Canzone di Guerra by Daša Drndić

Canzone di Guerra

Croatian fiction

Original title – Canzone di Guerra

Translator – Celia Hawkesworth

Source – Review copy

When I heard that Susie had decided to publish some of Dasa back catalogue those books that had come out before her success with Trieste. I was very excited as many of you may know I did meet dad at the old IFFP award when she was shortlisted in 2013 this brief meeting we spoke maybe for half an hour maybe a bit more I was shocked she had read the blog but she was one of these people that this blog had given me chance to meet people I would never come across in my every day life in fact when ever I have doubts about this endeavour to cover world literature and books in translations, which is quite often it is those moments like meeting dad that spur me on. she was a writer that need to be read she saw what was over the Horizon even when we meet she saw the tide of the right was over in the distance and as she had done in her books she has always used the past as a way of highlighting the future. Her we have a woman tracing her own families past but also that of the culture she is from.

There is a Lot of literature about pigs, there is almost no genre of the written word into which pigs have not worked their way. They are found in science(Veterinary, biological, medical) in literature (essays, poetry, belles-lettres), not to mention film and painting. As far as life is concerned, here too, in our everyday life, pigs are all around us, and their destiny in the development of civilisation and technology is increasingly bizarre. The bizarre destiny of pigs is our reality

Even an intro on the section about pigs makes you as a reader think (for me I was remind of the film A private function set in the aftermath of the war in England that had a big at the heart of its story)

This book is made up of a collection of factual and fictional stories that at it heart sees the main character in the book Tea Radan a single mother who many years earlier had relocated to Canada to Toronopte as she tries to look at the emigrant life and those in the country around her. (Dasa had some interesting thought on Canada in the after word there is her description of Canada not the most favourable and full of what I remember of her when I met her that mind) She blends things like Pigs as animals to keep and how they effect society from how we keep them how they were Kept in Tito’s Yugoslavia. What we make of the pigs.This leads Tea to her grandfather a man that like to write to Tito ( I always interested with how Tito’s influence over those post – war years loom large but what at the heart of this book is the two events at the start of Tito reign which is the aftermath of the holocaust and we she in typical Dasa style as she shows how those that we involved with the events. of the holocaust escaped the war an we see how they came to Canada (It is hard to accept the dream of free Canada and then we see events like those that on a ship in 1939 that went from place to place as those on board lost hope) I love this as hot is so much of Dasa the person it is about what makes us tick but also she shows us about what has been and what is to come. It is about being lost in your own life and but also lose of identity.

In the course of the last four years, Sara and I have undergone three migrations. A lot of books have been written about migrations about leaving one’s country, about exile, some very stupid, propaganda, some very intelligent. But all those books state clearly that migration is both dying and being born, that it is a very complex phenomenon, hard to comprehend for anyone who has not experienced it.Our arrival in Rijeka from Belgrade, where I had spent forty years of my life and Sara almost all nine of hers, did not fundamentally from our arrival in Toronto.

The truth of being in Exile described so many times in literature !!

I as always find it hard to describe this as it isn’t a liner novel,  is a documentary novel ( a book of lives shown in pieces a mosaic of a world and lives) in the style of writers like Kluge (I could have said Sebald, but for me it is nearer Alexander  Kluge in the way she like to keep hitting at the spot and that is the spot of a warning this book is over 25 years old but in a way is more relevant now with a new wave of refugees from Ukraine we see how previous  waves of those trying to escape war have suffered in what is the real treatment of refugees and the way we portray how we treat refugees this gap is what is at the heart of the book.Those people caught ion those situation from those involved and trying to escape the holocaust and the aftermath of World War Two to those in the 90s trying to escape the horrors of the Yugoslav wars. At the heart of this is Tea ( a thinly veiled dasa) her family that were effected by both these events and the question of what makes us and what is our story. I mention Kluge as he brilliant in his use if  vigenettes and sometimes footnotes like this book does . In his book 30th April 1945 a book about that day when Hitler shot himself and what was going on around the world at that exact moment. Well this takes that moment the tatters of the war and west the aftermath this is that event taken out in one thread from before the event the horror of world war two to the present which now is 25 years ago ( or is it !!!!) because as we see here those events recalled in the past look so much like the future and that is what made Dasa one of the most important writers of her generation as she never turned to be popular or to be linear or to be easy no she told the truth, she saw what was coming as she had seen it so many times before but unlike others hadn’t a sort of cultural amnesia of the past or even a rose coloured glove of the past no this is the truth this is a written like Hogarth in his depiction of the world she lived in  or Goya in his disasters of war Dasa showed us a world warts and all one we want to look away from but one we should really look straight on at !! Have you a favourite book from Dasa ?

