In the blink of an eye, Mickey and I have done eleven laps at Camden Market yet I haven’t had time to mention some of the aces of our literary garden. We were sipping fresh orange juice when I recited a few names to him rather hastily and in a not particularly concentrated fashion: Marinković: Croatian hodgepodge – printed his masterpiece “Kiklop” (Cyclops) in Belgrade. Dragojević: the recently praised Mandić was wrong about him several times, saying he reeks of habit. He missed, I must add, even more fatally, at least when my taste is concerned, when he spat on Mirko Kovač, the powerful reinforcement of Croatian literature, whose national team he tried to join when the wars began, but our bigwigs couldn’t care less about him, even though he was the only great writer at that time. Tribuson: excellent crime novels. Slamnig and the beforementioned Šoljan were smarter than their talent; you’ve certainly met the type. Us, Gypsies?, Mickey asked, then continued: We haven’t; you either have it or not. To look better than you are is possible in culture only. Ha, I replied, in football, too. Maradona said that Šuker always looked like a better player than he was. Our eighties were incredibly smart, but then the calendar turned into the incredibly stupid nineties – because when people start dying, one cannot speak of smartness, my Mickey. Sure, sure, he says. Dubravka Ugrešić, a legend – pardon the expression, we are discussing this at the market. A magazine, the Feral Tribune, marked the 1990s. Still, our literature continued to disintegrate similarly to our ex-republic, so that the readers felt, until the beginning of 2000s, that in the literature of the 1990s – the weakest part of the 1980s – the previous century repeated, but as a farce, because the vast majority of rockers and writers of that decade replaced the black leather jackets with same-colour uniforms. The blackness of the uniform tarnished the image and work of some of them forever, although many have tried to wash it away with extreme leftism and post-internationalism, which seemed to fit into post-modernism. I have used the dash in the latter word in honour of Martin Heidegger, whose “Black Notebooks” were condemned by the public, whereas no one understood a single word of “Being and Time”. If they did, they would have known that somewhere at the end of the book, Heidegger described the nation the same as in the incriminated manuscript; I will not cite that part deliberately, hoping that those who had celebrated him until recently would finally read his major work. It could change their lives for the better. As soon as a microphone is placed under their snout, most authors start spitting on the culture sections. We will skip these individuals; although I do not write literary criticism, I am sometimes more solidary than Lech Wałęsa from the Solidarność trade union. Satan Panonski wrote several prose pages that were more lively than anything written by the unprosecuted and normal. But to find them, you need to read a book. In general, reading more is a necessity. Zoran Malkoč writes and writes, lives in the open air, works on the terrain, and you can feel it in everything he does. He is not among those who do the job they hate so that they can do something that is not their job. He devotedly, even fanatically, sends his stories to contests and occasionally wins the second or third “Ranko Marinković” prize by Večernji list. Gordan Nuhanović has published two great travelogues, unpretentiously, which can be as accurate as erudition. Miroslav Kirin is good from start to finish. But a unique, quiet place is occupied by Dinko Telećan, whose work is polyvalent. A translator, a prose writer, a poet. Brilliant in all branches. Milko Valent writes like a round-the-bend blogger. As if he has, most intensively, via his style, passed through the zeitgeist change. This is no longer the age of the world image – it belongs to prehistory; this is the time of posts. The poison has been repackaged, circulating social media in poisoned words. Robert Perišić brought up the widest constellation of writers in the country, and his collections of stories continued where Majetić’s “Čangi” left off. Edo Popović has survived the transition becoming an entirely different writer from the wild author of night bars and the road. Personally, I was most surprised by Stanko Andrić’s novel “Simurg”; I remember thinking: it is possible to write like this, but you have to live meaningfully. The second surprise was Dalibor Šimpraga with “Anastasia”; he managed to sound, even more than Andrić, like someone who – absolutely legitimately – alludes to writers from neighbouring countries, former roommates in the same political, Tito’s pot (let me mention him again, for the fools’ sake – It is easy to muddy the shallow water and to make a fool angry. Njegoš, allegedly, in a restaurant, eating roast lamb.) But as our time is running out, the shadows become longer, and the memory fades – it is not easy to think of “mind-blowing” books in our native language, I’m in a hurry, it’s more important to mention the important names than to follow the order, the protocol, the media presence of the authors – so I guess we shouldn’t skip them – these are not my intentions. Ivana Bodrožić: started in the most challenging department, “Hotel Zagorje”, a painful story, but handled in a hit-of-the-season fashion; it was apparent that she would develop into a strong author, which she did. Zoran Ferić: imagine being in the shoes of this contemporary classic while some characters are debating whether his works should be on the list of mandatory reading in schools – and he teaches Croatian in high school. His beginnings were good; then he continued as his own imitator, and then he was reborn and emerged as an even better version of himself. Ivan Vidić: literally everything he wrote is so lucid that it surpasses mostly any work by others. Bekim Sejranović: a compadre. His death is like missing thirty pages from the end of a phenomenal book you’ve been swallowing. Divna Zečević: it was fantastic to experience her written slaps to the inflated male ego. Miljenko Jergović is a special chapter. Suffice it to say that in the early 2000s, his stories and novels seemed to have removed the theoretical tar of previous times. There was something primordial about that scene. Mate Matišić: he knew why he sat down to write. The peak of publishing: diaries of Zdravko Malić. And then, Damir Karakaš. His biography revives the complete history of modern Croatian literature. Working in newspapers, living abroad, the road, starving, studying for ages, reading millions of books, and playing the accordion even (Matoš played the cello, for example). It will remain written forever, in giant letters on the pillar of eternal shame: Karakaš was never offered a permanent position in a newspaper; look into any of our newspapers and see for yourselves what kind of ghosts write there. Karakaš developed slowly; we can see his personal intellectualisation’s growth, accompanied by a compression of style and an almost anti-intellectual pose. “Kako sam ušao u Europu: reality roman” (How I Entered Europe: A Reality Novel) from 2004 precedes everything we later read as reality in Knausgaard. “Sjećanje šume” (Memory of the Forest): the most vivid book of contemporary literature. “Proslava” (Celebration). But when someone writes without the others jumping on his head, he chooses how it will end. Vladan Desnica. “Zimsko ljetovanje” (Winter Summer-holidays). That’s the title of the book. Camden Market tour of Croatian literature skips many names, but not that of Desnica. The title itself is a metaphor for what has happened to all of us in recent years, not a few years, but years that have accumulated into the decades. Yes, we had summer holidays, but in the cold winter, because there was no place for us during the summer. Nor years; there was nothing. Except for some literature, as good as the stories told by a literature lover. Imagine a grandfather putting his grandchildren on his lap and telling them a story. I think that’s how Homer worked with his audience. He would put them on his lap and tell them terrible stories of war and destruction, and no one would blink. Occasionally, a sea would appear between the gleaming swords and bloodied bodies – a sea of red, red wine, red women, and red songs. We are still telling each other this story. Not us, but the people mentioned above.
From Matoš to Karakaš, Part 12