Literature is for women. Literature is for women and the elderly. Literature: it is for people who can afford a book and Igor Prostakovich can’t afford them anyway, so literature is also for the elderly and those “men with glasses,” like the one that has just bought the last copy of Neon Blues.

First of all, let’s get some things straight: literature is not for factory workers, construction workers, cab drivers, security officers, gravediggers, and all the other careers Igor Prostakovich had. He carried a handgun, dug graves, slathered concrete on a swinging, swaying wooden beams with no safety harness, drove around customers. And not in those seven or eight years has he ever needed a book. It is only after he got fed up with video games, movies, pornography, basketball, comics, and cars.

Igor Prostakovich went to buy a few books today and the first thing that shocked him was the amount of people inside. The biggest bookstore in his small town was suddenly filled with customers; as we said, women, men with glasses, and teenagers buying comics. He’s been going to that same store for a few years, and another one, “The OWL,” is closed; the owner is in the hospital. But the biggest one was usually empty…and when it was empty, he felt at peace. Now that peace was disturbed.

Of course, Igor Prostakovich was a naturally rude man; he was simply not the type of man literature was meant for: he was the type literature, and literacy, was actually against, especially in that region. He was the topic of debates and accusations, his petty hatred or paranoid obsessions. The “Totalitarian Mind,” as he read in that book. Or was it him, or someone else?


They sold Thucydides’s Peloponnesian War. Igor Prostakovich, going down into the cellar where philosophical books and others were, was shocked, frightened, and humiliated. Somebody, he felt, bought “his” book. And how long did he wait for that book? He would always open it, but looking at the price— €20!—would shamefully close it, thinking, its okay, nobody will buy this brick of a book anyway. But somebody did, and now that book, like many books, will remain a desire, only to be forgotten.

Because Igor Prostakovich is not a man who that book is for…he bought a cheap book of poetry, and another one, grumbling over Thucydides in his head. Above him were the sounds of chatting. Some teenagers were giggling as they were going down, three lads, talking about “The English Section.” Looking for “some Handmaid.” Igor Prostakovich, with his loud, uncharismatic voice, told them, “Margaret Atwood.” The lads turned around, and he climbed up, smiling.

There were two women in their fifties or sixties just buying, buying, buying…when they arrived and asked is there anything new, the young employee, a girl, laughed and said they already read everything. Of course they did. Igor Prostakovich watched as the young lady was recommending books; for instance, some Ante Tomich, whoever that is, or Kafka, Bukowski, but they just bought everything. Their hands were full. Igor Prostakovich felt as if he was watching that bookstore function as intended while he was the one not meant to be inside. And they were loud too. Women…

The man with glasses was kneeling in front of the books he wanted to buy and pulling out book after book after book, and of course, he even looked intelligent. The man with glasses and a beard, jeans and long jacket, with a bag across his shoulder, like those laptop handbags or whatever. But he was standing in front of the books Igor Prostakovich wanted to see but was too embarrassed to say. It was another sense of humiliation he couldn’t quite explain. The fact that Thucydides disappeared was still fresh in his mind as he perused through the books, feeling almost a kind of desolate hatred of it all. Because Igor Prostakovich was not meant to read. And he shouldn’t have started in the first place.


He doesn’t even remember how it started; he was younger and felt certain emptiness inside, or even a thirst. He started to read, embarrassed to even share it with others that he reads…his customers were those types occasionally while he was driving around. One of the security officers had a stack of books which he, out of sheer boredom, started reading. The gravediggers considered it ridiculous. “Dig the ditch, Prostakovich! No use idling about for men like us!”

Well, it happened, but what also happened is his taste was morbid and unnatural. Aristotle, Plato, Schopenhauer. Not meant for him anyway. He just doesn’t look, or feels, like a reader; in fact, he is the type the books especially warn against: the rustic man, the primitive fellow, uncouth, unwashed, filthy clothes. And it was true. He always wore some filthy track suit and his wild, untamed beard was overflowing. An almost beautiful, classically beautiful man, bursting with strength which is almost pointless and even dangerous. Because that strength overpowered his beauty, his almost marble-like face always had a certain excessive brutality just where it shouldn’t. His eyes were too deep in the skull, the nose, classical but sharp at the tip, lips meaty but pulled downwards…Igor Prostakovich always looked like a criminal holding his tears. And he couldn’t even speak like everyone else…nothing interested him, nothing. Books; now books were something of a revelation to him. In fact, Igor Prostakovich, I can openly say, was a tutor’s dream: something strong, and brutal, cunning but not low. That type of man in some different society would go into a bookstore with a certain spring in his gait. In fact, the night before, Igor Prostakovich couldn’t sleep waiting to buy a book! And that book was Neon Blues.

