Belladonna by Daša Drndić

Belladonna by  Daša Drndić

Croatian fiction

Original title Belladonna

Translator Celia Hawkesworth

Source – Review copy

As I said in yesterday’s post , I’d be back in Croatia today with one of my favourite writers Dasa is someone I was lucky enough to have met when her first book in English was shortlisted for the old IFFP . Ispent a good hour talking books and lit with her so this book is no surprise as one of the things we talked about is how important books can be at highlighting the darker side of the world we live in and this is something she felt English novels miss somewhat. Dasa is a writer in various ways radio plays , short piece for Croatian magazines like work , savremenik and literary word.

His name is Andreas Ban

He is a psychologist who does not psycholoise any more

A writer who no longer writes.

He is a tourist guide who no longer guides anyone anywhere.

A swimmer who has not swum for a long time.

He has other occupations that no-one any longer needs , he least of all

He is sixty- five , he looks pretty good, like fifty

Andreas is treading water in his life when the end of his career comes.

 

The hero of this book is Andreas Ban , a writer , psychologisvt and what one would say is a intellctual in every sense of the word. But he is now in that last third of his life facing retirement and this is his life from them . Looking back on the past and trying to see what brought him to the point he is at.Now the title of this book has a varied meaning in part it is best shown in the croat cover where the cover has an eye with a drop , which is what Belladonna is used for to help open the eye but also on the cover Belladonna is written in red the colour of bloood and also in Braile below. I feel this gives the really meaning of the book it is a look back on the blood of his home land  both in a fictional sense and also in the sense of real history in the use of  history again like in her earlier work Dasa use list of names to amplify the lost sense of history . I know this is something Dasa is passionate about using the horrors of the past to shine a light on the way Europe seems to be going blind into a new right-wing world . Any way we see this through Andres Ban eyes a man who has become a piece in a machine an email tells him he has left his job then he becomes ill and feels like a piece in a machine in this ever quickening world .Maybe the answer is in the title for what Andreas has to do !

For a year and a half , the angel of death (Mengele) keep his seven dwarves in a human zoo and examines their insides.

The worst were the gynecological experiments.They would tie us to a table and the systematic torture could begin. We got shots into our womb, they took blood from us, samples of our flesh and fluid from our spinal cords, they pierced and cut us, pulled out our hair, examined our brain , our nose , our mouth, our legs and arms, they dug around and drilled through us in the name of those who will come .I am Elizabeth

A passage about past hours that reminds us of the dark not so distant past we had .

 

 

It is hard not to sing the praises of Dasa , after you meet her she is articulate passionate and one of those writers you meet and know you will love all their books. I also feel the same feeling she does the growing right-wing nature of the world we live in is one we are slowly going into and with out books like this to remind us of what is around us .Like in here earlier books she blends fiction and non fiction and the use of list of names is as powerful as when she used it in Trieste as she said to me when you remove these names from the book it becomes unstable and unbalanced and that is what happens in the world when these people are killed for no reason. Dasa is one of the great writer one that needs to be more widely read !!

 

Hair everywhere by Tea Tulic

Hair Everywhere by Tea Tulic

Croatian Fiction

Original title – Kosa posvuda

Translator – Coral Petkovich

Source – Review copy

I return with a couple of novels from Croat the first her is a debut prize-winning novel , from one of my favourite publishers Istros books. Young Tea Tulic , took her own life experience of losing her mother and wove it into this novel. Tea was born and grew up in the Croat city of Rijeka and has written many short piece in Serbian ,Croat and Macedonia. This won the Croat book prize for the best young writer. She said in an interview one of her influences  and mentor is  the great Dasa Drndic whose latest book I review tomorrow and was also thanked by Tea in this book.

When I was a t primary school, I was allowed to keep little freshwater turtles as pets. I fed them with dried shrimps. I put a green plastic palm in the aquarium for them, to make them feel more at home. They never grew big because they fell ill – Their shells became soft. I massaged the shells with butter, but it didn’t help. I buried all six of them in a big park, in matchboxes.After the last burial I said to my parents: Don’t ever give me those dying animals again .

