Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Stalking my favorite writers - in this edition: Marica Bodrožić

"Das Gedächtnis der Libellen" and "Rio Bar"
Most of the time I like the job I do for a living but the hot six weeks before Christmas are always like a Mount Everest of work and this year is no exception.  That means sad enough that I do not have time to visit any of the events at the Munich Literature Festival although a couple of really interesting writers are in town. But with all necessary energy I did defend successfully one night against the work tsunami - the night of the reading session with Marica Bodrožić and Ivana Sajko.

Both ladies are almost the same age (born 1973 and 1975) like me (born 1973) and represent two types of young Croatian writes. Marica spent parts of her childhood in Croatia, but moved to Germany in the age of 10, developed her identity as a writer here in the so called dijaspora and writes in German. Ivana Sajko on the other hand was born and raised in Croatia and lives in Zagreb. The language she uses to express herself as a writer, dramatic advisor, director and actress is Croatian.

Marica presented her new book "Das Gedächtnis der Libellen"  (which translates to English as "The memory of the Dragonflies"), which was already topic of my latest blog post, and Ivana Sajko introduced her popular novel "Rio Bar".
This night was definitely nothing for people who like easy-to-read, straight forward stories with a clear start and end and an average level of suspense, but perfect for open minded (concerning form and content) literature lovers. Both writers stretch the text format “novel” to its borders while creating their very own way to tell their stories. And both face bravely the challenge of writing about love – real love and not the pinky Hollywood style romance-, which is properly the most complex topic to choose.
Ivana Sajko’s  "Rio Bar" breezes from every page the scent of theater. This is no miracle since the emphasis of her work is writing and directing plays for the stage.
"Rio Bar" reflects the personal drama of a woman put into a series of monologues. The background of her story is the war with all his cruelty and absurdity mirrored by the sweetness of a peaceful Istrian village (Rovinj) as the stage. The theme is love. The costume of the leading character and returning metaphor is the wedding dress which appears again and again in several different forms and functionalities.
It was very interesting to listen and watch both writers. And although both have different backgrounds and a very different way of working I thought that both ladies had a kind of similar energy and the two very complex works of and about love fit very well together although they are substantially different.
Marica Bodrožić by Jens Oellermann
for Luchterhand Publishing
Since I am reading Marica Bodrožić's books for quite a while now – from short stories to essays to novels to poetry collection - and I just worked (in the best meaning of the word in the sense of intensive and concentrated reading) myself through "Das Gedächtnis der Libellen" I was of course very curious about what Marica herself had to tell about her latest novel.
The first really interesting aspect she mentioned was the lack of linear storytelling, which is quite obvious, but it made me smile and think of Edo Popović’s recent statement, that reality is not linear, again. And one more time similar to Edo Marica was pointing out that instead of the standard structure of a novel she was more following the concept of music. The rhythm and the structure of verse and chorus was most important to create the right flow for the book and the result was best to be described as a spiral – something which after some rethinking it I can only agree to. This describes the reading experience quite precisely.
I also had to smile, when Alida Bremer, as Ivana Sajko's  translator, interpreter for the night and moderator, said that Marica’s book is about a woman who’s relationship is over but she refuses to accept and Marica insisted the moment I felt like shouting “No – that’s not it” into the round, which would have been obviously totally inappropriate.  The book tells in fact the full story about the end of this love and of course there are scenes and states of mind, when the main character Nadeshda is not yet ready to accept that she is losing Ilja (her lover) but for big parts of the books she already deals with it with full consciousness, which does not mean that she is already "done" completely with this experience.
We reached another important point in the discussion, when both writers were asked about which role the war in the 90'ies plays in their body of work. Inside I sighed, because I am personally tired of this topic. Don’t get me wrong – of course this is important. It is just recent history which influences the present heavily, which changed the maps and the biographies of everybody involved - and even saying this is an understatement. But I am kind of tired that all the time people just seem to think of war, when they hear about Croatian culture. The country and its culture are much richer and just cannot and should not be reduced to the events and effects of this latest war.
Broken down to the work of the two writers there is a huge difference. Of course the war is present in the texts of both, but it is much more dominant for Ivana Sajko, but she had lived in Croatia during this difficult time and so of course her involvement with this topic is very intense.
Marica Bodrožić, who experienced the war mostly from a distance, describes it as the permanent background noise to her stories.  It is always there since it is an important part of the biography of her characters – like here especially for Arjeta and Ilja who are both from Sarajevo and had to leave their hometown because of the war – but it is usually not her main focus.
In this context Marica could also clarify one aspect which I found sometimes critically mentioned in the reviews for "Das Gedächtnis der Libellen" - the storyline with Nadeshda's parents and especially her father's crime. The critics mentioned that it seems to be not really connected to the rest of the story and would be a bit over the top. But in the discussion with Marica it we came to a point when it made totally sence: When you think of war, then the burning question is – and especially in a war neighbor against neighbor, family against family, friends against friends like in the former Yugoslavia -always how human beings can do such horribile thing to each other. One possible answer is in this story line:  Nadeshda's father and his horrible acts of crime and her mother who kept silent about it and even abandons her daugther, symbolize the fact that we have it just in us. The war brings out the worst, but it is not creating it – it is already there under the surface of the so called normal.
On a lighter note we had a nice laugh, when Marica told the audience that a sweet ancedote in the book featuring the great czech writer Milan Kundera, which seemed totally made up for make the reader smile, was a true story, which happened to herself in the streets of Paris.
Like so often, Marica pointed out, the things, which were real seemed to be so unrealistic and the things everybody would easily take for real were made up.  So true ... life is usually much crazier than the things we create in our mind.
That was just scratching the surface I am afraid, but I'll stop here with the recommendation, that just in case Marica Bodrožić and / or Ivana Sajko ever come to read near your place it is definitely worth going, listening and discussing with these two talented writers.

