“Snow Powder” / Brad Lancaster

In his collection of short stories entitled Infidelities: Stories of War and Lust, Josip Novakovich writes one piece called Snow Powder. In this story, a young boy named Mirko lives in his village as an outsider at school due to his common habit of flaunting his knowledge in class. The kids tease him and even the girl he likes plays love games with him just for the sake of causing him pain. Mirko is fond of skiing and one day he decides to skip class and heads up the hill to ski, where he encounters and encampment of Serbians that have surrounded his village with guns and cannons. The Serbs tell Mirko if he brings them plum brandy they will spare his family in their plan to bomb the town.  Feeling powerful ith his hidden knowledge, Mirko warns none and attempts to smuggle the brandy up the hill. However, this father catches him and beats him. This causes Mirko to resent his school, his friends and even his family. In the end, Mirko joins the Serb Army and helps them bomb his town, with the end quote that he had “…found the best job in the world for a boy.” The main idea of Novakovich’s piece is that choice will always present itself no matter the situation, but what the right choice is can only be determined after a path has been chosen.

Snow Powder is rife with choice. Novakovich himself has to make several choices as he wrote this piece, but the chief one of these decisions is ultimately whether Mirko would warn his town or join the Serbian Army. In making this choice, Novakovich had to rely upon the character he had crafted to make it for him. Having created Mirko, Novakovich had to write the choice that he, not Mirko, would make. He was able to do this by examining Mirko as a character, largely due to the way he had characterized the young boy. It is characterization that defines Novakovich’s craft and his choices as a writer in this story.

Mirko is very smart and almost wise beyond his years. A good instance of this is here: “She opened the grade book and with her trembling and swollen hand she wrote a large A in red. But that did not make Mirko happy — the world was melting away; what was a grade compared with the world?” This shows how Mirko thinks quite beyond his years for a boy of his age. While most children would be thrilled at receiving а high grade, Mirko is displeased because his one little grade does nothing to solve the problems of the world. But this does not make Mirko a fully rational character. While he is very smart, Novakovich adds another layer to his characterization of Mirko by making him very receptive to the emotions of others. This is exhibited by Mirko’s relationships with his school crush Bojana and his father at home. Novakovich, through Mirko, describes Bojana as having “a wonderful iciness about her.” That line shows how despite his high intellect, Mirko can still be captured by the outward appearancesof others, and ultimately deeply affected by them when those emotions don’t turn out to be true.

In leading up to his choice, Novakovich continues to play on the emotions of Mirko. His
forethought continues to be shown when Mirko first encounters the Serbs. They instruct Mirko to return with plum brandy, to which Mirko quickly asks: “What if I don’t come back?” His lack of fear to question the army with cannons looming over his town may be due to his age, but Novakovich’s earlier instances of characterizing Mirko as someone not afraid to question the world make this interaction between the boy and the Serbs very entertaining to watch unfold. But, as before, Mirko’s receptiveness to emotion gets in the way of his thinking, In the end, it is what trumps his better judgmemt. Novakovich sets up two instances in the story that contribute to Mirko’s ultimate choice. One, when Mirko fails to answer a question in class, Bojana turns her back on him and even washes away their first kiss shared together. Two, his father severely beats him after discovering Mirko was trying to smuggle plum brandy out of the town In response to this, Mirko says: “His father could not know that his son was saving him, but now Mirko would not tell him, out of spite. If Father could not suspect good intentions, if he needed to talk and accuse, the hell with him.” These two lines show how Mirko’s judgment can be quickly clouded by one bad interaction. His father’s actions ride in on the tail on Bojana’s betrayal, making Mirko’s rational conscience muddled by both events.

On his way to the hill to make his choice, Mirko’s emotions are exemplified by his
thoughts of Bojana. He says: “The girl who played love games, which were actually, he was
sure, hate games.” By the time Mirko makes it to the hilltop where the Serbs await his answer, Novakovich has set Mirko up to be someone who while rational is consistently bogged down by his inflammatory feelings towards others. This is what ultimately makes Novakovich’s choice for him. In the moment, due to his incendiary reactions, Mirko wishes to bomb the town, and so he does. But then, after the fire subsides, he says: “He no longer hated her, no longer wanted revenge. What if he had just become a mass murderer?” His rationality returns and Novakovich conveys that by explicitly returning Mirko’s conscience to him after he’s committed the bombing. It is Novakovich’s characterization of Mirko that makes his choices for him, and in the end, Snow Powder shows the reader that in the moment, something may seem like the right choice, but once that path has been walked, one could have made a dangerous mistake.


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