In the piece another pet dies but maybe it also echoes the slow death of her mother.

Hair everywhere is a collection of short pieces a mosaic of a novel , called by its publisher a fragmented novel . It follows the daughter of woman , whom is dying and also has an elderly  grand parent who she is trying to look after keep alive. Then there is recurring items , Hair on the head of people , on the floor and clothes when it as fallen out. The passion flowers . A dream about a snake and a selection of Pets she had that all either died or disappeared , the colour purple are all motifs in this book . This is a child voice and mind dealing with a sick parent but also what lies past that. I flew through this book it is a real page turner I read it in one sitting.

When mum opened the drain in the bathtub and pulled a lump of hair from it, she said to me “Look, this is your bloody hair ! I’ll cut it short”. In her wet hands were long brown strands, once adored , now loathed. It’s like having a dog in the house!”Once we did have a dog in the house. I found him in the fron of school and brought him home while Mum and Dad were at work .  He ate all the soup and bread. He was big and hungry, as was Dad that evening . So he had to go

Hair and a pet both motifs , also never mention is cancer of the reason for the hair lose , so like a child.

This is a touching account of dealing with a parents death , I know this experiences so well having lost but my mother and step mother in the last few year. So still raw this detached child like voice drifting between the everyday , past and present with her mother in and out of hospital reminded me so much of my own recent past the lonely nights the thought of our shared past in this case through a selection of pets. Tea has also released a spoken word album, I can see a connection between her work and music This has the same feel of confessional lyrics that many of my favourite singers have especially Mark Kozelek , this is a bare voice stripped and telling snippets of  a life twirling out of control as the shadow of death drifts over their lives until the end comes and all you can do is buy some purple shoes for your late mother. Touching elegant prose beautifully sketching the last few months of three generations of a female hierachy. Tea manages to do what Mark Haddon did so brilliantly and that is capture a child’s voice at the worst time of their lives , that way of seeing and not seeing \mum is ill but no mention of the treatment and reason she lost her hair.

Thank you for not reading by Dubravka Ugresic

thanks you for not reading

Thank you for not reading by Dubravka Urgesic

Croatian non fiction

original title – Zabranjeno čitanje

Translator – Celia Hawkesworth

Source – personnel copy

At the record company meeting
On their hands – a dead star
And ooh, the plans that they weave
And ooh, the sickening greed
At the record company party
On their hands – a dead star
The sycophantic slags all say:
“I knew him first, and I knew him well”
Re-issue! Re-package! Re-package!
Re-evaluate the songs

Paint a vulgar picture by the smiths is about how music is a product .

I mention this book a week or so ago and how blown away by it I was .Ugresic had long been on my list of writers to get too , so when this work of essays and observations on writing was in a recent sale at waterstones in Nottingham ,I couldn’t resist it . Dubravka Ugresic studied Russian literature at Zagreb , she  has written a number of novels  her best known books in the jaws of life , described as post modern .She  left Yugoslavia in 1993 ,since then she has lived in the US and most recently the Netherlands .

What does this all have to do with literature ? Almost nothing .Then why mention something as trivial as Joan Collins pink suit ? Because trivia has swamped contemporary literary life and become , it seems more important than the books .A books blub is more important than the book itself , the author’s photograph on the book jacket is more important than it’s content , the authors appearance in wide circulation newspapers and on tv is more important than what that author has actually written .

Joan Collins or any celeb writing a novel is just the sad state of books and reading .

Thank you for not reading is a collection of essays all based around books , the market for books and her observations on coming to the west to promote her books . , it starts when she is at the london book fair in the 90s and the fair is being opened by Joan Collins . This is the first of a number of observations by her of what is the market force lead western , well english book market . This is contrast with her memories of growing up under Tito where books and writers where values how the soviet system treated writers in one way and then in other ways both good and bad but they were valued for what they wrote not who they were !

Milan Kundera wrote that one day , when everyone writes , nobody will listen .The markets , it seems , is creating utopia .But nevertheless , in the whole commercial whirlgig , there is a sad and paradoxical truth :glamour is a populist longing , a sign of absence .Literacy can have an aura of glamour only where literacy does not exist .

