By Andrea Pisac
Cities often act as backdrops to stories and novels. In fact, some cityscapes are so evocative that they themselves become literary characters. In which case, for example, you might want to read a novel only because it’s set in Paris. Zagreb’s literary persona is more subtle and more enigmatic. Yes, the city has inspired many iconic stories, but its literary influence also spills outside book covers. In other words, Zagreb writers have always been a crucial part of the city’s social life. They didn’t only describe Zagreb in their writing, they made the city into what it is today.
Get to know Zagreb writers
There has always been a deep bond between Zagreb and its writers. Not a flirtation, not fondness, but a real love affair. You can see that by the number of writers’ sculptures gracing the city centre. Follow the well-trodden sightseeing routes and you’ll bump into literary characters whose friendly presence reveals much about Zagreb’s history.
TIP: Go on a self-guided walk to see all the statues of Croatian writers in Zagreb – travelhonestly.com/croatian-writers.
To begin with one of the most defining moments is to visit poet Petar Preradović (1830-1879) at Flower Square. Born at the time of the Austro-Hungarian cultural dominance, Preradović recognized the value of writing poetry in the Croatian language. Without him, and other leaders of the Illyrian movement, Croatian would have never become a standardized language, worthy of literary expression.
Another literary pioneer stands at the busy corner between Vlaška and Palmotićeva streets – August Šenoa (1838-1881). Once the Illyrian writers paved the way for Croatian as a literary language, Šenoa took a step further. His goal was to reach the largest group of readers – women – so he specialized in historical novels which he fused with romance. The Goldsmith’s Treasure, set in 16th century Zagreb, depicts the clash between the nobility and the petit bourgeoisie. But the main characters, Dora and Pavao, are second only to Romeo and Juliet in their poignant, tragic love.
TIP: The English translation of the novel is beautifully designed in the shape of a gold brick and is stocked in most souvenir shops.
The character of Dora Krupićeva, carved at the Stone Gate entrance, is one of only two female statues in the Zagreb literary club. The other one celebrates Marija Jurić Zagorka (1873-1957) – the first woman journalist in southeast Europe.
Zagorka’s sculpture stands by The Sundial in Tkalčićeva street, as if to suggest that she was running ahead of her time. Indeed a trailblazer, this highly educated woman dared to leave her husband to turn to her writing career. Also unlike other women of her time, Zagorka ‘meddled’ in politics, especially to oppose the Hungarian Duke Khuen-Héderváry whose rule suppressed the Croatian language.
Her feisty spirit was in stark contrast to her Lilliputian size. And this combination was best captured when her fellow journalist Fran Supilo complimented her on her courage: ‘Little Zagorka, you’re a real man’.
The other side of Zagorka were her prolific romantic, historical and crime novels, for which she was often sneered at by literary critics. Those allegedly trivial novels, however, tackled some burning social issues. Like her famous Witch of Grič – a cycle of novels about the infamous prosecutions of witches, whose deeper message is to wake up to freedom.
By Andrea Pisac