Review: 'A Spare Life'

Conjoined twins novel highlights notion of connectedness

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“A Spare Life” is the story of two sisters — twins conjoined at the temple — growing up in Macedonia as Yugoslavia falls apart. As Zlata and Srebra imagine a life as separate individuals, their homeland is separating from its neighboring regions as war rages.

Macedonian author Lidija Dimkovska, who is a former resident of the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program, was awarded the 2013 European Union Prize for Literature for “A Spare Life.” Christina Kramer, a professor of Slavic and Balkan languages and linguistics at the University of Toronto, has translated the book into English.

The book is narrated by Zlata, who longs for a spiritual life and loves literature. Srebra is agnostic at best and is interested in current events and the law as she seeks to understand the future of her country. Their joint life is one of conflict and compromise as well as loss and hope.

The book is both long and dense, developing slowly so that the reader is taken deep into the day-to-day experience of the twins. Zlata is forthcoming about her feelings, doubts, and hopes; Srebra, on the other hand, remains something of a mystery because we are not privy to her thoughts.

As the girls come of age, matters of sex and love come to the forefront, as does the opportunity for Zlata and Srebra to be separate. The final portions of the book are driven by what they decide and the results of that decision.

Throughout the book, the notions of separateness and connectedness — for individuals and for countries — are highlighted. “A Spare Life” is a meditation on the challenges of moving forward together and apart.


What: Lidija Dimkovska reads from “A Spare Life”

Where: Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City

When: 7 p.m. Thursday ► , October 13 ◄

Cost: Free

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