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 ?



A handful of sand by Marinko Koščec


A handful of sand by Marinko Koščec

Croatian fiction

Original title To malo pijeska dianu

Translator Will Firth

Source – review copy

Every time a book from Istros books drop through my door ,I know for a fact I’m in for a treat so far this is my fourth books from every one as different as the one before but equally as brilliant as the one before so no to the book from Marinko Koščec ,He is a lecturer in French literature for the university in Zagreb .he works as an editor for the Sysprint publishing house and also teaches novel-writing .He has so far published five novel his novel someone else won a big prize in Croatia ,this book Handful of sand was nominated for the Jutarnji list award .

For as long as I can remember I’ve been a magnet for weirdos both for those who are kept at a safe distance with that label ,as well as people who live among us peacefully and pose no danger til something in them erupts, for no apparent reason and seem to need my proximity when it starts .

Haven’t we all felt like this at times ?


A handful of sand is a story of a romance between two people ,but is larger than that, it is  the story of two people ,but also living and growing up in the modern Croatia of the book  .The book is formed of interchanging chapters one from a male narrator the other a female narrator .The male narrator works in publishing  as a proofreader (we also see a number of mentions of translations into Croatian here ) we follow him from his  child hood through university to now working in publishing ,the ups and downs of a modern life loss, disappointments   ,his relationship with his parents ,the female narrative moves along a same path  to the male ,but it is the male story I associated with more ,what comes across is how do we get to where we are ? This book I said is a romance novel but instead of starting at the usual point we start a romance novel we start and the start and get to the starting point of the romance ,so as the book progresses we she the two unnamed narrators move closer in each others circles to each other .Til ?and then out again

Very soon ,perhaps while we were still standing there ,I knew I wasn’t imaging things ; although that couldn’t yet be true because truth still had to be woven ,weft for weft and warp for warp .I’D been irritated and disheartened so many times by those standard expectations that I just fulfil the stereotype and nourish it with my flesh

How often have you felt this upon meeting someone


I think the most important bit of information I discovered about Marinko Koščec  is that he teaches french Literature ,because at times this reminds me of existentialist writing the books is so much about detail as about why and who we are ,what makes us the person we are at a certain point which is of course the whole question behind existentialism . Marinko Koščec Has a dark wit as well a couple of times I even laughed out loud during this book .This book shows how precious and fragile love is between two people in Modern Croatia ,but this story is also a story every one can associate with even outside Croatia  .I not sure where the title comes from but I imagine sand draining out of a hand til you end up with two grains of sand left by chance and isn’t that what love is sometimes chance aren’t we all grains of sand waiting to end up together .I also wonder if it is an homage to the Waugh book a handful of dust,but as I read the book I just thought it was chance they had a similar titles .I must also mention that any one near london and book fairing it must see Istros books as they are running the Croatian book stand at the fair the first time a Balkan state has had a stand at the book fair

Have you a favourite book from the Balkans

Our man in Iraq by Robert Perisic

Our man in Iraq by Robert Perisic

Croatian fiction

Translator Will Firth

Source review copy

Robert Perisic was born in Split in Croatia ,he studied philosophy at university ,he then took up Journalism and later on became editor of the croat magazine New year .in the mid 90’s he start publishing poems and short stories then in 2008 came his first novel our man in Iraq (although the Google translate has the book title translated this as our man on the ground ).

Our man in Iraq obviously from its title has slight overtones to Graham Greene’s seminal work our man in Havana .In the Greene novel James Wormold is drawn in to being a spy for MI6 during the cold war .So in this book follows Boris he is sent by his distant relative Toni a reporter that should have gone to Iraq to report on the war but he  has stayed behind , because he is having huge problems in his relationship to a well known beautiful actress  Sanya .So it is a satire on journalism in some ways  .I ve read a couple of other books over the years .The most recent was Tom Stacey’s the man who knew everything which I review here ,which was also set in the middle east during a crisis in the fifties thou .Of course it is hard not to mention Waugh both scoop and in someways Vile bodies both touch on the newspapers and Journalism ,in scoop also reporting from a war zone  .But that said there is also a large part that follow Toni and his girlfriend in everyday life in Croat almost mirror what might happen in Iraq after the war you see how Croat is recovering after it’s own war .

The place is full of camouflaged Yanks and Brits ,the biological and chemical carnival has begun ,and me ,fool that I am ,I haven’t got a mask ,They’re expecting a chemical weapon attack and say Saddam has got tons and tons of the shit .

From Boris first report to toni .


Any way all starts well with  Boris his  reports and faxes are  coming back.They are  ropey some what his grammar is rather like mine basic but the reports add to the colour of the war that is going on .But then suddenly the faxes and reports stop appear and Toni still unwilling to go out to  Iraq to report has to draw on his own past and the Croatian Serbian and Bosnian wars after Yugoslavia fell apart .This rather remind me of the comic series blackadder goes fourth where blackadder is forced to go over the top of the trench  and describe the scene which he does but gets it wrong and this in some ways is what happens to Toni .As people also see news reports from the region .

A Croatian reporter is missing in Iraq ,they repeated on the radio as I was driving back .

Later in the office ,I found myself sitting at the computer in the role of missing reporter I had get to write one of his texts .It was almost as if he’d offically taken me over .

Toni struggling to keep it all together .

This book manages to be partly  a love story at its heart that of Toni and his girlfriend Sanja ,a satire on Journalism and reporters  ,a war novel and a look at how Croat has moved forward since the war and how the war has impacted on all that were involved in the war .Perisic is considered a leading light of Croatian fiction the well know Croatian Slavenka Drakulić has said of the author: “‘Robert Perišić is considered one of the best writers of his generation. In fact, he is one of those rare things – a writer loved by both the critics and the readers .He seems to sum up what it is to be croatian for a man of my age he is only three years older than me ,so it is interesting to see how different the worries and how similar the worries are for a middle aged Croat .I must say Will Firth and Istros books have yet again managed to dig up another gem of Balkan fiction .

Have you a favourite book from the Balkans ?

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