Isabel Núñez travelled to Sarajevo, Ljubljana, Zagreb, Belgrade and Pristina, the main cities of the former Yugoslavia to talk with Balkan authors who had written fiction, poetry or literary essays on war, trying to understand what happened there and which were the reasons of the only military conflict in Europe in the second half of 20th century. She was convinced that media wasn’t giving us the clues of what happened.
For the first time, a book listens as writers explain a war where they were protagonists (many of the main actors of the war defined themselves as writers, poets, historians or intellectuals: Slobodan Milo_evi_, Mira Markovi_, Radovan Karad_i_, Franjo Tudjman, Miroslav Toholj, Ivan Aralica and many others). The book is a travelogue, but there is a literary critic’s approach in it, and the conversations: these different writers seem to talk to each other in these pages and in their lively discussion we begin to understand how it is possible to organise a war in our world. Writers of three different generations compose the landscape of the end of Tito’s era, the particular kind of soft communism and multicultural fraternity that was destroyed with a fiery nationalism.
We see how, to remain in power after the fall of the Wall, some intellectuals and politicians became extreme nationalists and manipulated the difficult legacy of World War II in Yugoslavia, with its tough family stories and the wounds of each ethnic group (“my grandfather was killed by the Chetniks,” “my mother was killed by the Ustashas”…). We can imagine how this war was prepared and how there is a collective complicity for every war, how many people collaborated in a war sometimes only to steal a neighbour’s tv set. We wonder with them about the slow reaction of our Western world and its responsibility in this conflict: the genocide, the siege of Sarajevo, the Srebrenica massacre, the ethnic cleansing, the killings and rapings. And we see some of the facts that contradict the official media vision of Balkan wars and the stereotypes. We almost can walk through these unknown cities, with its combination of Turkish mosques, Orthodox and Catholic cathedrals, Austro-Hungarian buildings and Soviet-style developments, with luxurious woods, Vienna-like pastries and historical pain still flaming in destroyed places. And in the meantime we catch some of the best perfumes of the contemporary Slavic literature, with its dark humour and witty irony, the cultural mixture, the Östeuropean vision of our 20th century. Because fiction and poetry can be a good source of knowledge to understand things that you cannot find in history books or in the media.
Isabel Núñez (Figueres, Spain, 1957) is a writer, translator and literary critic. A regular contributor to La Vanguardia literary supplement (Culturas), she is the author of Crucigrama (H2o, Barcelona, 2006), La plaza del azufaifo (Melusina, Barcelona, 2008) and, with Rauda Jamis, Du fond des mères(DDB, Paris, 1998), Maternidad: Cartas entre dos mujeres (Urano, Barcelona, 1999). She has translated into Spanish authors such as T.C. Boyle, Richard Ford, Patricia Hisghsmith, Rick Moody, Jeff Noon, Cynthya Ozick, Dorothy Parker, Jacob Riis, Colin Thubron and others. She has a literary blog http://isabelnunez-zbelnu.blogspot.com
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