What an exquisite, thought-provoking, wonderfully written novel to throw you into the pits of dark despair and self-loathing for being a part of whatWhat an exquisite, thought-provoking, wonderfully written novel to throw you into the pits of dark despair and self-loathing for being a part of what we call the apex of evolution - humanity. This read was a displeasure of the highest quality. Vitomil Zupan is one of the great novelists of Slovene literature that almost no one has read. It puts him right up there with Boris Pahor, Edvard Kocbek and Lojze Kovačič - all great authors of the last 60 years, their books titled "modern Slovene classics", but rarely read by the broader public outside the narrow circle of teachers, cultural workers and literary enthusiasts. There is a reason for that. Their books are so complex no one takes the time to understand them. And once you do, they almost inevitably take you along the rout of melancholy, despair and shame. Shame of being a human, a hopelessness when you realise the human nature does not really change and the civilized human society is just a beautiful thin paper wrapped around a pile of dung. It takes very little to tear it and the smell then crushes every positive thought you possess about the human race. Ok, bleak as my feelings after finishing Minuet for the guitar are, the novel is one of the best pieces of text I have ever read. Vitomil Zupan introduces us to Jakob Bergant - Berk, a Slovene WWII resistance fighter placed into and lost in two places and two times. The first is Slovenia during the last three years of World War II and the second is a tourist-drenched Spain of the seventies. Berk during the war is an apolitical individualist without any real understanding of the ideologies mangling each other around him. A brave thinker and doubter with a flapping mouth at a time when thinking, doubting and flapping one's mouth got a person killed, if they didn't have Berk's luck. For him, the war is an environment for growth and competition, not unlike a sport event; it is also a chance for escaping the stifling absence of freedom in the occupied Ljubljana, Slovenia's capital. Setting foot into the war, Berk is swept along in a current of historical events - resistance against Italians and Germans, the Communist revolution and Slovenian civil war, growing of the Partisan guerrilla rag-tag army into a regular army of formidable strength. But through Berk's eyes these monumental events are invisible, veiled by chaos of war, going back and forth between killing and dying, peaceful moments in villages, heated intellectual debates about ideology that get Berk on the black list of the Communist leaders, sex, moments stretched into years and days lost in cacophony of senseless, chaotic events that propel Berk this way and that, without him knowing why, how and when. Always keep your mouth shut. Don't ask. This is Berk's mantra. To ask questions is to be deemed suspicious. To doubt is to sabotage the revolution. To stick out of the crowd is to advertise capitalist, bourgeois ways of thinking. Be quiet and walk. Walk, on and on. Walking is important. The whole novel is one big travelogue. Berk walks out of Ljubljana and keeps on walking through the whole war, keeps on walking after the war, and thirty years later he is still journeying through Spain, fleeing the war and still living it, carrying with him all his dead comrades, who live and talk through him. One of them is Anton, Berk's antithesis, a veteran of the Spanish civil war, a fighter who has beliefs and a very realistic picture of the world but also has the sense to keep them to himself. A practical man fighting for something and dying for nothing, a senseless death in a shooting accident in a peaceful moment among his own people.
So Berk and all the dead inside him are driven by the memories of war to Spain, where he meets a German tourist, who was an army officer fighting in the same theatre of war as Berk. They talk about the war, they analyse it, scrutinize all its aspects and realize they are the same. Two human beings, two chess pieces, directed by powers of ideologies, hate and stupidity, ripped out of one context and forced into another, one that left them broken and unable to escape. Nevertheless, their similarities are overcome by the basic human nature - deep at heart they are still enemies; courteous, polite, soft-speaking elderly men, but enemies nonetheless. And all this barely scratches the surface of all that is Minuit for the guitar. It forces the reader to deal with different concepts every few sentences, all being woven into a complex pattern of taking the world apart and looking carefully at its parts and then putting it all together again. The picture is suddenly much uglier. If I wanted to do the book justice, I would have to write an essay. It's a novel I never want to read again, but I am sure I will, probably more than once. It's one of those texts that reward rereads and as hard as it is to get through it, you are the richer for it. And as young as I am, I am sure, I missed a lot and misunderstood a lot. It was a delightful torture and a subtle rape of my little bubble of a world, created by living in a relative paradise in a time of peace.