Minuet for Guitar

Written by Harry Leeming (trans.) Vitomil Zupan
Review by B. J. Sedlock

This is a translation by Harry Leeming of a 1975 work by a noted Slovenian writer, a fictional account of Zupan’s experiences fighting for the partisans on the Yugoslav front in World War II. His protagonist, Berk, flips back and forth in narration from the war to 1973 Spain, where he philosophically discusses partisan fighting and soldier’s fears with a German fellow tourist (whom he may have fought against). Berk’s life as a soldier is full of personal discomfort: lice, scabies, blisters, and the stench of untreated wounds; casual sexual encounters with female partisans, and violent battles. He repeatedly crosses paths with Anton, a Spanish Civil War veteran, and they help each other, until their ironic and tragic last meeting.

Berk’s narrative is impressionistic and surreal in spots, embracing the graphic violence of war. He encounters the ethnic conflicts that plagued the region during the war and to this day. I admired certain pithy passages like: “‘The dead are very powerful,’ he remarked. ‘They are the most numerous race in the world.’” The imagery can be startling, and will make the reader think. Yet overall, I found the novel hard to get through. Unlike other war novels/memoirs I’ve read, the story did not hold my attention, perhaps because Berk was not especially likeable. Readers who enjoy philosophical fiction and disjointed narrative more than I do may come away from the book with a different opinion, however.