prose

Sanja Pilić: Ah, Madhouse

Sanja Pilić, born in Split in 1954, is a celebrated author whose work mostly consists of literature for children and young adults. She has won numerous awards for her work including the Matko Lovrak award for the best children’s novel in 2007 for Što mi se to događa (What’s Happening to Me). She has published thirty-three books so far and one of her novels for teens was turned into a play. Her stories and books have been translated into many different languages.

In her short story, Ah Madhouse, Pilić breathes life into her characters using vivid imagery and rich descriptions as she gracefully explores the boundary between sanity and insanity.

Read Pilić’s story, which won the second place prize for best short story in the daily national newspaper’s (Večernji List) competition in 1981, below. Translation by Vera Andrassy.



 

Ah, Madhouse, by Sanja Pilić

Translated by  Vera Andrassy

 

They brought me to M. by special train. "She's mad but harmless," they said. I looked at the landscape through the iron bars of the carriage. Then they opened the door, it was so hot that the sun burned my eyes. I was wearing a silk dress and an ivory bracelet. Somebody grasped me round the waist and helped me down the steps, onto the ground. A healthy man, he smelt of garlic, was beside me. The car door was wide open, my pigskin suitcase lay on the backseat. "Please," said the man in the white coat. "And welcome." It sounded like mockery and yet it wasn't… I tried to smile but I couldn't. My face was hardened clay, hard, useless earth.

 

We didn't drive long. When we stopped, the door of paradise rose before me. A paradise for lunatics. Of wrought iron, with black roses. It was a complicated pattern, even for lace. The door stood there, unreal and light, as if not touching the ground—it seemed fragile, like dry ikebana. It looked as though you could always walk out through it without a key as if a nice thought would be sufficient to open it. "Has the madhouse always been here?" I asked the man in the white coat. He nodded: "Yes, always." The healthy man took my suitcase and stood beside me. I could smell garlic again. I walked between the two, down a long path in the big building. At the end of the path a white room without paintings was waiting for me.

 

"I hope you'll be all right here," said the man in the white coat. "Your family saw to it that you got the best room."

 

"I don't doubt it," I said and smiled, all of a sudden my face was made of wet sand. I saw my family waving in harmony while I stared from behind the bars. My daughter was standing separately, I noticed relief in her calm, child's eyes.

 

"We'll write," they shouted in unison: a citizens' choir on platform one, at eleven twenty-five. "Just leave me alone," I screamed and the train started, rattling across the unfamiliar, broken landscape.

 

Read the rest here

 

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