Over the years, he educated himself, our Igor Prostakovich. And it wasn’t easy; it wasn’t the capital where books you want are there to find. Some books were only in the English section, so he started reading n English. Some books were beyond him, so after reading them, he couldn’t figure them out; you needed a deeper introductory knowledge into them. Aristotle was his revelation, his starting point. But those books were as rare as they come.

He read Metaphysics first, then Topics, Nicomachean Ethics, and he wanted more, the thirst was rioting inside of him. That unexplainable to him five years before irrational, mad thirst was keeping him awake. How to get Aristotle’s books? In the biggest bookstore, “Lagum,” he could order books online, and he did: Metaphysics and Topics. All the others were sold out. What is in those books? He felt, for some reason, he needs to know, what? What happened during the Peloponnesian War? Where is Thucydides?

Then, Igor Prostakovich ordered one online, from home. It was Aristotle’s Analytics. When the parcel arrived, the lad delivering it had a certain confused, smirking look on his face. Signing the paper, giving the money, receiving the packed parcel, he felt it was heavy. Well, of course, Aristotle writes those brick-like books, of course it is heavy. Mad with joy, Igor Prostakovich opened the parcel and saw a brick.


It was a brick, not a brick-like book…€20 gone for a brick. He grabbed it, and with full force, slammed his head against it, yelling: “Aristotle! Analytics! Aristotle! Analytics! Foolish Igor Prostakovich! Stupid Igor Prostakovich!” until the brick cracked in the middle and under his strength while his forehead was scratched and bleeding. Even after this, Igor Prostakovich was not harmed; physically, that is.

It was a somber, cooling effect. Someone sent him a brick. Someone laughed and giggled while sending him a brick and then vanished. So, Igor Prostakovich decided to buy it himself, whatever it took. Too scared to go to the capital, he would return to the town of his youth. But he was out of money and the thirst was there, gnawing at him. Aristotle was nowhere to be found. Igor Prostakovich was a strange person…he would actually, with every book bought, carefully weigh how much money he has left until the next paycheck. He even went into his small stash more frequently simply because, well, the thirst was there, but the satisfaction wasn’t. Devastated, he promised never to be swindled again and swore off buying books online. Even if he could buy it off of a publisher’s store, he was scared. Scared it’s not meant for Igor Prostakovich—that man, with the glasses, ah, he buys books like this…

Igor Prostakovich bought two cheap books in Lagum, then went to the next bookstore and, seeing a very rare book, by Danilo Kish, bought it and immediately regretted it. As he was walking out, there was not a spring in his gait, and no joy. He spent too much. Down to a quarter of his salary. Walking out, with a heavy fit of cough, phlegm burst out of his mouth and fell on his tracksuit and Igor Prostakovich wanted to die of shame. With his meaty hand, he wiped it off, but had no wipe, so, kneeling down, wiped it on the pavement, pretending to tie his shoelaces while red in the face.

After that, feeling famished, he went to a place he usually frequents, some bistro. It was Friday and his eyes were glued to all manner of delicacies: Vienna steaks, pork-chops, baker’s bread, simmered and fried potatoes, but they were offering lasagna. He couldn’t recall the last time he ate it, so he bought it, a small slice, and immediately regretted it when he heard the price. For the price of a small piece of lasagna, which he ate in three bites, he could have gotten two small Vienna steaks, potatoes, and a salad. Feeling like a spendthrift, Igor Prostakovich quickly stood up, grabbed his plastic bag with his books, and walked out.


Books, for Igor Prostakovich are something of an enigma. Reading all those foreign authors, he never gave a chance to the local ones, considering them beneath him. Following for a few years their petty literary and political disputes, he felt they are all just like him, only worse, because literary men shouldn’t talk like that. What does it matter when Igor Prostakovich, the fool, talks nonsense? It doesn’t. But, when those authors write nonsense, get awards, live a comfy life while doing nothing? Igor Prostakovich felt it is a great shame. If he couldn’t differentiate between himself and those up top, wasn’t it proof they, not him, were an even bigger embarrassment?