I agree with this statement , literacy is so important !

A breif description as it is more my reaction to this book that is what I want to talk about as for me it touches on a point about books that I often go on about , but feel I struggle to get across . I will give an example that mirrors the book I was at the recent launch of Olja Savicevic book Farewell cowboy , which was being filmed t=by the Croatian news to be broadcast on the evening news .There was an air of surprise when I pointed out that this wouldn’t happen here in the uk .Like this book it is a sign of what books have become and this is my constant point the big selling books and writers now can like Urgesic observed can be celeb writings or celeb writers (if you know what I mean !).But the flip of this is what I call “Adding to the critical discussion on books in translation or in general  ” that is raising books to high culture thus making them seem unreadable or unobtainable to the masses  . I mean just today we are talking about giving every kid a library card .It is not just that gets people reading it is making books seem interesting not adding to a critical discussion on books !!  An example  would  be John Buchan was the most wide read writers in the trenches of Flanders when the Everyman was reading his books . Now Buchan is considered a literary writer , but back then was read by the masses , so I agree with Urgesic view that making writers seem like heroes but heroes we can touch ,so in one book she has touched on so much that makes me blow my top the putting of books on high peaks whilst promoting drape books to the masses , it is our right to choose what we want to read not to be told book a is right because we come from a certain social or educational background Jesus would you have been the one top grab the 39 steps out of the hands of the Tommy because they couldn’t add to the critical discussion of books !! I have drift into arant her but isn’t that what a great book can make you do . For me this is the heart of why I read books from around the world knowledge is free to all well here and too most readers of this blog so don’t let books scare you because you are told they may be high culture .This book is funny and possibly ahead of its time when it was written .

Leica Format by Daše Drndić

 

 

Leica Format

Leica Format by Daše Drndić

Croatian fiction

Translator – Celia Hawkesworth

Original title – Leica Format

Source review copy

Sixteen years
Sixteen banners united over the field
Where the good shepherd grieves
Desperate men, desperate women divided
Spreading their wings ‘neath falling leaves.

Fortune calls
I stepped forth from the shadows to the marketplace
Merchants and thieves, hungry for power, my last deal gone down
She’s smelling sweet like the meadows where she was born
On midsummer’s eve near the tower.

The cold-blooded moon
The captain waits above the celebration
Sending his thoughts to a beloved maid
Whose ebony face is beyond communication
The captain is down but still believing that his love will be repaid.

Dylans changing of the guard is about his journey as this book is a journey for a place

Well I promised you all a second Croatian novel this week and another from a female Croatian writer , that I have met . I was lucky met and spoke quite a bit too Dasa at the IFFP when he first book in english was up for the prize  .She is quite a character and had a lot to say about lit around europe . So when the chance has come to read a second book by her . I am excited as she is considered one of the leading lights of modern Croatian fiction a real heavyweight writer .This is her second title she has written more than 11 books so we have a lot more to come .

This town has many constricted parts , lots of small organs  , it has an appendix .

When I think about this town , that is , about life in this town , my stomach begins to churn , my jaws clicks like a padlock , it closes up , I turn my eyes away although they never rest on anything  anymore , I shake my head , I don’t yet rock backwards or forwards , I don’t sway , cowering in the corner of my empty white room like people in films , not yet . I don’t yet hum , that’s the current situation

I love Dasa passages like this that drift off

I wondered where the title for this came from so I translated a number of interviews with Dasa from the net using Google translate . I knew Leica is a camera and format is the prefered style of picture for documentary photographers .Dasa has described this book as in the style of documentary photos snapshots of a city . The book is a story in fragments we dive in and out of people’s lives it is the story of the city from those newly arrived to those who have lived in the city for years . It is a story of secrets people not being whom they seem a woman on a train told she isn’t who she thought she was ? Dark secrets leak out like the drains in the cities .The book unfolds as a history fo all the dark deeds of the 20th century .How this once proud city has become insular and smaller over the century .The city reflects the whole region in a way .

Don’t trust your memory , your memory is a net full of holes , the past and the present slip through it everything slips through your memory , your memory is a hole .

How true is this passage .

