zoran živković

‘mr pohotny, senior vice president of a bank prominent in the capital city, met god on a train’

– zoran zivoković, the train


I love writing.

I love reading.

There was a time, long long ago, when two of the few things that kept me sane were the well thumbed pages of an Isaac Asimov novel, oh, and strawberry jam sandwiches. With lots of creamy butter on thickly sliced white bread. Pure poison, the sandwich, not Asimov, that was ‘Childhood’s End’, literally and metaphorically.

I was barely eight years old.

But, that’s another story.

This post is not about me, well not really, it’s about a man called Zoran Živković.

And it’s also, indirectly, about a country, a city, a people, and a whole bloody lot more.

But mostly, it’s about him.

I’m a big fan of Stephen King, I’m one of his ‘constant readers’. My recollection may be wrong, and I’m damn sure King is not the first person to make this point. But, his opinion, expressed in his quasi-autobiographical ‘On Writing’, that the first line in a novel is the most crucial, the hardest, the most influential, has stuck to me, like a limpet mine. Always.

’Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K’ A fragment of the opening sentence of Franz Kafka’s ‘The Trial’. Frankly, having read that novel from front to back, and back to front, that opening line tells the whole sorry tale, nothing more is needed, the reader’s mind is slammed into overdrive right from the start, red / green, the smell of burning rubber on the road, there’s only one place to go.

And so also with Zoran Živković.

‘mr pohotny, senior vice president of a bank prominent in the capital city, met god on a train’

You don’t have to believe in God, ‘Hid’, or any other supernatural deity to get his point.

Just think. What would you do, in Mr Pohotny’s circumstance? What one question would you ask, knowing that the answer you received would be the truth. Would you want to know? Really?

And, after knowing, what then?

Živković poses his question in a short story which lingered in my mind long after the initial reading. Each time I take a train journey, I wonder, what if?

I have a collection of his works, alongside other novels by other authors, translated into English from the original Serbian. They are all good, but this one cuts through, like a cruelly sharpened knife through that strawberry jam sandwich.

Serbia, is a country that has a bad vibe for many people. Except, perhaps, those that have visited, and not at the controls of a drone, but lived and worked there as I did.

Belgrade, and her people, have been good to me.

But, I digress. I often do.

How often do any of us have the opportunity to sit on a baking hot summer’s afternoon, sipping a cold beer, with one of our favourite authors?  One who helped shaped our view of a country and its people?

Sit in on a creative writing class in a University (in Serbian), listen to the  softly spoken words of encouragement, the challenge, the passion that those words elicit?

And see the glitter and glow in the eyes of the students. Their respect for this man, their teacher.

I had that experience this Summer.

Zoran gave me a piece of advice.

His advice?

He suggested that I practice writing a short piece of prose to accompany my photographs. My eyes welled up as this author that I admired told me this. Someone I respected and admired had taken the trouble to share a beer with me, and his philosophy, and a little part of his life.

So, here, Zoran, I took your advice. Well, sort of, anyway, in my own way.

And thank you, perhaps in a way, you have directed me to the question that I might have put, in Pohotny’s shoes.

Or not.

The Train, by Zoran Živković was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 29 September, 2005.

Click on the link below if you’d like to listen to ‘The Train’, and let’s hope we read, and hear, more from Zoran.

This post is my response to the prompt of Day 12 of the WordPress Writing 101 course in which we were invited to express our opinion on a piece of work, (our) opportunity to comment on something you’re something passionate about, or review a piece of art or entertainment that you love or despise – so, this time, I followed the prompt to the letter, I think?

WordPress Writing 101 (November 2015): Day 12


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