Archive for the ‘Croatian Literature’ Category

I read a couple of Croatian short story collections last year, one by Asja Bakić, and another by Miljenko Jergović, and loved them both. So I was very excited when I discovered this short story collection ‘New Croatian Short Story : Everything You Wanted But Had No Chance to Read‘.

This book features fourteen contemporary Croatian writers and it has twenty one stories. Most of the writers were new-to-me. I could recognize only Olja Savičević Ivančević, who was widely reviewed last year, and Zoran Ferić, who I discovered through a friend’s review of one of his books. But nearly all the writers seem to be well-known among Croatian readers, as they have been around for a while.

There is good news and bad news. The bad news first. The book was very hit-and-miss for me. Some of the stories were underwhelming, but some of the stories were wonderful. The second bad news is that out of the fourteen featured writers, only three were women. Croatian women writers are kicking ass these days, and so I was very surprised with that.

Now, the good news. When the stories were hits, they were amazing and I loved them. They straightaway waltzed into my list of favourites. Here are my favourites.

Zlatka by Maja Hrgović – This is a beautiful lesbian love story. I won’t tell you more. You should read it and find out what happened. I love this story so much that I want to read all the stories of Maja Hrgović now.

Crocodile by Senko Karuza – Two people get stuck in the middle of nowhere because their car breaks down. There is only one house nearby. When they knock the door, an old man opens it. He has a pool inside his house, and next to the pool is a crocodile. The old man says that his crocodile is unwell. What happens after that – whether the crocodile eats the two newbies and becomes well, or whether it is just a charming pet and this old man is just a kind human being – you have to read the story to find out. There were three other stories by Senko Karuza in the book, and I eagerly looked forward to reading them after I read ‘Crocodile’, but unfortunately, I didn’t like them as much. But ‘Crocodile’ was exceptional. It showed a master at work. It was beautiful, charming and it had the perfect ending. I wondered about the author’s name, Senko Karuza. It definitely didn’t look Croatian. His first name looked Japanese. Even his second name looked Japanese. I’m wondering whether this is his real name, or whether this is the name he uses while writing stories. I hope there is a translated short story collection of Senko Karuza out there, because I’d like to read it.

The Snake Collector by Jurica Pavičić – This is one of the longest stories in the book. It is set during the war in the ’90s. It is about the absurdity of war and the loss of innocence of young soldiers who think it is an adventure and volunteer for the first time, and how the violence of war changes them irrevocably. It is a beautiful and moving story.

Sheepskin by Josip Novakovich – Another war-adjacent story. A man is travelling by train when he bumps into someone who was his tormentor during the war. Thoughts of revenge rise in his heart. What happens after that forms the rest of the story.

When I was Nana Pila, Dead, but in my Prime by Zoran Malkoč – A man selling books knocks on the door of a house in a quiet village. The door is opened by an old man whose wife is unwell. This old man thinks that the visitor is the doctor. What happens after that forms the rest of the story. Beautiful, moving story with a heartwarming ending.

So, that’s it. If you stumble upon this book, or if you plan to read it, I’d suggest that you read these five stories first. Then if you feel upto it, maybe you can try dipping into the rest of the book.

Though this book was hit-and-miss for me, I’m glad I read it. Especially because I discovered Maja Hrgović, Senko Karuza, Jurica Pavičić and Josip Novakovich. I loved their stories and I hope to read more stories by them.

Have you read ‘New Croatian Short Story’? What do you think about it?


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I discovered Marina Šur Puhlovski’sWild Woman‘ in an interesting way. I was looking for more translations by Christina Pribićević-Zorić, because she had translated two of my favourite books, ‘Dictionary of the Khazars‘ and ‘Zlata’s Diary‘. And that is how I stumbled upon ‘Wild Woman’.

The story starts with a young woman in an apartment with her dog. The apartment is in a mess. There is no food and the woman and her dog are literally scraping the barrel. This woman tells us what happened, and how events led to this situation. She takes us back by many years, when she first went to college and met a guy on the first day, and sparks started to fly. What happened after that – you have to read the book to find out.

‘Wild Woman’ is a beautiful, dark, heartbreaking book. It describes what happens when we fall in love, and things don’t go as we expect, and how sometimes we fall into a bottomless abyss from which we find it impossible to extricate ourselves.

I loved ‘Wild Woman’, though the word ‘love’ doesn’t begin to describe what I feel about it. It was powerful and moving and heartbreaking, and it pulled my heartstrings and it made me angry and it made me scream. Sometimes it felt like I was reading a contemporary version of the Ingrid Bergman movie ‘Gaslight‘.

Marina Šur Puhlovski’s prose is beautiful and I couldn’t stop highlighting my favourite passages. She has been writing for a while, but it appears that this is her only book which has been translated into English. Wish more of her work gets translated.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“What hurts is what you don’t have. And it hurts, say the experts, because the brain won’t accept that you no longer have what you once did, what it still remembers, and so it turns its absence into the pain of loss, which keeps going back to the beginning. That’s my story, I guess. Because if it weren’t, then I wouldn’t be sitting here for three days now, incapable of extricating myself from it.”

