Category: Croatia

Miljenko Jergović: Rod (Kin)

The latest addition to my website is Miljenko Jergović‘s Rod (Kin). This is an 800-page family novel, as the author calls it, but do not let that put you off. It is essentially the stories (mini-novels) of, primarily, his mother’s family, going back to the beginning of the twentieth century but also of his extended family, friends and neighbours, set over a hundred years, ending in 2012 with his mother’s death. We cover a large range of languages, ethnic groups, a few religions, plenty of divergent political views, different overlords and, of course, a few wars. The author tells his story up to the death of his mother in 2012 (he had moved to Zagreb, she was still in Sarajevo). The key event in her life was the death of her brother, Mladen, who died when she was seventeen months old, killed while fighting for the Germans. Her mother never forgave her for living while Mladen died and she, too, was far from a perfect mother. Above all, however, Jergović tells us a host of mini-novels, some funny, some sad, some involving famous people, but many involving ordinary people but all fascinating, colourful and highly imaginative.

Ivana Bodrožić: Rupa (We Trade Our Night for Someone Else’s Day)

The latest addition to my website is Ivana Bodrožić‘s Rupa (We Trade Our Night for Someone Else’s Day). It is set in an unnamed city but clearly the Croatian town of Vukovar, Bodrožić’s home town. Nora is a journalist who really wants to investigate the local corruption but that story goes to a man while she has to interview a teacher whose schoolboy lover killed her husband. She is also interested in what happened to her father, apparently murdered in the Balkan War. We follow her as she investigates all three stories, including the corruption in high places, while we also follow a host of crimes – corruption, blackmail, violence and murder. No-one comes out well from this story and quite a few people die violent deaths as Bodrožić shows us that Vukovar has a huge and unpleasant legacy from the Balkan War.

Dubravka Ugrešić: Muzej bezuvjetne predaje (The Museum of Unconditional Surrender)

The latest addition to my website is Dubravka Ugrešić‘s Muzej bezuvjetne predaje (The Museum of Unconditional Surrender). This is another first-class novel from Ugrešić about her favourite topics: exile, the break-up of Yugoslavia and its consequences, her mother, a sense of community with other Slavs, language and memories. We get a lot of stories, in particular about her mother, herself an exile (from Bulgaria) but also about friends, fellow exiles, artists and herself. As she tells us at the beginning of the novel, the novel might appear bitty but it all joins together if you stick with it. We follow her wanderings, her meetings with writers and artists and what it means to lose your country and getting lost in another one.

Daša Drndić: Doppelgänger

The latest addition to my website is Daša Drndić‘s Doppelgänger. This book actually has two novellas: Doppelgänger and Pupi. Doppelgänger is about an elderly couple who meet on New Year’s Eve 1999 (actually at 4 a..m. on New Year’s Day). Both are widowed and both incontinent. We learn about them – thirty-six members of Isabella’s family were murdered in the Holocaust and she loves chocolate, Artur was in the Yugoslav Navy and collects hats. They have fumbling sex but things do not turn out well.

The life of Pupi, the eponymous protagonist of the second story, also does not turn out well. He has retired on a meagre pension at age 50, a former chemist and not very good secret agent. He lives with his parents but, when they die, his brother throws him out and things go downhill, as he become mentally unstable. Though grim Drndić throws in plenty of humour and absurdity and both stories work very well. Things do not turn out well for the rhinoceroses in the zoo, either.

Dubravka Ugrešić: Ministarstvo boli (The Ministry of Pain)

The latest addition to my website is Dubravka Ugrešić‘s Ministarstvo boli (The Ministry of Pain). This is a (semi-)autobiographical novel about a Croatian woman, Tanja Lucić, who has left Croatia and is now resident in the Netherlands. Her former boyfriend has taken a job in Japan and she has decided not to accompany him. She had managed to get a short-term job as a lecturer in the Department of Serbo-Croatian at the University of Amsterdam. Most of her students are from the former Yugoslavia, as following a university course allows them to prolong their stay in the country. Much of the book is about how Tanya and her students struggle with a variety of issues relating both to their exile but also to the break-up of the country they grew up in. Language (is there one Serbo-Croat language or several different ones?), culture (despite its faults, they did grow up and know Yugoslavia and its ways), relationships between the different nationalities and with fellow Slavs, adaption to the Dutch and the Netherlands and, of course, surviving in a different world, with a different culture and a different language are all part of the problems they face on a day to day basis. There is no easy solution – adaptation is not that easy – but they can at least talk about it.

Dubravka Ugrešić: Forsiranje romana-reke (Fording the Stream of Consciousness)

The latest addition to my website is Dubravka Ugrešić‘s Forsiranje romana-reke (Fording the Stream of Consciousness). This is a wonderful, witty satire on literary conferences. The setting is a literary conference in Zagreb, while Yugoslavia was still a country, and Ugrešić manages to mock numerous nationalities and their foibles, but, not surprisingly, with a special level of mockery for the Russians and, indeed, her own compatriots. Conspiracies galore, lots of sex (and sexual positions), including an aborted rape by three women of a sexist critic, lists, in-jokes and other post-modernist tropes, not to mention sciatica, are features of this hilarious book.

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