Vol. XXIX , #2 Herman Melville's ; or The Whale
Edited by Damion Searls
Review of Contemporary Fiction
Pirey, by Petre M. Andreevsk
Reviewed by Goce Smilevski
Trans. Will Firth and Mirjana Simjanovska. Pollitecon, 2009. 288 pp. Paper: $40.00.
Petre M. Andreevski's novel Pirey begins with its end—the death of Velika Meglenoska, during the Second World War. Her only surviving child, Roden, returns to the village for his mother’s funeral. In the course of that day, Roden is told the life stories of his parents Velika and Ion by their friend, Duko Vendiya. Duko tells Velika’s and Ion’s stories as he himself heard it from them, so they serve as our narrators, taking turns, chapter by chapter. The couple is separated at the beginning of the First World War, with Ion being mobilized and Velika staying behind in the village to look after their children, who she nevertheless loses one by one. When Ion returns, he’s a changed man, and severely tortures his wife, whom he’s already gotten pregnant one last time. On the day he dies, Velika gives birth to Roden. With her stoicism and high ethical ideals, Velika stands as a positive counterbalance to her husband’s brutality, but is also an archetypical representation of the pre-modern Macedonian woman—and Pirey’s focus on war, epidemics, births, deaths, and its characters’ fatalism, makes this twentieth-century novel very much an echo of classical tragedy. At the same time, however, with its mixture of magical logic and political realities, Pirey comes close to the poetics of Gabriel García Márquez and Salman Rushdie: full of wordplay, puns, and alliteration, it’s a novel calling for brave translators. Will Firth and Mirjana Simjanovska’s wonderful work retains the peculiar rhythms of Andreevski’s prose, giving English-readers an excellent approximation of the experience of the original. "Pirey," by the way, means “couch grass,” and in the context of this work, it symbolizes human persistence—the translators decided to leave the word as is, with its foreign sonorities intact . . . and it, and the whole novel, sings.