One of the contemporary writers I like a great deal.Snow Man / By David AlbahariReview by John Burns on July 21st, 2005 at 9:00 AMBy David Albahari. Translated by Ellen Elias-Bursac. Douglas &McIntyre, 120 pp, $18.95, softcover.Everything about David Albahari's slim novel suggests solemnity:its stark cover, its subject matter (a Serbo-Croatian academic inexile), the review quotes on the back ("Sad and beautiful")-it'sall so sombre it might as well be poetry.And yet Snow Man is a funny book. The unnamed academic narratoris suffused with misanthropy, and who can blame him? The studentsare ignorant ("I thought it would be best for me to shut myself inthe refrigerator and come out when all this was over") the facultyis pompous ("Perhaps I was overly hasty, I thought, in not allowingmyself to tell a person I hate him"), and the writing is goingnowhere.Everyone in this unnamed new Canadian city wants to tell him themeaning of his former country. He despises this impulse as much ashe does the university, itself "a system of learning that,supposedly, allows a person to see things more clearly than anyonecan from outside that system".Albahari overturns everything-our bland sympathy for the exoticother, our kid-gloves respect for a "serious" topic-even thesentence itself: "If I hadn't been in the house, if I had stillbeen standing in front of the house despite the snow, which wasstill falling, at the place where the concrete front walk began,now invisible, that led between the conifer and the birch tree,visible yet transformed, I would think that someone else, some bigman, much larger than I am, had passed this way recently, stridingtowards security, warmth and light, but I was in the house, insecurity and warmth, though not in light, and no matter how Itried, I couldn't remember a single leap."Provocative insights abound: into the making of meaning, thestability of history, the arbitrary nature of division, be itperson from person or country from country. Snow Man is the easiestdifficult book you will read, Albert Camus by way of JosefSkvorecky, a single paragraph running over its 120 pages and asblackly, existentially comic as you could hope.