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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Fourth Circle

Zoran Živković

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To purchase The Fourth Circle

Title: The Fourth Circle
Author: Zoran Živković
Genre: Novel
Written: 1993 (Eng. 2004)
Length: 240 pages
Original in: Serbo-Croatian
Availability: The Fourth Circle - US
The Fourth Circle - UK
The Fourth Circle - Canada
The Fourth Circle - India
  • Serbo-Croatian title: Četvrti krug
  • Translated by Mary Popović
  • With an Afterword by the author

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Our Assessment:

B+ : wonderfully ambitious, wildly and well imagined

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 18/4/2004 Gerald Jonas

  From the Reviews:
  • "The immensely complicated narrative is made up of at least 10 separate strands that move in mysterious ways toward an apocalyptic resolution. (...) As these disparate stories whirl about one another, each episode holding our attention for just a few pages before yielding to the next, the book develops a narrative thrust that has little to do with plot in the ordinary sense." - Gerald Jonas, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Despite nearly a dozen different narrative threads and a dizzying variety of real and imagined characters (if one can even call some of them that) The Fourth Circle is a remarkably controlled novel. Short chapters move from story to story, the larger puzzle only slowly pieced together, but Živković's most impressive accomplishment is making these short glimpses of very different worlds and events compelling; even when the place of what is being described in the larger story is completely unclear, the narratives themselves easily hold the reader's attention.
       The overarching story is one of reaching a higher plane, characters (and entities) brought together and attaining an ultimate sort of enlightenment. One preliminary destination is a remote locale in what is likely a South-East Asian jungle, a computer programmer who has embraced Buddhism retreating there and eventually joined by a variety of others (including historical figures such as Archimedes and Stephen Hawking).
       The various strands begin with the relatively straightforward: there's Archimedes not wanting his circles to be disturbed, Stephen Hawking not wanting his nurse to take advantage of him, and the like (though in the case of several of the creatures and entities involved the like is very unlike most anything one can imagine). Progressively all are drawn to the higher planes (the further circles -- there's lots of round imagery throughout). The most inspired creations aren't the historical figures, but the imagined ones: one prominent (and the most successful sustained) narrative thread is presented from the point of view of a computer (or its programme), while there are also some grander entities that Živković presents very nicely.
       What Živković is trying to piece together is incredibly ambitious, and the mix of science and theology (with a dash of mysticism) ultimately creaks and wobbles under its own weight; nevertheless, the stories leading the reader along are so engaging that the fact that the would-be (and roughly predictable) highpoint can't quite live up to expectations isn't even that disappointing. Even the odd final afterthought -- in which Sherlock Holmes, his sidekick Dr. Watson, and an Arthur Conan Doyle figure --, which functions as a sort of additional tying-together (Živković likes to trump himself throughout the novel), a final final explanation and conclusion, works (almost despite itself).
       Živković seems to have tossed everything (and several kitchen sinks) into this novel: it is bursting with ideas. Remarkably, though fairly short, it doesn't feel cramped: despite putting so much into this, it almost never seems like it's too much. Instead, what The Fourth Circle offers is a dizzying, rollicking ride, with some take-your-breath-away moments. It's clever but doesn't try too hard to show its learning (only a few of the chapters -- those with some of the historical characters -- don't work particularly well), and really is nicely constructed (he's juggling a lot of balls here).
       Perhaps most impressive about The Fourth Circle is that it manages to be so surprising: it is truly inventive fiction, both regarding its content and its presentation. Certainly recommended.

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The Fourth Circle: Reviews: Zoran Živković: Other books by Zoran Zivkovic under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Zoran Živković was born in Belgrade in 1948.

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