Monday, February 11, 2013

My book in December and January

Marica Bodrožić - Kirschholz und alte Gefühle


After trying Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall" I paused reading for a while and finally around Christmas picked up the new novel of the wonderful Marica Bodrožić. After the stress of the Christmas business I wanted a book I was sure I would love and knowing that Marica would come to Munich in January motivated me additionally to finish the book before we would meet again.

"Kirschholz und alte Gefühle" (Cherrywood and Old Feelings) is the second part of the triolgy that started with "Das Gedächtnis der Libellen". In the first book we met Nadeshda and followed her process of saying good bye to the man she loved for years and learned already a lot about her close friend Arjeta. Now in the 2nd book the perspectives are switching and we hear from Arjeta as the first-person narrator.

While "Das Gedächtnis der Libellen" is more like a song that goes in waves and spirales instead of an "organized" linear way, the structure of "Kirschholz und alte Gefühle" is clearer but far from linear either.
Arjeta is originally from Sarajevo, but studied and lived in Paris, where she met Nadeshda and when Nadeshda leaves for Berlin Arjeta is following her. 5 years later Arjeta moves into a new apartment in Berlin and starts to unpack. In her first seven days (the seven chapters of the book) she goes through bags full of pictures she got from her mother and starts a journey into her memories. 

Those memories and what they do for and with Arjeta is the center piece of this book. I struggle myself with memories a lot. I sometimes feel the more I try hold them the faster I lose them. Just like Arjeta tries so hard to remember the voices of her little twin brother who were killed in the besieged Sarajevo I have a very hard time remembering voices although I would love to remember them so much.
I can recall a day years ago when my mom found an old tape she and my dad had recorded on Christmas eve. It had my sister's and mine little kid voices talking about our gifts and it had my dad's voice. My mom played it to me on the phone because she thought I would love it. But when I heard my dad's voice the first - and only - time years after his death, I started crying so hard that I almost could not catch my breath. It was so familiar to me and at the same time so totally strange and so far away that it broke my heart. My poor mom was really shocked about my unexpected reaction and apologized for the emotional turmoil she had caused. Now she is gone as well already for six years and I am running into the same problem. I can call up her image, I know what she thought about many things and what she would say about recent developments if she would be here, but I cannot hear her voice anymore. Remembering a voice seems to be the most etherical type of memory.

To not give a too detailed summary I will do what I have done before with my book reviews - I will just list a couple details I especially liked or which made me think most.
  • Although Arjeta's story is also not told in a linear way I had absolutely no problem to follow. Other than with Nadeshda who's poetic and abstract way of thinking was challeging for me, I felt in a flow with Arjeta's way to reflect and remember.
  • I adore Marica for writing not much more than 200 pages, but telling so much with such intensity. 
  • The first-person narrator perspective keeps the reader close to the main character, but the book - at least I felt it that way - gives the reader enough room to partially agree and feel close to Arjeta and on the other hand disagree with her and not totally understand her way to think and feel. She does not reveal everything - not to herself and not to the reader. It adds complexity to the reading experience, but in a very good way. 
  • The war in former Jugoslavia plays a big role in this book as it heavily influences the life of many of its characters and it is amazing to watch how Marica Bodrožić just tells purely the story of people - not of countries, borders, nationalities or religions and that is itself a fantastic piece of art. 
  • There are some absolutely fantastic side characters in the story like Arjeta's fatherly friend Mischa who escaped the Holocaust or her grandmother, who lives in Istria at the coast but is of German descent. I honestly would love to read a whole novel just about the life of this woman. The little detail given here already made me long for more stories about her. 
  • Sarajevo - the in the book unnamed besieged city Arjeta is from: The way Marica Bodrožić talks about Sarajevo matches how my sister and me a little bit with her heard her local friends talking about their city and the besiege. In the center of all these stories was, is and will be always the deadly disbelief that something like this could happen to such a lovely, lively and civilized city in the middle of Europe
  • The love story is tragic and intensive and clearly the story of a young woman. It seems that it needs the wisdom of age to understand that the person you love will not change for you. It takes Arjeta years to seperate the picture, the idea she has of the man she thinks she loves from the person he really is and break the spell. It is a painful process. 
  • There are many links between Nadeshda's and Arjeta's lifes which are ... let's say ... unlikely. It's too much coincidence - theoretically. But I can proof myself that life is much crazier than that and neither Marica nor I belief in coincidences anyway. I know this for sure because she wrote about it before and we talked about it in person. Coincidences, we are both convinced, are only for fools and cowards. 
  • German home fries and Istrian pasta with truffles are indeed two of the world's best dishes. 
  • When I am a grown up ;o) and have a bigger apartment than I have now, I would also love to have small empty room that is just there for looking out of the window into the blue sky. 
  • Nobody else can built a summer at the Adriatic so perfectly with words that you can smell it and feel it on your skin like Marica can do.
There is more to the book that would be worthwhile to mention like the whole political and psychological background of "the language cleaner", or the multiple dimensions of faint and powerlessness Arjeta is experiencing and how she slowly, slowly overcomes them facing her memories in these seven days in her little bird room and at her cherrywood table, but you - at leat the ones of you who can read German - should just pick up  "Kirschholz und alte Gefühle" and go on this journey with Arjeta yourself. 

Side note: I was present for Marica's reading session here in Munich and I listened  to a couple of  radio interviews with her and was pretty annoyed with her interviewers. I am aware that not every German can be so close to Croatian language and culture like I am, but please, dear journalists,
Marica Bodrožić's name is not THAT hard to say and it would be really nice if you could tackle this problem already in the prep work for the interview or reading session. Dealing properly with names is one of the real basics in this job.
Also please step a little back from the very stereotype ideas you have about Croatia and Dalmatia and just not reduce this fabulous writer to her biography and if you do - please at least read it properly. Thank you!

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