Zagreb

Split's Literature Scene

19 Feb 2019
An interview with Olja Savičević Ivančević by Roman Simić Bodrožić

The world of literature has always had its fair share of greats both present and past and in this modern age, there has never been more of a need for great literature and material that grasps the reader. IYP proudly introduces you to a star, and we aren’t talking show biz, but rather a star in literature. Olja Savičević Ivančević (OSI) is a shining light in contemporary Croatian literature at present, and judging by articles published in the Irish Times, the Guardian or DieZeitu... her books have been noted not only in Croatia but by the international literary audience. This lady from Split (born 1974), an award-winning poet and novelist, who with her novel ‘Adios, Cowboy’, which is an offset spaghetti Western perched in the wild and set around Split’s surroundings, has won both recognition and awards with this powerful story of Dalmatia that many are not aware of (and could certainly not learn of whilst being on holiday).

Roman: For starters, in your first novel, you freed Dalmatia of a fair portion of its general landmarks; some would even say that you freed it of something that people love most about Split and why they would even visit it at all. What was it like to wrestle the truth of so many songs, tourist guides and so many stereotypes, some of which, as usual, are accurate?
Olja: I hope that I somewhat evoked that beauty that truly exists, yet I also described the hidden side of the story. I believe that there are enough people from foreign countries around who are interested in learning how people live here.

Roman: Why a Western, and in particular why a spaghetti Western? True, the path has been paved by the cameramen of the already mythical German series about Winnetou which was recorded decades ago, but you have shown that a Western style life has always existed in Dalmatia and is very much still alive today.
Olja: In fact, the wild south-east does exist here, and Westerns as a genre have imposed themselves quite naturally on their own. Spaghetti westerns or Italo-westerns are a Mediterranean product with films that were mostly recorded in Spain and primarily by Italians. There is also a sub-genre of the classic spaghetti Western which is called the Eastern, and they were recorded in countries of Eastern Europe. They were an important part of my childhood and I played around following the rules of the genre whilst writing a contemporary story of Dalmatia, a story primarily about women and about lost childhood heroes.

Roman: The place where your novel is set is located only twenty kilometres from Split yet appears to be thousands of light years away from the city, as if it were an island. But what of the real islands? You wrote about them also, as in the recently awarded piece for children – you are happy whilst dwelling on them, exploring them. They are some kind of peripherals where life is totally different and far from the idyllic life when they are not right before our eyes?
Olja: The place that I described is partly invented, and partly inspired by Kašteli, Vranjice... these are places in the vicinity of Split, which in some way, at least in their old towns, are still reminiscent of the island towns. I fell in love with the islands through sailing as I have sailed from a young age, sailing has been my doorway to seeing most of the bays in the Adriatic Sea. A desire to return again and again to these places and discover the new ones is one of my most enduring and powerful emotional experiences, whilst in winter I dream about sailing. I have a small boat that is also my home and adventure at sea.

Roman: Which one of our islands do you feel to be yours and why?
Olja: Korčula is my island as I know it very well and I am connected to Korčula through my family ties. It is there that I spend my summers, but I also visit in winter and I know the harsher side of the island, its solitude and isolation. That is what I wrote about.

Roman: Your novel ‘Singer in the Night’ touches on your central topic, the city of Split. What kind of a city is Split? How would you describe it to a foreigner?
Olja: The novel ‘Singer in the Night’ describes one specific part of Split, the settlement of large buildings and skyscrapers that were built in socialism. It was an attempt to make urban city planning tailored to fit the people, to respect public space that nowadays no longer exists. That part of Split has not yet been touched by the raging transitional capitalism that poses as a threat to them. I think districts such as Split 3, Trstenik, Mertojak, Spinut and others in today's time are urban centres of the city. I am not saying this because I feel some nostalgia, I was not raised in those districts, but one must learn from such kind of urban planning for it shows concern and love for the city, which is opposite to the grapples that prevail today. In April of 2019, the English edition of 'Singer in the Night' will be released.

​​​​​​​Roman: My impression as an occasional visitor to Split is that it has greatly changed in recent years, even more so than other Dalmatian towns. You live in Split: is this observation true? And if so, what it is like now? What are the pros and cons?
Olja: Split has become a favoured tourist destination. On the plus side the city is much more stylish and neater. The minus is that because of the building of new apartments, the old parts of the city are dying and the true appeal of Split lies exactly in the authenticity of everyday life. This is a city of common folk and by losing the traces of its ordinary life, it will lose its best part and that is what makes it more interesting to tourists than other cities.

Roman: Which three places in Split mean the most to Olja, the writer?
Olja: Marjan and Spinut where I live – my boat is also in the small Spinut harbour; it’s the folk, the fishermen’s ‘old districts’ of Matejuška and Varoš since I used to pass through them every day for fifteen years and they remind me of all those small towns that people like; the market and fish market - the tastes, the smell, the loudness, the bustle, the dynamics of it all.

Roman: I know you love to travel, but how do you travel? Which means of transportation do you use, which books do you read, with whom and where do you travel?
Olja: I like to travel by boat or car, so I have freedom of movement whenever needed and in whatever direction I choose to go. Most often I travel with my family or other writers (when we go to festivals). I also love big cities and as I am getting older, I am becoming increasingly attracted to exploring nature, drifting away from the large residential areas. It is interesting that whilst at home I more often read poetry and short fiction, whereas whilst traveling and especially on board, I love to read big novels, and endless stories.
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