Winters in the South by Norbert Gstrein
orginal title Die Winter im Süden,
Translators – Anthea Bell and Julian Evans
Source – review copy
Well Norbert Gstrein name was new to me when this book dropped through my door a few weeks ago ,but a quote from the great W G Sebald on Gstrein last book that was translated into english over ten years ago “an exceptional work of prose fiction” So Norbert Gstrein who is he Well he grew up in a small hidden village in the Tyrol in Austria ,his brother is a famous ski racer ,he was interested in maths early in his life ,he later studied it a university ,but after that took up writing it was his novel english years that first caught the eye that was his third this Winter in the South is his sixth of the seven he has written .
It was in her second month in Zagreb in the autumn the war began ,that the news reached Marija that made her life Foreign to her for ever .She had not set eyes on her father for more than forty – five years ,and had thought he was dead for almost as long, so at first she did not react at all to the advertisement that the neighbours had left outside her door and that couldn’t possibly have been from him.
the book opens as Marija world is thrown doubly into chaos .
Winter in the south ,is a book about people and war ,but more about two wars the second world war and the Balkan conflict .The two main people are Marija a women in her fifties whose marriage on rocky ground ,but is returning to her native Croatia and to Zagreb ,as this happens her father who fled leaving he Marija and her mother as he was a well-known Croatian fascist in the second world war ,he ran to Argentina .But the father is now drawn by the war and splitting of Yugoslavia and the return of Fascism maybe to Croatia ,also to get to know the daughter he hasn’t seen for over fifty years .But will she forgive ,is he to old for war ? Do people change ,where is home and what is important to people is it family or politics that matters ?
Whenever he felt like breathing some life into the stalemate of his Zagreb existence he talked about Buenos Aires in the same homesick way he talked about Croatia back in Argentina .
The father is maybe a man now with no homeland after he returns
This book is full of threads a classic piece of central European writing a book that dives into the soul of people and what drives them .The prose follows ,the father flight from Vienna after a killing in 1945 ,his following life in Argentina (having just read Gombrowicz diaries on his time in Argentina it was interesting to see a fictional take on living there ).Then there is his daughter life in the Croatia of the nineties that is beginning to drift towards the madness of war again .Gstrein shows both the personnel cost of war ,the story of a family broken apart after the second world war .But also the echos in the conflict in Yugoslavia that hark back to as the old wounds of world war two surfaced as the war began ,as the fact that the two major part of Yugoslavia had been on different sides in the war .Then the father why is this man in his seventies at ,east so willing to go to war again ?As many of you that read this blog on a regular basis know I have a soft spot for Balkan conflict stories and also for fiction set round Argentina ,due to time working in the nineties with many refugees in Germany from this war .Anthea Bell and Julian Evans have managed to make this complex work come alive in English and yet again another great selection from Machlehose one does wonder why it has been ten years between translations for a writer with seven novels and a number of prizes for his books ,He seems a hidden gem of Austrian writing .
Have you read his earlier book The English years ?