“I stepped out like a sleepwalker, in my nightgown, barefoot, at that magical moment in the morning that belongs to the surrounding forest, when life wakes up and you are filled with this sense of awakening, as at the dawn of humankind, when the first human realised that he was alive, because he hadn’t known it before, it came to him suddenly. And it’s no different today, the wonder of life remains hidden from us during the day, and turns into fear at night, and it is only like this in the early morning that we understand it, when we are alone and when it’s spring and when the forest within us breathes, or the sea within us breathes, when we imbue each other.”

“A magical wonder is when something doesn’t look real but is, I realised as they took me around – like the way Plitvice’s waters forged their own paths through the rocks and bushes, through the grey and green, through the air and earth, creating a work of art out of nature, making it look like child’s play, untaught, becoming a work of art in itself, based on some primeval memory. It was as if we became a work of art ourselves, rather than creating one, a higher form of existence that we did not sufficiently appreciate, because it eluded us, I thought, walking with my feet in the moss and ferns and my head in the air.”

“What else is love except a kind of blindness, I reflected, you see what you want, what you like, what catches your fancy, what makes you grow, you see what you need but you don’t see what you don’t need. When you see what you don’t need you try not to see it, to attribute it to a random instance, to hide it from yourself, because you compare what you see with the ideal that they’ve drummed into your head and try to make it fit that ideal. Sometimes it more or less works, unless you completely fail, because basically you always fail, but even an approximation is something, at least it’s bearable. The world exists on the basis of approximation. But it’s awful when it turns out that what you get is not even close, that it’s the exact opposite, that you had imagined somebody else! And, of course, he helped you along, he tried to be what he thought you wanted him to be, not what he was, but he could pretend to be what you wanted until he captured you, until he took away your freedom, in life and, worst of all, within your inner self, because the hardest thing was to save yourself from yourself. By saving him I was saving myself from myself, I realised, from the debt of love, I supposed, a debt you couldn’t just discard as if it never existed, it doesn’t exist now but it did, it was your life and if it is worthless then so are you and your life; how do you live with that?”

“…gazing at the early autumn greenery that has only just started to turn yellow and red and to decay, a moment with no continuation, but all the same a moment that existed, that fell into place with everything else that existed, the unreal attaching itself to the real which, once it passes, itself seems unreal, and passes in a heartbeat, as if it had never existed, but you know that it did, and so a vicious circle.”

You can find Marina’s (from ‘Finding Time to Write’) beautiful review of the book here.

Have you read ‘Wild Woman’? What do you think about it?

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Tea Tulić is a Croatian writer and ‘Hair Everywhere‘ is her first book.

The narrator of ‘Hair Everywhere‘ is a young girl. The book has short chapters which are mostly just a paragraph long, in which the narrator describes her everyday life, her mother, her grandmother, her father, her sister, her neighbours, her pets, and shares her thoughts on things that she finds interesting. One day her mother is unwell and is admitted at the hospital. She stays there for a while. It turns out that her mother has cancer. While her mother’s health declines, we see how our narrator’s life changes and how she reacts to it through her writing.

Hair Everywhere‘ is a beautiful, poignant book. We see the unfolding tragedy through a young girl’s voice, which is beautiful, charming, unique, honest and candid, like only a young person’s voice can be. The title comes from this passage, in which the narrator describes her mother after the situation has worsened.

“Hair is everywhere. On the pillow. On the floor. In her hands and mine. We talk about coloured Indian scarves. About thick soup. Bad weather. Discipline. We talk about dry skin. We talk about everything, but still we feel sad because of the hair. It is a symbol of the greedy animal in her head. Her skin is flaking off her too. When she changes her vest, tiny flakes waft through the air.”

It is heartbreaking to read.

I loved ‘Hair Everywhere‘. It gives literary shape to a nightmare that every child has about their mother. It also shows how in the middle of big personal tragedies, everyday life just keeps flowing along. It was beautiful and heartbreaking to read. ‘Hair Everywhere’ won wide praise and literary awards when it was first published in Croatian ten years back.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“The next snapshot shows an aeroplane dropping bombs that are falling somewhere down below, into a thick forest. In the picture you can’t see that the forest hides squirrels, owls, foxes, people and our vision. When the bomb reaches the ground, it won’t matter whether the man down there was a good teacher. Or that he exchanged his coat for a sack of potatoes. Or that the slaughter of the squirrels caused God-knows what disruption in Nature. The green trees survived.”

“In the big market place, stuffed with people and different kinds of yoghurts, I buy cheese. Only people, of all the mammals in the world, consume milk and milk products after they grow up. And all those people are here, in the queue in front of me…”

“My brother is angry because the doctors say they cannot help Mum. I tell him Patrick Swayze had lots of money but he still died of cancer.”

“Once in the newspaper it said that three Japanese fishermen had been fishing in the middle of the ocean and that a cow fell from the sky and killed them. The cow had been dropped from a plane flying directly above them. And two more the same way! They were too heavy for the plane to fly properly. The unfortunate Japanese drowned, and the bizarre ugly fish continued to circle around, down there in the darkness.”

Have you read ‘Hair Everywhere‘? What do you think about it?

