Trieste by Dasa Drndic

Dasa Drndic she is a Croat novelist ,playwright and critic ,she has spent time in Canada and now is a professor at Rijeka university in Croatia .

Trieste is her first book to be translated in english and I for one am so pleased it has been as I feel it is a truly important novel .When this arrived I had a flick through the book and saw it was very unusual containing a number of photos and lists and host of over literary devices .But as you dive into this book it all becomes clear .The initial glance made me think of Sebald and the fact that this book is about the second world war and Seblad’s Austerlitz touched in part that time as well but this is the story of southern europe of Italy in particular but also the neighbour places and it spreads out from the two main characters Haya Tedeschi a women who as we find out she had a son via the Lebensborn programme the Germans ran to produce a perfect Aryan race .Early on we find out her story as she waits for her son how she end up father her son and her family’s wartime story.

For sixty-two year she has been waiting .

She sits rocks by a tall window in a room on the third floor of an Austro Hungarian building in the old Gloriza .The rocking chair is old and ,as she rocks it whimper .

Haya waits for her son and thus we find her story .

The father of this babe was a ss officer that was one of the most notorious ,as he was a savage guard at Treblinka camp .The other character is Haya son she hasn’t seen him for over sixty years and now their meeting but before they do we see how this happened and this is what is most inventive in this book ,how that story is told in a number of ways that sets it apart from normal fiction written about the war as most of the people mention in this book are real people ,The ss officer Kurt Franz although I myself prefer the title murderers that Chil Rajchman in Treblinka calls them but he singles out Franz and his dog that is pictured in Trieste ,he had taught this dog to bite prisoners anyway I m getting sidetrack here my review of Treblinka will come in the next month .

A thirty year old German in a uniform comes into her tobacco shop.Oh ,he is handsome as a doll .The German already has the polish nickname Lalka ,but at this point ,when she first see the dashing German Haya knows nothing of that,the dashing german tells her later .

DOll or Lalka was due to Franz doll-like face .explained here

Another devices to shock and make the reader think is printing all 9000 plus names of the Italian jews that died in the second world war I was initially going to flick through this but no I read through and was hit by the effect tens even hundreds of people with same name and probably the same family wiped out by the war ,this is a real eye-opening device and brings the true effect of the holocaust.

Fritz Schmidt ,SS – Unterscharfuhrer born 1906 in Eibau ,Germany .Guard and chauffeur in Sonnenstein and Bernburg 1940-41 .chauffeur and head of garage at Treblinka in 1942 ;looks after equipment for gas chambers .In Trieste in 1943 .Arrested by allies in Saxony .In december 1949 sentenced to nine years in prison ,but escapes to West Germany and no-one cares .Dies in 1982

One of the many pen picture portrays of Treblinka guards .

Elsewhere Dasa uses little pen picture biographies of the guards from Treblinka ,slowly build the character of her sons father bit by bit you feel your skin cringe as every man record is told and what happened to them post war.I feel Dasa achieves here what Bolano tried in part in his Nazi literatures in the Americas using small bios to highlight a great whole of course that was neo Nazis in the America’s but the feel is the same using the bios to build a picture of the whole in this case the true horrors of Treblinka .Dasa has managed to do what seems impossible that is too mix real life and fiction at one of the darkest times and not make it seem not right which it could have easily been .But she has done it seamlessly ,without making the story seem like it is fiction and on the other hand with out it making it seem to outlandish to be true .This is one of those books you want place in people hands and just say read and then discusses ,this needs to be talked about to highlight the holocaust but also the Lebenborn programme that I for one knew little or nothing about .Because the further we get from this time the more it needs reinforcing in people’s minds the horrors that happened .This books sits well along side the books of Levi and such .

Dasa Drndic is visiting uk and is here at Jewish book week on 26th February


Cafe Europa life after communism by Slavenka Drakulic

Slavenka Drakulic

Notes – Slavenka lives in Sweden and is married to a swedish national ,she is one of the most respected Croatia writers and journalist ,she lived in Croatia til the early 1990’s .She has published a number of novels and other books of non fictions .she worked on a newspaper and magazine in Zagreb from 1982 to 1992 .

The book –

The book is a collection of short essays on the Balkans mainly they range from historic to personal and tell how Croatia mainly but also the other Balkan country’s cope post communism the book was written in 1996 ,the story slavenka tells are wonderful ,the first follows the changes of names in Croatia post communism how things change to Europa instead of the communist names ,elsewhere there are story’s interconnect about the period in the second world war when Croatia side with the germans her father a Croat joining Tito partizans the effect this had on him ,a interview with a former camp commandant from that period who still felt he’d done nothing wrong .and Slavenkas trip to Israel and the fact she was one of the few Croats to travel there but also the questions of Croatia’s role in second world war .there are some funny tales like running round wien (vienna) trying to buy a vacuum cleaner and get the shop to give them a receipt for 99 dollars as that is the max they could take in with out duty .There is also the tale of Tito ‘s wife that still lives in Serbia but doesn’t have id ,pension and lives of state charity the accept she is there but don’t acknowledge the fact .and my favourite is a tale set in london where Paddy Ashdown is in a conversation with the Croat president of the time Tudjman where he ask Tudjman about the future of the region and is drawn a map of what Tudjman see’s and what in the end did happen .

Since her husband’s death ,Tito’s wife Jovanka Broz has lived in a villa in Dedinje surrounded by bodyguards .With their permission she goes out on rare occasions she doesn’t not own the villa ,but she doesn’t pay rent for it ,either .How could she when she doesn’t even get her husbands pension? Jovanka Broz enjoys Serbia’s state “charity”,although it is forced upon her .

from story Who’s afraid of Tito’s wife .

My view –

I so enjoyed this book ,i ve always had an interest in the Balkan’s ,since i worked in a factory in germany in early nineties with Serbs,Croats ,Bosnians and kosvions the tale’s the told made my hair stand on end and also made me think ,this book does the same and brought back memories of that time some of the oddities of the communist world and the strong nationalism of the time ,this book is like a fly caught in amber ,it has wonderfully caught a period of great changer in the Balkans ,it makes you laugh ,cry and think in equal measures which is no mean feat .

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August 2021


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