Pavic's the Inner Side of the Wind: A Postmodern Novel

By Gorup, Radmila Jovanovic | The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

Pavic's the Inner Side of the Wind: A Postmodern Novel


Gorup, Radmila Jovanovic, The Review of Contemporary Fiction


Discussing the importance of the art form, Tolstoy said in 1902: "I think that every artist must create his own art forms. If the contents of art works can be infinitely diverse, so should be their forms." Tolstoy further recalled that the best literary works ever written in Russian were those whose forms were completely original.

Postmodernism took up this challenge, and Milorad Pavic responded to it avidly. With every new novel, Pavic offers his reader a strikingly original form. After Dictionary of the Khazars (1984), a novel in the form of a lexicon, after Landscape Painted with Tea (1988), a novel in the form of a crossword puzzle, Pavic's next novel, The Inner Side of the Wind, or the Novel of Hero and Leander (1991) is a novel in the form of a clepsydra, the ancient water instrument that measures time. It has two front covers. It is divided in two parts, or rather it consists of two novels printed upside down with a single blue page between them (in the original edition). It immediately presents a dilemma to the reader, and he has to decide whether to read it from front to back or from back to front.

The author himself shed light on the form he chose. In an interview, commenting on the evolution of the genre of the novel, Pavic said: "My feeling is that a novel should be looked upon as a building, a house into which you (the reader) can enter from different sides. You can go around it, look at it from the front, from the back, or from the garden behind it. Inside it you can be surprised by a sea." The Inner Side of the Wind is, according to Pavic, such a building. It has two entrances and in its inner court is a sea. From the outside one cannot believe that there is room for an entire sea, yet "each reader is going to make the size of the sea correspond to his ability to swim in it."(1)

The theme of The Inner Side of the Wind, or the Novel of Hero and Leander is reflected in the title itself. The book is modeled on the ancient myth of Hero and Leander, the ill-fated lovers divided by the sea. In the ancient myth Leander nightly swims the Hellespont and, guided by the light from Hero's tower, finds his lover, until one stormy night Hero's torch gets extinguished, and without the guiding light, Leander drowns. Seeing his corpse, Hero throws herself from the tower. Having been separated by the sea, they are ultimately united by it in death. However, Pavic's Hero and Leander are divided by the two hundred and more years that separate their deaths. Pavic's novel tells of two Belgrade lovers, one from the turn of the eighteenth century and the other from the twentieth century, who reach for each other over the gulf of time. The sea in The Inner Side of the Wind is that single blue page in the middle of the book.

The novel consists of two chronologically and compositionally divided parts, two entrances in Pavic's fashion, a male and a female one. The novel has two currents that run in opposite directions, and their ends meet in the middle. It has one ending because, unlike the lovers in the ancient myth, Pavic's Hero and Leander never meet in real life and are united only in their death. As in the clepsydra, the content of one novel flows into another, and it is left to the reader to construct the whole.

Radacha Chihorich, the hero of the Leander part of the novel, is a santir player and monk but also a builder from a long line of masons. In the turbulent times of the Ottoman push into Europe in the eighteenth century, while those fleeing the advancing Turkish army destroy and burn everything behind them, Radacha, in a seemingly perverse action, frantically builds. He constructs a series of small churches and, in doing so, leaves secret messages in his homeland in Serbia, Voyvodina, and Bosnia, between the monastery Zica, the river Morava, and the towns Smederevo, Slankamen, and Drenovnica. Fleeing the death from a swordsman foretold for him by a prophet, Leander dies in an explosion in a tower he built.

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