In the picture here you see the original ticket for this evening featuring next to Marica Bodrožić the name of Aleksandar Hemon. Although I totally enjoyed this night you can imagine maybe the big sadness I had in my heart, when I had to learn a while ago about the cancellation of Aleksandar Hemon's trip to Europe due to very important personal reasons.
My american copy of "The Lazarus Project" was already waiting for months on the shelf to get signed and I would have enjoyed so much to listen to and to talk to and discuss with my favorite writer – especially in combination with Marica Bodrožić, who is the one who is responsible for me discovering the fantastic writing of Aleksandar Hemon. I hope that he will have soon the chance to jump over the Atlantic and visit us here. For now I just wish him and his family all the very best.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My books: October 2010

It’s only the 2nd issue of my new monthly series featuring the books I read the month before and I am already hiding from my computer. Of course I WANT to write about these books, because they are great. But on the other hand I don’t want to because it is too personal, too close and too many quite abstract thoughts and emotions are attached to both of them.
It will be very hard to stick to my short and clear I like / I don’t like system I decided to use as a concept for this series and at the same time to do justice to the quality of the books and what they are meaning to me, but I’ll give it a try.

Marica Bodrožić – "Das Gedächtnis der Libellen"
So let’s start with my left heart chamber. The Croatian or - to be exact – the Dalmatian one represented perfectly by the wonderful Marica Bodrožić and her new book.

