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University of Iowa News Release

Nov. 18, 2005

IWP Veteran Albahari Is Featured On WSUI 'Live From Prairie Lights' Dec. 1

Acclaimed Serbian fiction writer David Albahari, a veteran of the University of Iowa International Writing Program (IWP) who now lives in Canada, will read from his newly translated novel, "Gotz and Meyer," at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1 in the Prairie Lights bookstore at 15 S. Dubuque St. in downtown Iowa City.

The free reading, co-sponsored by Hillel Foundation at the UI, will be broadcast on the "Live from Prairie Lights" series on UI radio station WSUI, AM 910, hosted by Julie Englander. Listen on the Internet at

"David Albahari is one of the most important fiction writers at work in the world today," said IWP Director Christopher Merrill. "What good luck to welcome him back to Iowa City."

"Gotz and Meyer" describes the extermination of Serbian Jews during World War II through the routine of two German SS noncommissioned officers. Their task is to transport 5,000 concentration camp prisoners, 100 at a time, in a hermetically sealed truck in which the prisoners are gassed by the truck's exhaust.

As Albahari's anonymous narrator, a teacher whose parents were victims of the "Final Solution," obsessively pursues the truth of this systematic annihilation, he shares his findings with his naive students. Exhausted as much by the task of making history come alive as by the toll his research has taken on him, he is finally overwhelmed by the horror of his own imaginings.

Hazel Rochman wrote for Booklist, "'What would I have done?' is a fundamental question in Holocaust literature. Translated from the Serbian, this stirring novel draws on a wealth of archival materials, maps and Nazi bureaucratic records about the concentration camp at the Belgrade Fairgrounds, from where, over five months in 1942, 5,000 Jews were loaded into a truck and gassed. A Serbian Jewish college professor looks back now and obsessively imagines himself as perpetrator, victim and bystander.

"Who were the two drivers who connected the exhaust pipe each time so that the fumes killed the passengers? How did it become just a routine job? Who buried the heaped corpses? What if one kid tried to resist? How could Belgrade citizens not know?"

A review in the Guardian called the book an "unimprovable, astonishingly moving and intelligent novel. . . . this is, in a way, all about imagination: the amount that the narrator has, the limits he has to place on it, and the absolute lack of imagination of the face-workers of the Final Solution. . . . Gotz and Meyer themselves become part of some monstrous double act -- think Bouvard and Pecuchet, Vladimir and Estragon, Laurel and Hardy, but in SS uniforms. Human yet inhuman."

Albahari spent the fall of 1986 at the UI as a participant in the IWP, and in 1994, when the conflict and militant nationalism of his homeland became life-threatening, the UI staff was there to help, enlisting Margaret Atwood's intervention to secure Albahari the post of international writer-in-residence at the University of Calgary, under the auspices of Markin-Flanagan Distinguished Writers Program.

Among Albahari's many awards are the Ivo Andric Award for the best collection of short stories in Yugoslavia in 1982, the NIN Award for the best novel in Yugoslavia in 1996 and the inaugural Balkanika Award. His books have been translated into 14 languages.

Albahari's other books translated into English from Serbian include "Bait," "Mutterland," "Words Are Something Else" and "Snow Man." He has also translated into Serbian many books by contemporary British, American, Australian and Canadian authors, including stories and novels by Bellow, Singer, Pynchon, Atwood, Naipaul and Nabokov, and plays by Sam Shepard, Sarah Kane, Caryl Churchill and Jason Sherman.

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STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

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