (1976), which follows a group of friends through the Second World War and after; and Kapo (1987), the story of a Jew raised as a Catholic who becomes a guard in a German concentration camp. Tišma moved to France after the outbreak of war and collapse of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, but in 1995 he returned to Novi Sad, where he spent his last years.  

Bernard Johnson (1933–2003) was affiliated with the Language Centre at the London School of Economics for many years. In 1970 he edited and translated the first anthology of modern Yugoslav literature, and throughout his career he distinguished himself as one of the most active translators of Serbo-Croatian poetry and prose working in English.

Claire Messud is the author of four novels and a book of novellas. Her novel The Emperor’s Children was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, and was selected as one of the ten best books of 2006 by The New York Times. Her most recent novel is The Woman Upstairs. She lives with her family in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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