Winstons score – ++++A On of my all time favourite books already along with her other books

Special needs by Lada Vukić

Special needs by Lada Vukić

Croatian fiction

Original title – Specijalna potreba

Translator – Christina Pribichevich- Zoric

Source – review copy

I looked forward to this as it had a child with a disability as its main character as I  feel there aren’t enough narratives with people with disablities and when I read Emil the lead character was an elective mute,  although his view of the world around him to me would put him on the autistic spectrum. many years ago I worked with a man similar to Emil a mute he has a great sense of humour and reading this reminded me of him and he like Emil maybe had great hearing as he loved music. This is the first book by Lada to be translated into English. She published short stories around the web and in magazines and won a number of prizes for her work this book her debut novel won a prize as the best-unpublished work in 2016.

My name is Emil and I’m ten years old. The same as the number of fingers I have when I count them one by one, hiding my hand under my school desk and counting. I don’t know what will happen when I reach eleven. I don’t mean fingers. I mean eleven years of age. How will I count then? The teachersays that fingers have nothing to do with counting. Yopu think with your head, not with your fingers. But that’s the only way I know how to count, I do know how to describe the number eleven, though. It’s two ones stnding next to each other. Like two of Emil’s drooping hjeads. Like most of my low scores in assestments.

The opening and Emil says who he can only get to rten becasue of his fingers.

Emil and his mother  Marina. live together in a small flat in an unnamed city.  He is mute and also has bad legs which mean he has to wear special shoes. All this and the fact all he is able to do in school is count to ten on his fingers. This seems to be trapped by his lack of speech but we view his world which sees him hearing all around him which means he knows what his teachers really think of him as they struggle with fitting him into the class. A touch event is when he hears his teacher has a baby but is yet unaware of her baby. He also has problems connecting with the other kids at the school who just don’t want to get to know him. This leaves him vulnerable to others in a way as he just wants to fit in.  so when someone does show interest in him a local boy that is also a drug dealer he only uses him because he is mute and seems to hear better than others. The other main relationship in the book is mother and son which also sees his uncle put his point of view forward. I love his internal voice it seems to capture someone like Emil so well that unique view of the world of autistic people that filters so much out. add to that a blind professor we have a story that is

You’re so silent, so let me tell you this as well: most people walk through the world unaware of what ies behind the visible and tangibile. I know that, given your incredible hearing, you realize this yourself. You see, these things re like sheet music. In order to know what they say, you have to decipher them. Use the right key. In music we use the treble clef and the bass clef. You don’t read the notes in one key the same way you do another, The rules are dfifferent. And it’s the ame with the world. It lies here before us like a sheet of paoper with a hiddeen melody on it, but not everyone is capable of decipheroing it

Emil’s view is unfiltered ut also he hasn’t ;earnt how to hear yet really.

This is a glimpse into Emil’s world that reminds me of two books that were big hits years ago. They also had special needs children as the narrator. the curious incident in the night which has a similar feel to how Emil looks at the world the fact that emotions and sometimes how the world links together get missed. The other is extremely loud and incredibly close which also like this had a character that had a talent like Emil with his hearing. But this works better having worked with a mute I saw how Emil felt and how others react to the lack of speech some of the events of the book to me right back. I also like his relationship with his mother which also seemed so well drawn. If you like both of those books and books like to kill a mockingbird this is a book that has a glimpse into a world of being mute and how people react to that and sometimes abuse it. Have you a favorite book about someone with a disability?

Catherine The Great and The Small by Olja Knežević.

Catherine The Great and The Small by Olja Knežević.

Croatian fiction

Original title – Katarina, Velika i Mala

Translators – Paula Gordon and Elien Elias-Bursac

Source = review copy

It has been a while since I have reviewed a book from Istros books well here I have one of a new series they have been publishing called On the margins. this is the second I will be doing a review of the first book soon. Olja Knežević studied creative writing at Birkbeck college was where she got an MA this book grew out of her dissertation for her MA.  She has lived in London, , California, Belgrade, and London. This was a bestseller when it came out.

