There’s a bumper crop of Croatian books due out in 2021. Part of this glut is thanks to the launch of Sandorf Passage, a US-based imprint committed to publishing the best literature from southeastern Europe. Here is our guide to five books to look out for.
Miroslav Krleža. Journey to Russia (Sandorf Passage; trans Will Firth)
It may be almost a hundred years old, but this book by one of Croatia’s greatest writers has definitely been worth waiting for. Miroslav Krleža’s account of a trip to Bolshevik Russia undertaken in the 1920s is nothing short of a modern travel classic. Krleža was himself a communist and had a rather rosy-spectacled view of what Leninism meant in practice. However his book’s vivid, frequently critical descriptions of life in Russia under the new regime are both evocatively rendered and full of insight. The description of the journey itself, undertaken by rail across a Europe emerging cautiously from a period of war and revolution, is an exhilarating ride in itself. Above all it is a book filled with anxious Wanderlust; reading it in the midst of a pandemic will soon have you yearning to jump on a long-distance train.
Ivana Bodrožić. We Trade Our Night For Someone Else’s Day (Seven Stories Press; trans. Ellen-Elias Bursać)
The eastern Croatian town of Vukovar is the setting for this gripping noir thriller, a place scarred by war and held in limbo by the failure of post-war politicians to offer a future. As well as a gripping who-and-why-dunnit, the novel is also a subtly feminist text; the main protagonists are women and the challenges they face provide critical reflections on the enduring patriarchal nature of Croatian politics. Bodrožić’s taste for social criticism and her thinly-disguised references to real existing controversies is cloaked in deft plotting and page-turning suspense. A book for the beach, certainly, but a thought-provoking one at that.
Bekim Sejranović. From Nowhere to Nowhere (Sandorf Passage; trans. Will Firth)
The Croatian-Bosnian-Norwegian novelist Bekim Sejranović sadly passed away aged 48, just before this, the English translation of his autobiographical debut novel, was released. Bosnian-born Sejranović spent his formative years in the Croatian city of Rijeka before the dissolution of Yugoslavia left him without papers. Asylum in Scandinavia was offered, and he took it in order to escape an uncertain future. This tale of Yugoslav background, Norwegian exile and alcohol-fuelled nights is told with self-deprecating wit and earthy humour. However Norway doesn’t feel like home, the narrator spends a lot of time shuttling between jobs, countries and partners, without being sure of where he really belongs. Sejranović’s account of the tribulations of the migrant generation is both searingly personal and beautifully told.
Robert Perišić. Horror And Huge Expenses (Sandorf Passage; due in autumn 2021;trans. Will Firth)
Split raised, Zagreb-based Perišić is one of Croatia’s best contemporary writers, having already garnered critical acclaim for the English translations of his full-length novels No Signal Area and Our Man In Iraq. This, a short-story collection first published in 2002, achieved cult status in Croatia due to its portrayal of a post-war generation negotiating the trials and pitfalls of young adult life in a transitional society. What makes the book relevant twenty years later is the fact that Croatia has not necessarily moved on that much in the intervening period. Financial crisis and covid-19 have kept the millennial generation in suspended animation. Perišić has a great ear for dialogue and captures perfectly the banter of the coffee bars and shopping malls that make up the Croatian scene. And when it comes to conjuring the undercurrents of daily life in southeastern Europe, there are few better writers than Perišić.
Tatjana Gromača. Divine Child (Sandorf Passage; due in autumn 2021; trans. Will Firth)
A searing portrait of a family trying to survive a fractured society, the second novel by acclaimed poet Tatjana Gromača involves a child-narrator who se mother is marginalized by society either because of mental illness or the fact that she comes from somewhere else, “the east”,and therefore doesn’t quite fit in – the reader is initially left to guess at the true nature of the family’s problems. Written in minimalist language that only tells you the half of what is on the narrator’s mind, the novel offers a running commentary on a world in which individuals can easily find themselves cast adrift by a society governedby mainstream assumptions. A book of huge symbolic weight, then, but given Gromača’s control of the narrator’s voice ithas an intimate and gripping quality that is hard to put down.