What I feel most compelled to say in awe of Roy Kesey’s talent, is that I read his entire book in one sitting. One! Honestly, I couldn’t put it down. Maybe that just illuminates my own obessive tendences, but I gluttinously devoured NOTHING IN THE WORLD, cramming it all in as fast as I could and then licking my fingers when I was done.
NOTHING IN THE WORLD lures you in innocently–and lyrically–enough. The first paragraph is lovely, placing the reader solidly in Josko’ world, which manages (like so much of Kesey’s work) to feel both familiar and exotic, no small feat:
“The white stone walls of Josko’s house were tinged with gold in the growing light, and the only sound was the sharp ring of his father’s pick glancing off the rocks in the vineyard. Josko ran to join him as the sun slipped into the sky, and they worked together without speaking, his father freeing the rocks from the soil, Josko heaving them to his shoulder and staggering to the wall they were building to mark their property line to the east.“
This attention to detail and to the sensory experience of the reader is consistent throughout Roy’s book and as I read I was drawn along, unwilling to leave that world that felt so very real to me. Even when the world became darker and more violent, or perhaps especially when the world became darker and more violent, for that is when Kesey’s matter-of-fact, detailed style really grabs you by the throat:
“Josko opened his eyes, and the sky was a thin whitish blue. There was the warm salty sweetness of blood in his mouth, and behind his eyes he felt a strange dense presence. He raised one hand to his head. Above his left ear, a shard of metal protruded from his skull. He wrapped his hand around it and ripped it out. Pain deafened him, and strips of sky floated down to enfold him.“
Okay, from that point on, I was entirely hooked. My own brain began to throb with a “strange dense presence” and I realized it was Josko in there, Josko in my brain, becoming part of my grey matter creating new peaks and grooves as he becomes a legend in his own country (unknown to him)–a celebrated war hero, first for shooting down two enemy planes with his unit, and then for singlehandedly killing the infamous sniper Hadzihafizbegovic and setting his severed head on a table in a cafe. The trouble is, as Josko moves through the countryside alone, becoming more and more dirty and disheveled (also crazed by the haunting female voice that sings in his head, pulling him along siren-like) he looks less and less like a war hero and he is repeatedly shot at, beaten, even arrested and imprisoned. In prison, in an utterly painful and ironic scene, the soldiers beat Josko most brutally of all because when they demand to know his name, he tells them he is Josko Banovic. Of course you are, says the soldier, and I am Marshall Tito. They kick him for claiming to be a man they have made into legend, a famous hero. We know he is Josko, he knows he is, and yet the soldiers may just kill him for telling the truth which they are certain is a lie.
That sense of tragic unfairness permeates NOTHING IN THE WORLD, absolutely aptly, given that it is a novella that has the fighting between Serbs and Croats as its backdrop. The writing is intelligent, the story is gripping and dark but also funny and redemptive in places, and the ending is perfect. NOTHING IN THE WORLD is a great read–and like nothing in the world I have read before.