I am Catherine the great, hiding away in small room

We have proclaimed this small room an office. English people calla room of this size a broom closet. the english people are spoiled, or so my husband and I say, even when they’re poor. Thats our attitude all year long right up to Christmas, when the bitter cold sets in. Then we marvel at them running around town in the howling wind, going about their buisness as usual, bald me without hoats, women wearing ballet flats without sock, everyone sleeveless, and againwe remember where we’ve come from a small mediterranean country where as soon as the north wind blows, no one goes outside, where everyone leaves work early – noon at latest – with the excuse of attending funerals and paying respects

The opening and the madness of us living her in the UK viewed by Katarina

We follow Katarina the main character in this book from the late seventies when she is a teen selling ice cream and trying to get by in the small country of Montenegro as it is now but then still part of Yugoslavia her home town was called Titograd after the great leader of Yugoslavia. What we see is her family life this is back up with the cracks that are appearing in the country. As she loses her mother her family is all in the same house as her grandmother is there as well. As she starts to blossom she starts a relationship starts Siniša with whom she loses her virginity. Her other friend Milica is wanting to break free of Titograd Katarina knows her mother as well she calls an Aunt. So When Milica goes there and studies Drama she also discovers Drugs in the Big city. So Katarina is found a job as a child Minder and studied to go Belgrade where she is sent to help and keep eye on her friend. She also dabbles this all happens as the homeland falls apart but this strong girl manages to get out and the latter part of the book catches her in London.

The year was 1988. July in Belgrade was intolerably hot; smell of dead dogs and cats, strays killed by the hear, and dried up insects, black and brown cockroaches. But the pressure was on for my finals. I had to be like a youing stoic and, with books as my only defence, resist desire – summer’s naked, sweaty, sexual desire- and grapple with my demons.

The summer in the big city as she starts to live away from her family

This is a great insight into the break up of Yugoslavia from a young female perspective the pressure of growing up as the world around you starts to tear its self apart it also is a personal view of those times one feels that a lot of this is the writers own life and loves from the western music they listen to to the places they live Titograd now in modern Montenegro called Podgorica the capital of that small country was where Olja was born she has also lived in Belgrade and Zagreb which gives her perspective on all sides of the war and she also lived in London. This is a great coming of age rale the ups and downs of being a female growing up and also of being a woman Katarina i n’t perfect and that is what drew me in / she is a flawed character. This is a perfect choice for women in Translation month. Have you read this or the other on the margins series book

Doppelganger by Daša Drndić

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doppelganger by Daša Drndić

Croatian fiction

Original title – Doppelgänger

Translators Susan Curtis and Celia Hawkesworth

Source – Personal copy

I held back on reviewing this to this month as it seemed fitting I had two books by the Late Dasa unreviewed and I decide to do this one first and Women in translation month seemed the perfect time for a female writer that was one of the strongest voices of Balkan writing in recent years. Dasa studied English literature and then got a master in Theatre. She then worked as a Tv Editor,  a professor of English. Her books had been shortlisted for the IFFP and the EBRD prize in recent years. In the recent books, there is an undercurrent of a warning of Europe slipping into a new Right-wing Nationalistic era. I met her once and spent a good hour talking about books Europe and Lit. She sadly passed away last year I do hope they retroactively give her the Nobel prize anyway. The Publisher of this told me this was one of her favorite works.

Artur Biodi(C), born in Labin, 1921. Extramartial son of Martistella Biondi(C) (deceased) and Carlos Theresin Rankov (deceased). The father of Artur Biondi(C),Carlos Teresin Rankov (deceased) was born in 1900 on the shores of the river Tanaro, as the extramartial son of Teresa Borsalino, co-owner of a hat factory in Alessandria, and the serbian Military officer of the Austro-Hungarian army under Ranko Matic (deceased)

Artur police dossier and it is strange he is a son born of a son brom out of wedlock as well. Then there is the hat connection!

Doppelganger is two novellas I have chosen to talk about the first short novella called Artur and Isabella as it is a real rollercoaster ride of a story the tale of two lonely widowers who know each other but take it further oneNew Years eve with a shocking knock-on effect. It shows how when someone loses their life partner there is a void in their lives that is never refilled the two Isabelle has been trying to become a Croat citizen on three occasions. The final one which happened seven years before. She moved there following her husband’s death some fifteen years before. Then we have Artur a retired Yugoslavian Naval officer known for his extensive collection of hats. The two then spend the new years eve together the story has as a side police dossier pieces on the both but also on the people around them there is a terrible outcome from this evening. The second story sees another lonely figure a man who visits the zoo every day. Talks to himself but the later story has echos of the first story. Both are visions into what makes us human.

