Year of publication
Number of pages
Egypt (Masr El-Arabia)
Italy (Voland Edizioni)
Spain (Sajalín Editores)
USA (Dalkey Archive Press)
war novel, historical novel, 20th Century, World War II, individual in war, ideology, morality
Menuet za kitaro
Minuet for Guitar (in twenty-five shots)
Minuet for Guitar (in Twenty-Five Shots) is an intense exploration of the horrors of war, of morality and of historical forces propelling men this way and that. It was first published in 1975 and caused quite a stir at the time as its unconventional portrayal of WWII and Yugoslav partisan fighters presented a sharp departure from stereotypical exultations of the war enforced by ruling ideology. Using his life experiences for much of the action in the novel, Zupan introduces us to Jakob Bergant Berk, a man lost in two places and times. Slip-sliding between occupied Slovenia in the 1940s and a Spanish resort in the 1970s, we move from harrowing wartime guerrilla fighting to Berk’s curious encounter with Joseph Bitter, a former German soldier, during vacation in Spain. In the war, Berk is an apolitical non-conformist swept along by events over which he has little control, and some thirty years later, still traumatised by his wartime experiences, he tries to make sense of his memories in discussions with his old enemy Bitter.
Once rumoured that it was used by the CIA as a manual for guerrilla warfare, Minuet for Guitar is a powerful examination of war on par with Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night, a modern Slovenian classic filled with philosophical ruminations and told in Zupan’s casual, ironic and even seductive voice.
Many nations, no matter how small, have produced great war literature. American classics like "A Farewell to Arms" and "Catch-22" have a Slovenian equivalent in Vitomil Zupan's 1975 masterpiece, "Minuet for Guitar," about a young partisan named Berk eager to battle German invaders during World War II.
Zupan’s literary gifts are on full display in passages that range from startlingly lyrical to graphically realistic, achingly surrealistic to boldly philosophical. An intensely imagined exploration of war.
Minuet’s resolution, to the degree that it does resolve, occurs in the shadow of perspective. It is the resolution of convalescence, of being made whole again in the awareness that in war the only difference between men is the colour of their uniform, the direction in which they are told to point their guns. As Berk observes, “War was cruel and innocent at the same time… It is a dance, accompanied by a 25-shot guitar.”
The greatness of Minuet for Guitar, though, lies in Berk's ruminations, his interior monologues regarding such things as fate, politics, history, morality and life itself.
Powerful and thought-provoking in its philosophical examination of warfare on a grand scale, Minuet for Guitar gives new insights into the plight of a man caught in the spiral of violence over which he has little control.
Imagine Ernest Hemingway being even more bold, brave and eccentric. Imagine an Ernest Hemingway who would not only imbibe boxing bullfighting and absinthe but fight against occupying forces as a partisan, fearlessly conquer Slovenian forests and women, and after the war, in a new socialist country, be sent to prison, despite being a national hero, due to the perversion of his writing. Such was the life of Vitomil Zupan, perhaps the only writer who, in high school readers, gains the attention of teenage boys who regularly prefer action movies over books.
The novel Minuet for Guitar is considered a literary classic that readers are unable to put down before it ends, a book filled with »true sentences«, about which many people sigh: »This is better than Hemingway!« Check it out for yourself.