So, feeling it is pointless to read native amateurs, in comparison with European authors, he never gave them a chance; in fact, what he couldn’t forgive him was their similarity to him. Gathering up his courage, one day he went to one of the larger towns to try and track down Analytics. He couldn’t go to the capital; too big and menacing it was for him. So off he went, sitting in the bus, not quite sure why.

Finding the book, once again, Prostakovich fell into despair: €30. And he only brought 20 to spend. Go in, go out. There was no abridged version; even the English version was expensive, when they are usually very cheap. In one bookstore, as he walked in, he heard subdued laughter—looking around he saw a bunch of students looking his way, whispering something. One of them approached, and told him: “You lookin’ for some book, huh? What about this one?” That stranger handed Igor Prostakovich a book called The Little Peasant by Grimm, laughing all the way to the exit even as Igor Prostakovich was holding that book. A minute later, he understood the meaning and, putting the book down as nicely as he could, walked out, never buying Aristotle’s Analytics. That book, he recalled, was something similar to Thucydides’: you either get it while it’s there or regret it, and if you buy it, you regret it all the same.


There were other places, too, where a person could quench his thirst. Like the only gallery in town. He once went in, looking at the paintings, but for some reason, the lights went out. Through the semi-open door of the office, he could hear, “Have you no heart? That man is looking around.” to which someone responded: “Like I care, just look at him.” Igor Prostakovich then looked around in the murky haze of the autumn noon scared for some reason, even to breathe, but pride won out. Pride won out and he swore never to go inside that gallery again—but it was right next to Lagum and had huge, tall, see-through windows through which Igor Prostakovich, curious, couldn’t help but peek.

He never went in of course after such rude behavior, but he did wonder: why did the lights go out for him and not for someone else. Igor Prostakovich knew he is no looker, but how does he look then? After that day, you couldn’t find a blemish on his clothing. Igor started wearing jeans and leather shoes and, feeling good, decided he wanted to go into his local theatre.
And he never went into it. He lived in his hometown for some 15 years; he was nearing 30 and wanted to go and see a play, but was always terrified. What is inside? Will they let him in? Can ordinary people even go in? He was not ordinary before, in his youth, but became ordinary so…how do you buy a ticket?

It was a famous local play; the artist was from the capital and Igor Prostakovich dressed to the nines. Shoes, jeans, buttoned shirt and jacket. It felt like a new experience; why, he almost looked like some of those men visiting Lagum. He would walk in, bravely, buy a ticket—naturally—and sit and watch something pretty unique. People on a stage doing who knows what.

He didn’t know how to buy a ticket. Passing through the entrance, he saw the artist shaking hands with people who were, in the end, still different and he couldn’t quite figure out why. He stood out—everyone was dressed in track suits and sportswear, men were tattooed and had silly haircuts, while the girls had a certain modern style and flashy colors, of hair, clothing, nails. In fact, everyone looked, Prostakovich thought, like a bum. So suddenly, he was the odd man out. And the artists, standing in a circle almost blocking the entrance it appeared to him were gazing his way, curious and puzzled. He tried not to look their way, but the artist pushed through the crowd and shook hands with him, asking him does he have an interest in theatre. It was an anti-governmental play against the growing barbarism of society—the artist took a long look at Prostakovich’s clothing—which would help to bring about more intellectual consciousness against petty nationalist provincialism and middle-class values. The artist said this with a certain smug hatred, insinuating to Igor Prostakovich with his eyes that he sees right through him and after that came something similar to an interrogation. What does he think about Beckett? Prostakovich couldn’t just say: who the hell is Beckett? He just mumbled, not bad, so-so. And about Molière? Prostakovich feigned knowledge, but was getting red in the face, people were watching; the artist took control. Then, after a long, painful interrogation, the artist asked: “Are you sure you are in the right place?”

Igor Prostakovich wanted to die of shame. His clothing, what he believed a decent look, meant he is somehow indecent. And then it hit him: he is what the play is against.


For all installments of “The Debasement of Igor Prostakovich,” click here.