The Use of Man begins with a surprising discovery. At the end of World War II, Sredoje Lazukić, a victorious Partisan, returns to his hometown of Novi Sad. When he visits the house he grew up in and meets strangers who nervously show him around, he goes to find Milinko’s mother. Milinko’s girlfriend, Vera, was the daughter of a Jewish bookseller, and her house is now empty and open. To Sredoje’s surprise, he finds the diary of the German tutor that he, Milinko, and Vera all shared, Fräulein, who died on the operating table just before the war. The diary, written in a cheap notebook in Vera’s old room, details Fräulein’s lonely days and is labeled with the caption “Poésie. . . .”
The diary has survived, as have Sredoje, Vera, and Milinko. But what exactly has survived? A few years earlier, Sredoje, Vera, and Milinko were teenagers trying to understand life. They now know that life can be even crueler than death.
The Use of Man is a beautifully written and deeply moving novel, filled with stark poetry and immeasurable sadness. It is considered to be one of the greatest books of the 20th century.
It is indeed a great novel by a novelist who once said, of his childhood devotion to Proust and Mann, “I read them because they were interesting, not because they were great literature.”