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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Time Gifts

Zoran Živković

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To purchase Time Gifts

Title: Time Gifts
Author: Zoran Živković
Genre: Novel
Written: 1997 (Eng. 2000)
Length: 81 pages
Original in: Serbian
Availability: Time Gifts - US
Time Gifts - UK
Time Gifts - Canada
Time Gifts - India
in: Der unmögliche Roman - Deutschland
  • Serbian title: Vremenski darovi
  • Translated by Alice Copple-Tošić

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Our Assessment:

B+ : nice little variations on time-travel, individually and as a whole

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 21/8/2000 .
World Lit. Today . Spring/2001 Radmila J. Gorup

  From the Reviews:
  • "Zikovic writes with a light and unpretentious touch--welcome and refreshing in the wake of other post-Borges, post-Calvino practitioners of labored postmodern fiction. His tales are strangely stimulating, not so much for their philosophical insight as for their intimate appreciation of contemporary readers' experience of time and space." - Publishers Weekly

  • "This slim novel questions the relationship of reality to fiction. In the end, everything is called into question: the identity of the characters, the mysterious visitor, the doctor, and the author. The borders between reality and fiction are blurred, and the reader remains uncertain whether there is anything real in the story or whether he is facing a fiction within a fiction. This unusual book, a hybrid of postmodernism and science fiction, raises some critical questions about human existence." - Radmila J. Gorup, 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:

       The first three pieces in Time Gifts appear to be separate stories -- three different variations on a theme. The fourth, however, throws a new light on the preceding three, an additional spin that ties the collection together, making a more unified whole of the sequence -- this becomes a suite of stories, unfolding into something bigger than their parts, rather than just a simple, more random collection. It's typical for Živković -- many of his collections are constructed similarly -- and gives the collection a satisfyingly unified feel.
       Each of the first three stories presents a Faustian bargain of sorts, a protagonist who is given an opportunity to travel through time (in some form -- time-travel isn't always entirely straightforward X to Y), allowing them a glimpse or experience of something fundamental -- but always at some fundamental cost, as well.
       The three protagonists are, in turn: an astronomer in the Middle Ages, soon to be burned at the stake by the Church; a paleolinguist whose groundbreaking insights into the origins of language go unrecognized and unappreciated; and a watchmaker who, many years earlier, lost the love of his life in an accident. Each is offered an opportunity to experience a different time: the astronomer is allowed a glimpse of the future -- even as he still has the possibility to shape it in his own present (by renouncing the discovery he has been sentenced to death for). The paleolinguist is given an opportunity, far in the past, to confirm her theories. And the watchmaker is allowed to experience an alternate timeline, in which his beloved did not die.
       In each case there's a catch, too. Neatly, Živković considers the problems of time travel, and integrates these into the stories: in the first, travel is to the future, which can still be shaped by the present. In the second, travel is to the past -- meaning the traveler can't interact physically with it, so as to not affect the future (avoiding the what-happens-if-you-kill-your-grandfather-in-the-past paradox). The third essentially posits a multiverse:

     But what if there were not just one time flow, one inscription in granite ? If there were several flows -- countless, actually ? Imagine time not as a single river, but an enormous tree with countless branches, countless forks.
       In each case, the consequences of the set-up directly effect the time-traveler: each seems to get what s/he wants, and yet loses something in the bargain.
       Živković gets to his points fairly quickly. This is a short, quick collection. Yet he considers the nature and consequences of time travel quite thoroughly -- while also making each trip a vivid and entertaining ride. It's a nice mix of philosophical speculation and good old storytelling, coming across impressively effortlessly.
       The final story. 'The Artist', has yet another 'time gift'-variation at its heart, a future insight made available to the protagonist. It also puts the previous stories in a new perspective, a final twist on concepts such as creation and control (beyond just time, too) that adds another dimension to the collection.
       This is playfully cerebral fiction -- playing on several different levels -- and it works so well because Živković is as attentive to story as he is to the ideas behind the stories. They are well-told, and the time-travel aspects creatively imagined. He also doesn't try to explain or suggest too much, even as he's thorough in positing and considering the various time-travel variations and attendant conundrums.
       Time Gifts is an enjoyable and satisfying collection, fun in its parts as well as the greater whole that ultimately emerges.

- M.A.Orthofer, 9 January 2016

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Time Gifts: 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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