“Das Gedächtnis der Libellen” tells the story of Nadeshda (a self given name of the character – we never get her birth name) and how she said good bye to her lover. This is the golden thread of the story, but we also hear about her childhood in Dalmatia, her parents and the cruel secret they kept, about different places she travelled to and lived at and her best friend Arjeta. So it is much more than just a story about the end of a love.
When we of DVORI e.V. invited Marica Bodrožić to a reading session here in Munich last year, she already mentioned that she was working on a novel, which would be less abstract and more stringent in story telling than her latest release – a collection of poems called "Lichtorgeln".
She kept her promise, but if you know Marica then you know that she would find a way to leave the regular format of a novel behind – and so she did:
“Das Gedächtnis der Libellen” never changes the perspective. There is never a story teller, never the invisible third person, who describes the scenario from the bird’s eye perspective. The whole novel is a never interrupted flow of Nadeshda’s memories, feelings, emotions, reflections and observations – strictly and uncompromisingly subjective. It feels very much like one huge piece, when you read it – like it was created in one monstrous writing session, although I know that it was not that way.
To avoid that this here is becoming an essay nearly as long as the book, I will give you my main thoughts about “Das Gedächtnis der Libellen” condensed to some key statements:
  • I love the scenes when Nadeshda describes her lover with for example telling all details about his hands. It is the way you look on somebody you love, when you focus on all the tiny things which define the distinctiveness of this special person.
  • Silently this book destroys the romantic myth that the love between two people is all what counts. Of course love is essential and indispensable, but love alone is not enough. It’s true. I’ve been there.
  • If you do not read carefully you think this story is tragic because the two lovers don’t make it together. But it is not. The happy end is hidden in a tiny sentence, when Nadeshda mentions that she lives now with a man, who has everything her lover didn’t have. The one who has more to offer than just love. Don’t miss this sentence – it changes the whole perspective.
  • I LOVE the way how Marica Bodrožić talks about Dalmatia. She finds a way to express in GERMAN words (which makes it even more extraordinary since it is so hard to explain or describe Dalmatia in German) the feelings, sights, scents, the atmosphere of Dalmatia in a way that I find myself in it. Things I barely have own words for.
  • To avoid spoiling Marica's elegant writing I quote one of my favorite paragraphs:
    “Vielleicht würde er auch sagen, dass der Zufall nur etwas für Leute ist, die sich sehenden Auges ihrer Blindheit schon in der Vergangenheit anheimgeben.“
    I love it, when I find evidence of other people, who share my total disbelieve in the existence of coincidences.
  • I told you already when I wrote about Tom Stoppard's "Rock 'n' Roll" that it is helpful if you would have read some Milan Kundera. Same here :) 
There’s much more, but I’ll stop here and instead of writing I'll enjoy now the extremely pleasant anticipation of the upcoming reading of “Das Gedächtnis der Libellen” with Marica Bodrožić Thursday, November 18, 2010 at 8.30 pm / Buchhandlung Lehmkuhl, Leopoldstrasse 45 in Munich.
If you live in Munich or close by, I hope to see you there!

Michael Chabon – The Mysteries of Pittsburgh
Okay – we are done with the left heart chamber. So let’s do the right one. Let’s do America – the country the girl loves, too. If you look at the map it seems to be far away, but the book of Marica Bodrožić has many US links (New York and Chicago mostly) and we do not even start talking about Aleksandar Hemon’s fascinating balancing act of placing a Sarajevan soul into an American context and US English words (at least we do not now and here). With this in mind “far away” became already a relative term.

But let's talk about Pulitzer Price winner Michael Chabon, who is in Germany best known for his novel "The Wonderboys" and the related movie with Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire and the wonderful Francis McDermond.

“The Mysteries of Pittsburgh” was his debut novel and the story is located in his Pennsylvanian hometown (like you can easily guess from the title), but funny enough Michael Chabon wrote most of the book in Oakland – but the one across the Oakland Bay Bridge from San Francisco not Oakland like the neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
Writing was the remedy for his homesickness. It is not that Michael Chabon didn’t like the bay, but he missed Pittsburgh like he notes in his own comments to the book.
This is a well known phenomenon – misplaced Burghers often feel homesick a lot and make the away matches of the Steelers to a strange black & yellow experience for the home team ;)
So when he sat down and decided to write a novel he decided to go home – at least on paper.

