Billiards at the Hotel Dobray by Dušan Šarotar

Billiards at the hotel Dobray by Dušan Šarotar

Slovenian fiction

Original title – Biljard v Dobrayu

Translator – Rawley Grau

Source – review copy

Anyone that follows this blog knows what a fan I was of the first book by Dusan to be translated into English Panorama it was one of those books that just lingered with me long after I read it and here is another by him an earlier book but an important book as it was one of the first by a Slovenian writer to deal with the plight of the Jewish population in Slovenia. It is a personal story as it incorporates his own grandfather’s story. A recent visit to our own UK holocaust museum in the summer which like this was full of personal history even sixty years later it is still important to remind the people of event this is told through a single building in a single town what Dusan does is use his personal history to tell a wider story of the events near the end of the second world war.

The old porcelain sky was polished to a shine, It lay motionless above the black earth. Like a coffee cup someone had long ago turned upside down on its saucer. Perhaps this was the work of many fortune tellers who read coffee grounds. Now the black sediment covered the sauce, and high above it, in the blue of the sky, only small traces could be seen, broken signs and msterieous shap[es, which only the ost inspired could interpret.That morning one of those women kept glancing at the black sludge as if she was looking at thesky; then she’d merely shake her head and spit outout a thick dollop of phlegm . She was sitting on the front steps of the Hotel Dobray

Such an evocative descriptive passage here.

The Hotel Dobray of the title was one of those imposing Hotels that many small cities and places have around Europe. This is settled in the town of Sobota which is in the northeastern corner of Slovenian between three countries it was occupied in the war by the Germans they left the Hungarians in charge of the town. The t=story is told from one man’s story which in a way is a wider story of the town. Franz Schwartz is walking back to the town after like all his fellow Jews having been forced out a year earlier. This was just as his son was having a bar mitzvah a talented violinist due to give a performance. The Hotel is housing a special tribunalJoszef the man doing this can see the writing on the wall he knowns the read army in the year from when the Germans arrived in 1944 to 45 and the Red Army expect any time. Then we have a factory owner and local character Josip and a prostitute Linna a former singer and like her friends in the brothel stuck in this sleep backwater as the war draws to its end.As we see Franz heading there and what has happened in that hard year.

The wind borne  byt the plain from the east dispersing the smoke from the station and distributing it noisily amoung the houses. It was then what ever hope Franz Schwartz still carried inside him collapsed. He knew that Ellsie and Izak would never again appear out of the fog. Here, for a long time to come, people would still be getting on  and off trains, embracing each other and saying teir farewells, but he would always be waiting. He alone would be walking across the tracks and watching for the train that would one day take him away, too

The day they left the town before he returned aloned.

This is the wonderful historic view of the writer’s hometown it must have hit a nerve as a few years after the book came out Murska Sobota put up its first memorial to the fallen Jews of the town. It has a woven tapestry of a small corner of Slovenia from one man’s story to a wider tale and a remembrance of a building and the characters that used it during those war years. The action is slow in this book I was reminded of the films of Bela Tarr the place although in Slovenia was once in Hungary this is another tale of a small town dealing with bigger issues like Tarr’s films and Krasznahorkai who writes most of the books they are based there is a an air of place in this book but also of a place struggling with change the loss of so much marks a place as Dasa Drndrc once said to me when the names of those lost Italian Jews were taken out of the Italian version of the book the fabric of the book fell apart like society itself. Another gem from Istros and Dusan worth reading as one man muses what has happened and what might have been.

January 2020
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