Hansen’s Children by Ognjen Spahic
Translator Will Firth
source – review copy
Ognjen Saphic is another from the wonderful new publisher Istros books .He is another young Montenegrin writer only 35 ,he has two collections of short stories and a this was his début novel .It won the Ovid prize in Romania (a prize for emerging talent ).He is currently writer in residence at university of Iowa for there international writer programm.This book has already been translated into another of othee languages .
Hnasens children is a clever slice of communism falling apart in the late 80’s ,the title comes from the name for Leprosy by some people call it Hansen’s disease ,Hansen was a scientist in Norway that discovered Mycobacterium leprae that causes leprosy .Anyway we are in Romania the totalitarian regime of Nicholae Ceausecu and to the very south-east of that country is a house and in that house is the last leper colony in europe .So we meet the house via the narrator of book who we are never told who he is only that he shares a room with an america with the condition called Duncan and another patient called zoltan that has been there for a very long time .But we just see the events in the house and in the greater Romania as a whole unfold and the very Stalinist regime in place was toppled .A country is falling apart and there is a feeling of the people in the house maybe having a chance of a new way of life .But as these glimpse of what might be happening the future , the outside world comes to them as violence and ultimately murder happens in the house .
In Centuries past we were blasted by all manner of christian anathemas ,which overlooked the fact that christianity itself was the main culprit for us rotting away in agony .It was none other than the crusaders ,returning from their campaigns at the beginning of the second millennium who introduced the disease to Europe
a historic insight in the book .
This is classic Balkan writing ,where everything is there in one book wit ,sadness,surrealism , friendship and horror .I saw a brief clip here on you tube where Spahic says his literary heirs are people like the great Ivo Andric .
I reminded of people like Conrad at times in this book this place is almost like heart of darkness in europe at times a world in chaos as the sane and insane struggle with reality as the rule of law goes when the regime falls chaos follows and we see how the people round the narrator cope with this sea change .And others the Hungarian writer like Krasznahoraki and Nadas ,as like them we see the communist world unfolding and the chaos of that ,but in this case all through the eyes of one man in a small leper colony by a toxic factory in a corner of Romania .The third part Spahic bring is leprosy itself we get little bits of the history of leprosy the colony itself and the man Hansen that discovered the cause of it all those years ago .Even now this is greatly misunderstood condition that cause it users to be hidden by regimes like the Romanian one ,in a way I was reminded of the scenes in Walter Salles film the motorcycle diaries where we see Che Guevara in a leper colony in south america .That is all squeezed somehow into 151 pages giving a book that seems longer to the reader and lasts in your head for a long time after you have finished .Will firth and Istros have brought another gem to the english speaking world .