Fantastic Reviews - Story Collection Book Review
Steps Through the Mist cover Steps Through the Mist by Zoran Zivkovic

Aio hardcover - 125 pages
Copyright 2007
Translated from the Serbian by Alice Copple-Tosic

Book reviewed January 2008

Rating: 8/10  (Highly Recommended)

Review by Aaron Hughes

"Younger people are not overly bothered by the future because they think they have it in abundance."
- Zoran Zivkovic,
Steps Through the Mist
          Steps Through the Mist is the second of Aio Publishing's gorgeous North American editions of mosaic novels by literary fantasist Zoran Zivkovic, fluidly translated from the original Serbian by Alice Copple-Tosic.  I recommended the first, Seven Touches of Music (see my review), largely for Zoran Zivkovic's elegant prose.  Steps Through the Mist displays the same skillful writing, and I enjoyed it even a bit more than Seven Touches of Music because the individual stories combine into such a marvelously fascinating pattern.

Steps Through the Mist consists of five thematically related short stories, in each of which someone receives an unexpected glimpse into the mist veiling the past, the future, and the secrets of the universe.  The tone of the stories is similar to Seven Touches of Music, but with a shade more emphasis on plot development.  I did not have the reaction here that I had with Seven Touches of Music that the individual tales felt incomplete; there is a more satisfying resolution to each story in Steps Through the Mist.

My favorite of the five is the opening tale, "Disorder in the Head", in which a narrow-minded teacher is confronted with a student who claims to be able to visit other people's dreams as they sleep, a story premise rendered most chilling by Zivkovic's understated style.  The teacher's understandable disbelief slowly evaporates as the student accurately describes three classmates' dreams and finally the teacher's dream.  These dreams delightfully end up paralleling the next four stories in the book.

Zivkovic's manner of progressing through these dream-stories is intriguing.  After "Disorder in the Head", the next three stories - "Hole in the Wall", "Geese in the Mist", and "Line in the Palm" - are all related by first-person narrators confronted with someone who claims to see into the mist.  (You often can't tell right away if the narrator is a man or woman, unless you flip back to the dream descriptions in "Disorder in the Head")  All of the narrators express skepticism, but are perhaps more persuaded than they would like to be.  Particularly ironically, the fortune-teller narrator of "Line in the Palm" must persuade a customer that fortune-telling is all bogus superstition, so he cannot foresee his own doom from his unusually short lifeline.

          The final tale, "Alarm Clock on the Night Table", is the only one in which the viewpoint character herself has the vision driving the story.  Elderly third-person protagonist Miss Margarita stumbles through a thick, misty fog into a haunting glimpse of the past.  The shift from the pattern of the prior stories has the effect of inserting the reader into the place of the narrators of the earlier tales.  This position is rather uncomfortable, since the final story is the one dreamt by the narrow-minded teacher in "Disorder in the Head". Thus, Zivkovic ends the collection by placing his reader back in the perspective of a teacher unnerved to realize that she has a far less profound understanding of reality than her student.  This is a wonderfully subtle prompt for all of us to question what we think we know about the universe.
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Copyright 2008 Aaron Hughes

Other Zoran Zivkovic book reviews on Fantastic Reviews:
Seven Touches of Music

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Links to other Zoran Zivkovic reviews, articles, and websites:
Zoran Zivkovic's Official Web Site
Zoran Živković (writer) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Zoran Zivkovic interviewed - infinity plus non-fiction : Jan. 2005

For information on more science fiction and fantasy books:
Denver Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club

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