Isabelle always unwraps her chocolate balls with care so that she can save the silver paper. Over the year she collects the foil wrappersin a book beside her bed because she eats most of the chocolate balls in bed. When she finshes the book, she will put the wrappers into anothert one. At the moment she is reading an exciting book . The book is called “This way for the gas , Ladies and gentlemen” she puts Karl marx foil wrappers in it. By the ehd of the year, she will have collected a lot oif wrappers for the christmas treem more for the branches on the walls

Isabelle and her chocolate balls which she is an expert on

I often wonder if I am too positive about books well I am on the whole especially as I am now choice more that I read I have brought myself. If you ever met Dasa the effect she would have on you is the same as she had on me as someone that just seemed to have that finger on the pulse of what makes us human but also what is going on in the wider world, Here in the first stories we see the loneliness of the old age. We see the two talk about old age losing control of their bodies wearing Adult diapers and such. Then when they meet they get into a sex scene which reminds me somewhat of the scene in Dennis potters singing detective where the main character is trying to forget the young nurse is touching his body Isabelle is seen going through a list of things as she performs a sexual act on Artur.In these days when the world is so fast The older people sometimes get left behind. But also the past of Yugoslavia where everyone was watched by someone in the Police dossiers on them from their lives to Artur Hatmaker. A tragic view of lives touched with a dark humour at times from the chocolates those Mozart Balls!!. Have you read Dasa ?

 

Singer in the night by Olja Savičević

Singer in the night by Olja Savičević

Croatian fiction

Original title – Pjevač u noći.

Translator – Celia Hawksworth

Source – review copy

I’m back from my short holiday and back with a book from one of my favorite publishers Istros books and also a book that does something that in the time I have been blogging we are seeing and that is a second book from a writer coming out in English. Sometimes we see a great novel from a writer then never see any of there other works translated so this is the first of two returning writers that Istros have brought out this year the other I will be bringing you shortly here. I reviewed Olja first book farewell cowboy a novel that followed a sibling hunting for a lost brother with touches of lost time from her generation often called the lost generation. She grew up when Yugoslavia was still just together and saw the birth of a new country. This book like her earlier book, this is set in Split and also has a similar theme of a female looking for a lost male her it is Clementine’s story of searching for her ex-husband.

Dear citizens, householders, close friends, fellow townsfolk, mild and attentive civil servants and waiter, courageous and patient nurses, magicians, secretaries, dresser of abundant hair, eternal children in short trousers, seasonal ice-cream sellers, dealers in intoxicating substances, drivers who brake on bends, gondoliers of urban orbits, captains of foreign ships, foreign girl on captains, neighbours – agreeable disco gladiators, neighbouring proto astronauts and everyone else in Dinko Simunovic street, not to list you all

The book opens when a poetic letter is posted by someone calling themselves the nightingale. This letter an ode to the street in a district of Split and his wonderful neighbors from the daily rising to there lovemaking. This letter leads into a sort of hunt for the writer of it from someone that was his wife  Clementine now a successful soap opera writer sets of to find the Gale but also driving her car around the places they visited we see her take a drive into her past and what happened to bring them to the present from the street of the letter writer we see a trip to the seaside and the to the Capital of Zagreb where her job is launched and her street poet other half and her drift war and life drifted them and this fragment work shows a women grasping at the past love and trying to reconstruct her life and like most her fellow country people make sense of the war still there in the background and she has to face what is her reality what is her truth this in her world is maybe now rewritten like a soap episode and shows what happens when we make those choices.

All right, I’ll tell you, so ,my name is Clementine. On outside, I’m a blonde orange. I have a Brazilian hairstyle, I drive a two seater Mazda MX-5 covertible, gold, but inside I’m a black orange. Full of black juice.

The day bfore my meeting with nightingale’s mother, the meeting with which I began this story, I travelled from Ljubljana to Split. I decided to make the journey after I had spent tje whole of the proceding week vainly calling Gale every day,. When I tried to pay money for the boat’s berth  I discovered that his account had been closed months before, at the marina they told me he had paid all his bills, but, they’d noticed for some time no one had been coming to the boat. His mobile was dead and at first that annoyed me , then it worried me( we had not been in touch often, in fact very rarely in recent years, and then mainly in connection with our shared boat, but nevertheless).

Clem explains why she want to find the gale.

This book brilliantly is a mix of a road trip novel as clementine revisits her past in doing so sees where her life start from her home town and the mirror of her friends from then with her kids a life that she could have had there is a sense of a soap opera at times the way the tale opens piece by piece wanting us the reader to get to the next episode as one would say a lot of cliffhangers. This is also a detective work in a way we follow Clem and her hunt for the Gale and like a good detective novel those little clues of there lives and past are scatters as the picture builds this is a single night read that lingers with the reader. It has a heady mix of lost love, poetic writing, post-war Croatia  and pre-war Croatia without ever wallowing in the war just showing the outfall from letter by the likes of the old warrior.

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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