A Novel of London
Translated by Will Firth
ISBN: 978-1-944884-66-6 (pbk.)
A Novel of London is a classic of European modernism that established Serbian writer Miloš Crnjanski (pronounced Tsern-YUN-ski) as one of the great eastern European voices of the 20th century. The over-600-page translation will be released at the London Book Fair in March 2020. This will be the first English edition, almost five decades after the publication of the original.
Published in Belgrade in 1971 as Roman o Londonu, the novel follows an aging Russian émigré, Nikolai Repnin, as he attempts to make a life in the British capital in the 1940s, painting a starkly revelatory portrait of the war-battered city through the eyes of a person living in a constant state of rejection and alienation. Born a Russian noble in pre-revolutionary St. Petersburg, Repnin is now reduced to eking out a living from odd jobs in the huge city, whose buildings, monuments, citizens and customs he portrays with fascination. Repnin is beset by memories of home but has no opportunity of making a home in the new environment.
Despite the title, the book is far more than just a novel about London. As Repnin wanders the streets and the bureaucracy of the bombed-out city, reminiscing about his opulent past in Russia and subsequent odyssey through Europe’s cities after the Revolution, he encounters a host of émigrés from around the world, whose stories also unfold. A pan-European portrait of class structures and the real effects of the war emerges, a vision whose depth and scope may be unmatched in 20th century literature. While Crnjanski can be scathing and even cynical, the book is peppered with humor and quirky details that introduce levity and help create a sensitive, expressionist collage.
Repnin is accompanied through most of the novel by his beautiful wife, Nadya, ten years his junior, whom he wishes to save from poverty by sending her to America to stay with her aunt, also a Russian émigré, who has found her feet in New York. Their marital drama is one of the main themes of A Novel of London. Repnin’s encounters with White Russian émigrés, and Britons with certain vested interests, allow intrigue and espionage to be developed as subthemes. There is also a definite existentialist strand as Repnin contemplates suicide, particularly after his wife’s departure for the New World.
Miloš Crnjanski (1893–1977) is considered one of the foremost Yugoslav literary figures of the last century. Along with Miroslav Krleža (1893–1981) and Ivo Andrić (1892–1975), he left a lasting imprint on the literature of the region.
“Crnjanski has the genius of archetypes of history and human behavior. In A Novel of London he has woven a subtle meditation on the evil of our century… [but] also an immense poem of love and sacrifice.”
“…a powerful recreation of the migrant experience in the twentieth century.”
—David Norris, from the Introduction
“Crnjanski does not deride the citizens of London in his alternating theses and antitheses…. Rather, he does it more tastefully and gently, with a smile of amusement, intimately, and with his characteristic irony.”
“Crnjanski evokes hope and despair at the same time; not one and then the other, but those two feelings at the same time, intertwined.”