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Rajic, Negovan.

Ottawa, Oberon Press, c1984. 161pp, paper, ISBN 0-88750-551-1 (cloth) $21.95, 0-88750-553-8 (paper) $11.95.

Grades 11 and up
Reviewed by Tony Cosier

Volume 13 Number 4
1985 July

In The Master of Strappado, David Lobdell translates four stories by Négovan Rajic originally published as Propos d'un vieux radoteur by Le Cercle du livre de France. These cruel fantasies are well crafted in the European surrealist tradition of Gogol and Kafka.

The title story is an imaginative study of a totalitarian state told from the viewpoint of the tyrant. By reducing the tyrant's people to a number of peasants and a myriad of rodents, Rajic sets up a grotesque framework for class struggle. The draconian master is as harried in his conflict with the rodents of Strappado as Lenengjn was with his infamous ants. Rajic constantly heightens the violence in a series of brief plot sequences, in the manner of a bloody and black cartoon, before settling into his scathing parody of legal systems.

"No Man's Land," the shortest piece in the book, is the most accessible and palatable story. Pierre R.'s supposedly mad vision of a man sowing a crop in the middle of a battleground is clearly the vision of a sane man sadly out of step in a world crazed by war.

"A Dog Story" has a straightforward plot but matches the odd nature of the volume with its grotesque setting and bizarre dream sequences, as well as the tension between a ruthless trickster and the dogs he tortures.

The hallucinations of a dying civil servant in "Three Dreams" make the final story a romp of surrealistic interludes.

With this translation, Oberon Press is in line with contemporary Canadian trends in style and content, matching obscure surrealism on the one hand with international politics on the other. The text is attractively presented. The cover illustration by Maxwell Bates is superb. The publication date of the original French text has been omitted, nor is there any biographical information on the author and translator, which would have been helpful. Grim but effective.

Tony Cosier, Confederation H.S., Nepean, Ont.
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