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I discovered Slavenka Drakulić’s novel ‘S. : a novel about the Balkans‘ recently. I tried to stay strong and brave today, when I started to read it.

S. is in a hospital in Stockholm. She has just given birth to her baby. But S. doesn’t want to touch her baby. She doesn’t want to keep it. She wants to give it up for adoption. We are puzzled why. The story travels a year back in time. S. is a school teacher in a village in Bosnia. It is the early ’90s. One day she hears some loud conversation in the street. Then a soldier walks into her house. He asks her to pack up things and leave. S. is puzzled but packs a bag and comes out. All the village people are put in buses and taken somewhere. They end up in a camp in the middle of nowhere. Then the horror starts. The women are first put in a camp and are expected to work to keep the camp running. Then some of them are chosen and put in a different building. Then unspeakable horrible things are inflicted upon them by the soldiers. Some of the women die as a result. S. ends up in that building. What happens after that forms the rest of the story.

The first half of the story felt like a combination of ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich‘ and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale‘. It was very hard to read. Things get a little better after that. It appears that Slavenka Drakulić based her story on real events which happened in Bosnia in the ’90s. It is very hard to believe that such horrible things happened not long time back. This was not the time of the Nazis. It was not the medieval ages. It was just now. The women who ended up in those camps when they were young and who survived, must be in their forties or fifties now. I can’t imagine the kind of nightmares they’ll be having even today and the emotional scars that they still have in their hearts. It is just so heartbreaking to think about. The ending of the book was beautiful and life affirming and I thank Slavenka Drakulić for offering that sliver of hope.

I can’t say that I enjoyed reading ‘S.’, because it was a heartbreaking story which was hard to read, but I am glad I read it, because it shines the light on a horrible episode in recent human history, and hopefully this book will make humans learn from their past and become better people.

I’m sharing one of my favourite passages from the book, which is one of the beautiful, sunny moments from the story.

“S. does not remember the day, but she does remember the moment that N. took out of her apron a round golden loaf of bread, corn bread. It was still warm. J. grabbed the bread from her hands and kissed it. She carried it around the room, holding it out for each girl to smell. For S. there was nothing more wonderful than the smell of freshly baked bread, of buns which her mother would bring back from the corner bakery in the morning, before S. and her sister were up. When she opened the front door the smell would fill the entire apartment. They would wake up and find waiting on the table for them the bread and the buns, still warm and fragrant. N. breaks up the bread and suddenly they feel as if there is no war and they are not in a camp. N. sits down with the girls. She does not eat, she merely observes their delight over the fresh bread she has just baked for them…”

Have you read ‘S. : a novel about the Balkans‘? What do you think about it?

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I discovered Asja Bakić’sMars‘ recently. This is my first ever Croatian book and so I was very excited. (Asja Bakić is Bosnian (I think) and she lives in Croatia and writes in Croatian.)

Mars‘ is a collection of ten short stories. They are hard to describe. For want of a better word, we can call them speculative fiction. There is science fiction there, speculative fiction and a story on gender identity. There is even a thriller / murder mystery and a story of immigration, but which is not what it seems. Many of the stories have surprising endings.

I loved all the stories in the book, but even in a book filled with wonderful stories, we have one or two which we love more than the others, don’t we? My favourite was ‘Abby‘. In this story, the narrator is a young woman, who seems to have lost her memory. The man who is with her says that he is her husband. But the woman starts having suspicions, because their supposed names look like English names (he says that her name is Abby), but they are not speaking in the English language. Also the man keeps all drawers at home locked, and mostly stays by her side and almost never lets her out of her sight. Occasionally, he goes out for grocery shopping, but always gets back in ten minutes. Once he catches her trying to telephone someone, and he disconnects the telephone. The woman starts feeling that she is a prisoner in that home. And she decides to do something about it. What happens after that forms the rest of the story. As we read the story, we feel that we have got into Abby’s mind, and we can feel the dread creep into our soul, when Abby discovers that she might be a prisoner. The ending of the story was totally unexpected and amazing and something that I didn’t see coming. You have to read the story to find out what happened 😊

One of the stories that I laughed out loud while reading was ‘Buried Treasure‘. The beginning of the story was hilarious and was filled with dark humour. For example, read this passage –

“The adults mourned, each in their own way, but the children had no time for grief. At that moment they were just beginning to discover sex, which, had the parents known, would’ve devastated them more than the grandfather’s death.”

I couldn’t stop laughing when I read that 😊

Asja Bakić is very different from other contemporary women authors from the region, as Ellen Elias-Bursac explains in the afterword to the book. While other great women writers from the region wrote realistic fiction and nonfiction, Asja Bakić wrote speculative fiction which was a blend of science fiction, feminism, eroticism, horror, and the macabre. Or in other words, Asja Bakić was unique and she kicked ass.

I loved ‘Mars’. I love Asja Bakić. There is a new collection of her short stories that has come out in Croatian. I hope it gets translated into English soon. I can’t wait to read it.

I read this for ‘Women in Translation Month’, which celebrates women writers in translation, every August.

Have you read Asja Bakić’s ‘Mars’? What do you think about it?

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