Translated from Macedonian: Milan Damjanoski
(on The Dolphin by Aleksandar Prokopiev, Begemot, Skopje, 2018)
The latest manuscript by Aleksandar Prokopiev, the collection of short stories The Dolphin, is, first and foremost, a reading delight for anyone who embarks upon it. The ease – which only behooves one of the great Macedonian masters of prose (master both by his talent and the years of craftsmanship behind him) – with which the stories are woven simply ensnare the reader, thrilling him or her to such a degree that they get enchanted by their mastery and become part of them.
Prokopiev’s storytellers create a world where not only the lines between fact and fiction are blurred, but also between the codes of realism and the fantastic. It is this blurring of the boundaries between the different worlds, the walking of the tight rope between the historiographical and fictional reality (and yet, what reality is not imaginary), creates a world in the mind of the reader where everyone and everything exists together: fictional and “real” characters, as well as invented and real events. They are all, in fact, happening in different chronotopes. They even travel in their dreams only to re-emerge in Skopje after the earthquake, then they set off to the seaside just to later re-enter the world of dreams – yes, very often they take place there – then they happen to make a giant leap back in history to the time of Ivan Vladislav and Gavril Radomir, so they can then make the trip back and take place in the life of a certain Aleksandar Prokopiev from the short story “Personal Guidebook on Fantastic Politics”.
If we had to pick a single common denominator, a dominant theme of the short stories collected in this book, then that would certainly be the character of the Mother or Magna Mater. The image of the Mother is present in almost all of the stories in the book. This can be sensed from the very first short story, “Mutter, Fragments”, as well as from the two epigraphs which practically open not only the first short story, but also the whole book. The first epigraph is especially indicative of this: “Two little blue skies/are my mother’s eyes” (a bedtime lullaby), because it is a subtle introduction into a recurring theme in the stories, the infantilism of the male characters as opposed to the dominance of their mothers.
It is this very playfulness – this threading of the needle between the imaginary and the real – that belies the seductiveness of this book. The reader is constantly left guessing and in a state of constant “hmmm…” which forces him or her to step outside the text and to peek behind the stage to see who is pulling the strings. Reading this book is like making love, keeping you always in a floating in-between state, neither here nor there, never knowing whether you’re dreaming or awake.