(On Cherry Liqueur – selection of short stories by Vlada Urošević)
A Sketch of a Portrait
Vlada Urošević is a true classic of Macedonian literature, whether based on the magnitude of his opus or the breadth of his creative endeavors. Furthermore, his writing style has remained steadfastly attractive and seductive and invites us time and time again to a reading/interpreting adventure offering (un)repeatable and (un)predictable excitement and pleasure. Undoubtedly, one of the most original and remarkable figures of contemporary Macedonian literature. His entry into the literary Pantheon was as a poet, with the publication of his collection of poems Another City (1959). However, during the six decades of his permanent presence on the Macedonian literary scene, besides as a poet, Urošević has proven to be equally successful as a novelist, storyteller, translator, editor of anthologies, travel writer, essayist, as well as a literary and art critic. Most recently in 2013, he even showcased his digital collages as part of his individual exhibition entitled “Laterna Magica“.
In the sphere of the narrative arts, Vlada Urošević is known to be a “prose writer with an intellectual sense, broad knowledge and a cultivated expression and style” (Milan Gjurchinov), “an authentic master of the fantastic short story” (Branimir Donat), as well as “one of the most skilled storytellers in Macedonian literature” (Vladimir Jankovski). Ever since the publication of his first short stories at the beginning of the 1960s, Urošević has been identified by our literary critics as an untypical figure in the Macedonian narrative universe, probably due to the fact that his narrative is much more in tune with the legacy of European literary (art) tendencies, then with the prevailing national constellations. In other words, Urošević is more of a cosmopolitan than a national author in our literature. Labeled as the „enfant terrible“ of Modernism, when talking about his passion of Surrealism on one occasion, he himself stated: “I was dissatisfied with what passed as literature at that time. (…) I was looking for something freer, more profound, more mysterious”.1 It is somewhat of a curiosity that his first collection of stories – Signs – was rejected by Macedonian publishers and was originally published in Serbian (1963)! It was a few years later, after it was warmly received by the literary critics in the former Yugoslavia, that the book welcomed its Macedonian edition.
It was in this fashion that Urošević started to lay the foundations for the trajectory of his authentic and unique narrative discourse. It can be stated that there are three basic postulates of living/creating that are crucial for his overall profile as a writer: freedom of imagination, believing in the miraculous and the right to play2. Freedom of imagination implies and anti-mimetic approach and defiance the laws of logic and the rules of dogmatic realism; believing in the miraculous is not just an attitude related solely to the act of writing, but our author has claimed it as a key attitude in his life; while the right to play does not imply that art should not talk about essential matters, but that irreverence, desacralisation, humor, combinatorics, aleatorics, disturbance of canonized restrictive rules are all elements that aim to save art from being turned into an instrument primarily in the service of pedagogical, patriotic, ideological and utilitarian goals. This artistic striving to stay true to the abovementioned three principles is still evident in his latest prose work – – Cherry Liqueur.
Cherry Liqueur is the author’s selection from five previously published collection of short stories by Vlada Urošević: Signs (1963 in Serbian, 1969 – in Macedonian), The Night Coach (1972), The Hunt for Unicorns (1983), The Seventh Side of the Dice (2010) and Secret Missions (2013). The selection also includes the story “The Secret of the Skopje Clock Tower” published in the journal Manuscript (МАНУ, бр. 1-2, 2015). The selection includes a total of 50 short stories, making it appropriately illustrative of the typological constants and the stylistic innovations of the author. It helps us see his lasting interest in the miraculous and the fantastic, the unusual and the inexplicable; his belief in the dream and the mystery; his fascination with the so-called “stories of atmosphere” and the magic of the surreal, his readiness to experiment with narrative procedures and certain new forms and techniques, etc. From today’s perspective, these old-new stories by Urošević, set in a new context and in a new book setting, refer us to the developmental path of his narrative opus: starting from the model of combining the poetic and the prose discourse (Signs), through the model of the fantastic short story that promoted a more traditional and classic narration, going all the way to the Borges-inspired (postmodern) mystification of reality by utilizing the model of the “found manuscript” or the model of “distorted worlds”.
A garden with branching paths
1. Narrative walks
„The one who tells the story is its master.“
(Old Turkish proverb)
Vlada Urošević is thought of as an author who knows how to tell a story; with him, everything is put in the service of the story! The story that underlies the narration is always characterized by a subtle, hard to define and hard to express magic that equally subsumes both the story creator and the reader/interpreter. Yet, does the storyteller have mastery over the story or, on the contrary, does the story master the teller?! Faced with this dilemma regarding the demiurgian role of the storyteller as the creator and the owner of the worlds that he or she creates through narration, Urošević admits that “the act of storytelling itself can take you in directions you’ve never thought you’d go”; “the story starts to change on its own and to gain a logic and life of its own”.3
1 Влада Урошевиќ: „Скафандри и саркофази, созвучја“. Разгледи, год. ХХХ, бр. 2-3, февруари-март 1988, стр. 249 (тематски број: В. Урошевиќ).
2 Vlada Urošević, Vladimir Jankovski, „Sloboda imaginacije, verovanje u čudo, prаvo na igru.“ Sarajevske sveske br. 49-50, 2016.
3 Vladimir Jankovski, The Mirror of the Riddle (conversations ith Vlada Uroshevikj). Skopje, Sigmapres, 2003, p. 101