This is a writing sample by “nycghostwriter,” AKA Barbara Finkelstein. It is “Killing Off the Soul,” a book review published in The New York Times. You can get professional ghostwriting services from a published non-fiction writer. Email me or fill out the short form on my contact page.

THE USE OF MAN By Aleksandar Tisma. Translated by Bernard Johnson. 342 pp. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Man has no noble use in The Use of Man, Aleksandar Tisma’s exceptional novel about the Nazi conquest of Yugoslavia. The inhabitants of Novi Sad, a town on the eastern Danube, are split by antagonisms among Serbs, Croats, Hungarians, Jews and occupying Germans; with the advent of World War II, they succumb to Fascism or death, and the luckiest merely survive to serve out prison terms in Communist labor camps.

What may sound like one more predictable tale of European barbarism is actually a profound piece of writing in the tradition of Elsa Morante’s History: A Novel and Natalia Ginzburg’s All Our Yesterdays, two contemporary novels in which the writers insist that the grotesque ideologies of the 20th century can have no respect for the private grief of the individual soul.

Beginning with the purchase of a diary by Fraulein, a lonely tutor, The Use of Man foretells the war’s consequences in its first chapters: the mercy killing of Milinko, the wounded working-class champion of reason; the conversion of the rapist Sredoje from SS collaborator to Yugoslavian partisan; the survival of half-Jewish Vera in a Nazi bordello. Each character, rendered with psychological precision, learns ”how thin was the line between life and death and how easy it was to cross it.”

Mr. Tisma’s deliberate unfolding of his characters’ fates serves to illustrate the novel’s underlying premise: Yugoslavia’s wartime experience – everything from the deportation of the Jews to Tito’s Communism – resulted in his country’s inevitable ruin. That Mr. Tisma manages to convey such large historical ideas without sacrificing the story’s drama attests to his abilities as a gifted and humane writer.

Translated by Bernard Johnson from Serbo-Croatian into seamless English, The Use of Man argues that the human spirit, ill-used by sadists and political tyrants, does not recover. This is a sad and extraordinary novel.


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