The novel follows the 20something Art Bechstein, the son of classic oldschool gangster. Art himself has nothing to do with his father’s mafia world until the events of a long hot summer change almost everything in his life.
The story is about friendship, fun, love in more than one variation (attention: nothing for tweedy souls – some explicit scenes included), crime and the long and winding road of growing up. It is a funny, tough, emotional and suspenseful story with very special and vivid characters.
I had a lot of fun reading it.

And here are is short list of things I liked in particular about the book:
  • The Cloud Factory: It is a quite important location in the book and I just love the expression. I find the idea of an industrial structure producing clouds poetic.
    In real life the cloud factory is a boiler plant and the main heat supply for Oakland – the Pittsburgh one.
    Funny enough following the related Wikipedia entry it seems to be not 100% clear if Chabon adopted an already existing Pittsburghese (yes – this is actually a language ... kind of ;) nick name of the place or if he invented it and then the Burghers adopted it.
  • The Gangsters: Bechstein senior and his mates are old school gangsters and I love it.
    Although Bechstein junior has to get his head out of the sand and learn the hard way what his father is really doing - something he knew but kind of ignored – there is a romantic flair around this old fashioned band of brothers with their suits, hats, epic restaurant dinners and conspirative hotel room meetings.
  • The Summer: I am totally a summer person and so I really love the fact that the summer is the basic framework of the story telling in this novel. The excitement and energy of June. The strange mixture of lethargy, heat, humidity of July, which stretches the limits of reality and makes room for some certain craziness. The melancholy of already cool nights spoiling the summer fun in August and making you want to hold the moment before everything will change for sure. That’s really it.
    Chabon’s btw admits in his notes it was Francis Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel “The Great Gatsby”, which unfolds the whole drama in the lifecycle of one summer as well.
So far for today – watch out for more Pittsburgh stories to come before I will very likely move myself over the Atlantic to New York City and … Pittsburgh in February 2011.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Stalking my favorite writers - in this edition: Edo Popović

Even before the big literature festival kicks off later in November we had the first reading session highlight in this season's event calendar:
One of the most famous, most popular and internationally most recognized Croatian writers, Edo Popović, came to Munich to present his old new book "Mitternachtsboogie" (Midnightboogie).

Edo Popović
Wait. Old new? What does that mean?
In fact "Ponoćni boogie" (Midnightboogie) was Edo's first book ever released in 1987 - some years before he became Croatia's most important war correspondent (1991-1995), and 16 years before his international breakthrough novel "Izlaz Zagreb Jug"  (Exit Zagreb South) was released.

The new part is, that it was now released as "Mitternachtsboogie" in German language.

"Midnightboogie" is a rough and kind of abstract piece of literature. It's like a candid shot of a youth in the Yugoslavia of the 80ies. And it is exciting to see the early state of the very direct sometimes hard, but still very emotional language, which became so typical for Edo Popović's writing.

"Midnightboogie" is a bit hard to follow sometimes because there is no classical linear story telling. But when the audience asked about that Edo made with his answer the (for me) most remarkable statement of the night:

"The reality is not linear."

I could not agree more.

Clemens Meyer
What I thought was a bit of a pity - like so often at bilingual readings - was that only a very short part of the text was read by Edo Popović in Croatian.
I know I am in a privileged position since I could understand the Croatian and the German parts, but most people in the audience spoke both languages - so that would have not been a big problem.

And even if I would not understand a word, I still think it is fascinating, important and an essential experience to hear the original text - especially if it is a piece like "Midnightboogie" which is based so much on the sound and rhythym of the words.

But I have to admit that in this case it was not so bad since the German text - the bigger part of the reading - was presented in a very competent and committed way by the German writer Clemens Meyer, who really brought the "Mitternachtsboogie" to life.

Clemens Meyer and Edo Popović are a team and you could really feel it that night. Not only that Munich was the last stop of a bigger reading tour of the two. They already worked together for a while and present each other's books to the audiences in the respective countries. A German / Croatian friendship and cultural co-operation at it's best.

