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.

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