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Archive for the ‘Croatian Literature’ Category

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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