The next project they have on their roadmap is a trip to Croatia to explore the filming locations of the famous "Winnetou" movies, which were in many cases later in the 90ies some of the worst battlegrounds of the war. A kind of ironical contrast, which is of course fertile ground for the creative mind of an artist - in this case the one of Clemens Meyer.

I am already looking forward to whatever will be the outcome of this trip!

Alida Bremer
One person, who should for sure not left out here is Alida Bremer - the host of the reading and Croatian / German interpreter in one person.

Alida was of course the best possible choice for this event, because she is the one who translated Edo Popović's texts into German and works closely with him for many years.

Alida Bremer also translated the books of a lot more contemporary Croatian writers, travelled with them for reading sessions and presented them together with their publishers on German book fairs. She is definitely the most important door opener for Croatian literature in Germany.

On a sidenote:  She lives in Muenster like my family and was Croatian teacher of my sister years ago. Small planet, isn't it?

Alida will be back in Munich soon for the reading of the wonderful Marica Bodrožić and Ivana Sajko at November 18, 2010. Stay tuned for my "Stalking my favorite writers" issue about this new event.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Random thoughts

Sorry guys - this might a bit of a dark posting. It's just that I am a summer kid and suffer from fall / winter depressions every year and this one is no exception. I promise, that the nex postings will be more postive and inspiring again. So here are my random thoughts from the last couple of days:

Geneva Aiport
Business travelling is NOT exciting
I know for people who have to stay at home and go to their offices from 9 am to 5 pm every day it sounds always very impressive when I say that I am going to spend the next few days for example in London or - like last week - in Geneva.
If this is the case I have a message for you: It is neither impressive nor exciting. In the pic you see all I saw from Geneva. Don't get me wrong - it's okay. This is work not vacation. Just don't be jealous - exhausting travel hours and smelly hotel rooms are bugs not features ;).
And this is why I added an extra day on my own expense to our internantional meeting in Barcelona later this month. Going there and flying home again without seeing the cathedral, walking the Ramblas and having my eyes resting on the open horizon at the beach? That would be too much of a pitty, wouldn't it?! So watch out for my Barca pics soon (end of November).

Pumpkin & pic by Katharina Custer
Germany is not ready for Halloween
Thanks to my lovely hosts Katharina and Maja I was invited to two Halloween parties this year. Both nights have been big fun with cool people, cold drinks and awesome decoration.
Just - going there was a pain in the a... I was all dressed up in black with gothic make up and with an epic big black hat. People stared at me like I was a freak they would call the police on every minute. Tsss - never seen somebody in a COSTUME folks?

And even if this dress would have been real - so what?
A bit more tolerance, please!

Pic from
Underground tunnels are creepy places
Going back from Saturday's Halloween party was a very unpleasant experience.
I was in the last underground at 2 am in the morning, when the train suddenly stopped dead in the tunnel between Odeonsplatz and Universität.
The light went out and then came back only as a low emergency light.
After a couple of minutes dozens of police men and women, firefighters and paramedics ran down the tunnel along the train. I still do not know what exactly happened but most likely somebody through himself / herself under the train although nobody I talked to had seen or heard anything. But since they had to evacuate the train and could not move it, it must have been something very serious like this.
So I ended up jumping off the train at 3 am between two underground stations and had to walk the down the tunnel in dim light on a small trail. SCARY. Nothing I want to do again - that is for sure. Definitely too much Halloween for me and a very tragic end for the person, who very likely died.

Did I tell you before how much I HATE cancer? Yes? Anyway - I need to say it again a couple of times.
I hate cancer. I hate cancer. I hate cancer. I hate cancer. I hate cancer. I hate cancer. I hate cancer. I hate cancer. I hate cancer.

Sorry. I know this is not helping anybody, but under the impression of the things I had to learn lately (not about myself - just in case you were on the way asking) I had to express my rage, my anger, my sadness, my fear, my desparation.

We need to find cure - NOW.