A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska (tr. Christina E Kramer)

A Spare Life with cover of girl peering through window with hand on shoulder

a nutshell: narrated by a conjoined twin raised in Skopje, this intricately immersive novel explores independence and love through communist Yugoslavia and beyond

a line: “Just like Bogdan, who solved crossword puzzles in his head because he had no pencil, I wrote internally because I had no space”

an image: Dimkovksa so viscerally depicts the flat in which the twins grew up that I found myself struggling to emerge into the real world after reading scenes within it

a thought: in her studies of migration in the context of the literary community, Zlata portrays two parallel worlds in which national & transnational writers joked politely but between the pair is a fear of the other’s otherness

a fact: this novel won the 2013 EU Prize for Literature

want to read A Spare Life? visit here

Dogs and Others by Biljana Jovanović (tr. John K Cox)

a nutshell: written in 1980, this is a fragmentary & flashback-filled depiction of a troubled family’s life in socialist Belgrade through the eyes of young bohemian Lida

a line: “It was so imbecilic and without imagination, like when someone unexpectedly gives you a Maltese terrier”

an image: the accompanying notes to the book in fact contain the image that most stuck with me – on the novel as an acid bath, stripping away façades or patina, carrying excrutiating truths and power and loss

a thought: this translation went to press one year into the #MeToo movement, 38 years after Jovanović wrote the novel, and it’s stark how much sexual harassment and assault is contained within the novel; the fight-back has been a long time coming

a fact: this novel features the first detailed exploration of a sexual relationship between two women in Serbian literature

want to read Dogs and Others? visit here

The Ministry of Pain by Dubravka Ugrešić (tr. Michael Henry Heim)

a nutshell: taking on two semesters of teaching ‘Yugoslav literature’ at the University of Amsterdam and very much grieving the loss of her country of origin, Yugoslavia-born Tanja coaxes her fragile students towards ‘Yugonostalgia‘ – and there begins Ugrešić’s stimulating exploration of exclusion, memory, language, identity…

a line: “Retouching is our favourite artistic device. Each of us is a curator in his own museum.”

an image: breaking down after admitting she got lost in her old Zagreb neighbourhood, Tanja tries to express to an unmoved passenger on a plane how the trauma of exile hit her where she had least expected it 

a thought: I picked this book up from my local library and thought it sounded interesting – but now, since Ugrešić seems to have taken a vehemently anti-nationalist stand after war broke out in 1991 in her native former Yugoslavia, I’m a little uneasy about putting it out there as my ‘Croatia’ book for the project (esp. given the author in fact holds Dutch citizenship); in time perhaps I’ll come to swap in another

a fact: Ugrešić worked for many years at the University of Zagreb’s Institute for Theory of Literature, which explains the many literary references interweaved into the pages

 

want to read The Ministry of Pain? visit here