I loved the style of this book one of the interviews I translated compared it too Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Doblin , the great german novel that capture that city so well and yes it has a bit of that , one could also compare this book to  something like Italo  Calvino’s   book invisible cities . This is a book of parts a mosaic so to speak that mix style of story and narrative like say John Dos Passos had used in his epic book USA .Of course Dasa has captured her homeland that has seen so much of what happened in the 20th century from the start of world war one , being involved in world war two Tito and then the break up of Yugoslavia .This is one of those books you need to read to know about it is so full of ideas strings and characters .

Have you  favourite female writer from the Balkans ?

 

Farewell , Cowboy by Olja Savičević

Farewell , cowboy by  Olja Savičević

Croatian fiction

Original title – Adio  kauboju

Translator – Celia Hawkesworth

Source review copy

 

I seem to recognize your face
haunting, familiar, yet i can’t seem to place it
cannot find the candle of thought to light your name
lifetimes are catching up with me
all these changes taking place, i wish i’d seen the place
but no one’s ever taken me
hearts and thoughts they fade, fade away…
hearts and thoughts they fade, fade away…
i swear i recognize your breath
memories like fingerprints are slowly raising
me, you wouldn’t recall, for i’m not my former
it’s hard when, you’re stuck upon the shelf
i changed by not changing at all, small town predicts my fate
perhaps that’s what no one wants to see
i just want to scream…hello…Now

I think the lyrics in this old pearl Jam song elderly woman behind echo Dada return to the town .

 

I have met both the writer and translator of this book earlier this year at London book fair and had intend to blog about it then as things are and rather like this book family happens and things go astray .Olja Savičević is an award-winning poet and novelist , she has six collection of poetry this was her debut novel and was a huge hit in Croatia already been made into a stage play over there . A part of this was used in the Dalkey archive best of european fiction collection in 2014 .

This business with the cowboys was my father’s doing . He started it , and somehow it was his story . Everyone else in Yugoslavia liked Indians best , apparently because our most popular TV series , which had Winnetou , the indian boy as the hero . It was only much later that cowboys came into their own .

Why everyone liked Indians in the Old Yugoslavia

 

Farewell , cowboy is the story of a brother and sister Dada and Daniel . Dada has returned to her hometown to find out what has happened to her beloved brother .This small seaside town in post war Croatia is seeing the first signs of  people from outside the country starting to buy property in this town , add to this a film crew is making a western Dada needs to find out why her brother killed himself by throwing himself under a train . She meets a band of eccentric characters as she starts to piece together her brothers last few months  whilst seeing the broken town see grew up in and mixing her memories with the broken and changing childhood town so badly scared by the war .

Daniel , my brother , died in his eighteenth year , by jumping from a concrete bridge over the railway under a speeding Osijek -Zagreb – Split intercity train .

He hadn’t appeared at school that morning , he had turned off towards the highway , beside the dry stream , then under it through the secret tunnel beneath the road and along the well know gravel path to the railway . I can imagine it clearly

Dada recalls how Daniel lost his life .

Lost men is a theme in this book the siblings own father has disappeared many years ago , he was a fan of Cowboys when a strange thing in Croatia most people who watch western films connected with the Indians in the films not the Cowboys . Of course the film industry paid a huge part in pre civil war Yugoslavia with TITO attracting and encouraging  film crews many of the great western films of the sixties and seventies were filmed in Yugoslavia .I would recommend the film Cineman Komunisto , which Susan from Istros books suggest I watch , so I did it shows how Tito used films  control people but also the great filmmakers from Yugoslavia that appeared  . Anyway back to the book Daniel seems to be in some ways an everyman for the lost innocence of a generation that was involved with the war and the way many men where missing from this generation brother fathers and husbands .Dada is like an old fashion private investigator trying to find out the clues to her brother’s death , in fact in some ways I was reminded of Twin peaks with some of the odd characters she meets along the way . A novel about a country on the cusp of what is to come just after the last bombs and deaths , the new money just coming and old wounds waiting to heal Olja captures what it is like to be a Woman in a country where the men have gone .

Have you a favourite Croatian Novel ?

 

 

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