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A glimpse into Croatian literature and what it brings to Europe

The Bright Old Oak, 5 June, 2013.

In less than four weeks Croatia will be the next country to join the European Union. The event will mark the first time since a former Yugoslavian country joins the Union after Slovenia, who had joined in 2004. Just six years after the end of the Croatian War of Independence, the nation has rapidly grown into a modern and flourishing country and is now ready to join in the other European countries from which it was long held apart from.



In the blog post “Once upon a time in Yugoslavia“, I described Yugoslavia as a good kept secret, overtly underrated in comparison to other European cities and held back from progress by the long years of confinement due to the Soviet bloc rule. Certainly this move may cause debate and skepticism from a political and economic point of view, especially in times of acute crisis like the current one. However, it is the cultural union and, in this case, a literary one that interests us. In particular, Croatia, today as in recent years, has embarked on a promising path of integration into European culture and every bit as good as its old sisters.

Miroslav Krleža is probably the most popular writer in Croatian literature. His relevance also has to do with the fact that he has been able to interwoven national issues within foreign literary influences. He was, by all means, an Austro-Hungarian author and the echoes of the Empire’s end are perfectly traced in his works, which also span for decades, starting after World War I and continuing throughout the twentieth century. “Gospoda Glembajevi” is one of his most famous work; a play set in Zagreb in 1913 which tells the story and destiny of a rich family. But another author is often credited for having been influenced by European trends and having brought these to Croatian literature: Antun Branko Šimić has in fact made free verse accessible in Croatian poetry and just like most Croatian authors of the time, the closest influences came from Central Europe and partly from France and Scandinavia aswell. Another notable name in Croatian literature (but also Bosnian literature, as he was born a Bosnian Croat) is the 1961 Nobel prize winner Ivo Andrić, whose most famous work is “Na Drini ćuprija” (in English, “The Bridge on the Drina“). As Krleža, Andrić is a witness of the fast changing world around him and is a witness to falling Empires, wars and intense periods of turmoil for his lands.

However, many Croatian works still remain untranslated into English. Whether we like it or not, English is one of the main means through which literary works are made more accessible worldwide and it is a decisive operation in the perspective of making Croatian literature (and all its heritage) closer to her European sisters. In fact, female writer Zagorka (real name Marija Jurić) has written many novels in Croatian, most of which have an historical element as well as intrigue and moral topics. To name a few, ”Kći Lotrščaka” (in English, “The Daughter of the Lotrščak“) is set duringthe revolt of the Croatian nobility against Margrave Georg von Brandenburg in the fifteenth century, whereas the 7-novel cycle “Grička vještica” (in English, “The Witch of Grič“) mixes elements of fairytale with historical facts. A few of her books have been translated into German but remain untranslated in the English language, therefore making these precious works unaccessible to a foreign audience.

These are just a few of the important names in contemporary Croatian literature, a tradition which is century-long and that we all need to know more about. Many European literatures, even the richest and most culturally stimulating, are often peripheral and isolated. The cause of this is due to linguistic or political reasons or simply has to do with national and international editorial choices. There must be a new and strong interest in making all the national literatures in Europe accessible to the reader, for this is the only way Europe can truly enjoy its cultural and literary heritage.

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