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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Compendium of the Dead

Zoran Živković

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To purchase Compendium of the Dead

Title: Compendium of the Dead
Author: Zoran Živković
Genre: Novel
Written: 2015 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 194 pages
Original in: Serbian
Availability: in The Papyrus Trilogy - US
in The Papyrus Trilogy - UK
in The Papyrus Trilogy - Canada
  • Serbian title: Зборник мртвих
  • The third volume in The Papyrus Trilogy
  • Translated by Vuk Tošić

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Our Assessment:

B : quite good trilogy-concluding fun

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
World Lit. Today . 9-10/2017 Michael A. Morrison

  From the Reviews:
  • "Beyond generic concerns, these novels are variations on a theme that recurs throughout Živković’s fiction: the ontological status of consensus reality in relation to fiction. That Živković can probe so substantial a theme in such lighthearted works is one measure of his art, the best of which ranks with those of Mikhail Bulgakov, Italo Calvino, and Stanisław Lem." - Michael A. Morrison, World Literature Today

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:

       Inspector Dejan Lukić is on the case again, eight months after the conclusion of The Grand Manuscript -- and of course it has to do with (mysterious) books.
       "Why did everyone on the police force immediately think of me the minute anybody mentioned books ?" he complains -- but he does get some interesting cases. His reputation precedes him, and he is called to the scenes of two ... crimes, of sorts. The people calling him are certainly all up in arms, but the actual crimes seem bizarre rather than actually damaging. First there's the City Cemeteries Administration, where someone seems to have snuck in and ... moved some seven volumes of their files. Not stolen them, just moved them. Next there's the National Library, where they similarly inexplicably find a second copy of what is known to be a unique book.
       There's more, too: at each location there's an envelope addressed to him, with a book inside. A massive yet entirely blank book. Eventually there's a third -- found by a poet who has his own unusual story, and a large collection of one of his own books (specifically, of one of his own books ...).
       Meanwhile, Vera -- whom Lukić has been happily reunited with, after she was absent for much of The Grand Manuscript -- has received an incredibly generous offer for the inventory from her old Papyrus bookstore, which she has held onto. The offer, however, demands an almost immediate decision -- and there's more mystery around it too, as, for example, the buyers don't identify themselves. It is however such a large sum that it's essentially too good to pass up.
       There are some very mysterious occurrences here -- including locked rooms, slightly warped realities, and people going missing. But whereas in the two previous installments of the trilogy Lukić soon had to deal with murder victims, here there are only unexplained absences, and while he fears for the worst there's a chance that people aren't getting killed. As readers will recall from The Grand Manuscript, Vera's ambition was to write a detective story without murder -- but is such a thing possible ? And if it is, will it be hopelessly boring for readers used to death being at the center of their mysteries ?
       The three unusual volumes Lukić has received are apparently from a set of four -- and the complete set then functions as The Compendium of the Dead, a very complete listing. Just as the 'Last Book' and the 'Grand Manuscript' of the previous two Lukić-adventures had great powers, so too does this one. And while someone obviously wants Lukić to have this compendium, there are others forces in play as well: his old nemeses, the members of the secret organization that has gone after the previous books too, as well as the National Security Agency, which has been keeping tabs on Lukić but promise to be more helpful this time around.
       This third variation on powerful books (and the power behind them) allows Živković's to bring the trilogy almost full-circle, and tie up some loose ends in setting everything right -- the havoc that a writer wreaks put back in order. It's a decent, clever idea, and certainly makes for an agreeable conclusion, even if the path there can feel a bit forced, as it is quite apparent where all this is heading. Yet even if the outcome doesn't come as too much of a surprise, Živković leads the reader there through some enjoyable and creative adventures. He's particularly good on-scene here -- the Cemeteries Administration, the National Library -- and there are some nice side-stories, such as that of the poet collecting his own book (another strong on-scene set of scenes).
       Compendium of the Dead is emphatically the concluding volume of this trilogy, and stands least comfortably on its own. With it, however, The Papyrus Trilogy forms a nicely rounded whole.

- M.A.Orthofer, 27 August 2016

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Compendium of the Dead: 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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