A monthly post about what I've been reading.
Before we left on our trip to Slovenia and Croatia, I searched online for "books that take place in the Balkans" and came up with the first two on the list (as well as two from last month's list).
The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obrecht. This book tells the story of a woman doctor from an unnamed city (presumably Belgrade) who travels to a coastal town in another of the former Balkan republics (also not named) to provide medical care in an orphanage. While she's there, she learns that her grandfather had gone away to a clinic and died, without telling his wife or daughter the truth about his medical condition (cancer) or where he's going. The narrator intertwines her experiences at the orphanage, including trying to help a group of Roma who are digging in the nearby vineyard for mysterious reasons, with stories of visiting the tiger house at the zoo with her grandfather as a child and then delving further back into stories of her grandfather's childhood and the escaped tiger that takes up residence near his village, and magical realism and folkloric elements become part of the narrative. It's a strange and beautiful book.
Mix Ex-Yugoslavia by Sofija Sefanovic. This memoir begins with the narrator taking part in a Miss Ex-Yugoslavia beauty pageant among the former Yugoslav ex-pat community in Australia and from there winds back through her childhood growing up in Belgrade and her family's emigration to Australia as tensions in that country rose in anticipation of war of the 1990s. While Stefanic didn't experience the war first-hand, it's still an insightful account of the experience of someone intimately tied to the place and a different perspective on NATO's role in ending that war--different from our own US roaring in as saviors story, and the collateral damage the wars had on the people living in Serbia who did not support Milošević or the ethnic cleansing.
In Croatia I visited a bookstore (okay, in both Slovenia and Croatia I visited a LOT of bookstores) and picked up the following three works in translation:
Take Six: Six Balkan Women Writers, edited by Will Firth. This collection includes stories, excerpts, and essays from six women writers who hail from six different Balkan republics. It differs from the previous two books, as well as The Hired Man, which I read last month, in that most of the stories don't focus on war. Rather, in a variety of writing styles, they delve into different aspects of everyday life of modern people, both tragic (drug use and death) and ordinary (falling in love), including a series of humorous stories that take place in ride shares and memoir vignettes by a teenager in a tuberculosis ward.
In a Sentimental Mood by Ivana Bodrožić and Kindness Separates Night from Day by Marija Dejanović are both books of poetry translated from Croatian into English. I'm not a great poetry critic, but I enjoyed them both, especially Kindness.
When I got home, I immediately came down with a cold and spent three days lying around hydrating and not moving much, so I craved comfort reads and picked up a couple of vintage Mary Stewart volumes I'd ordered recently. Both Touch Not the Cat and The Gabriel Hounds have good gothic vibes, and The Gabriel Hounds has my other favorite suspense trope: travel to an exotic location (the desert of Lybia). They both also lean heavy on a trope favored by both Mary Stewart and my other suspense writer fave, Barbara Michaels: kissing cousins. The Gabriel Hounds is extra-squirmy, since the cousins' fathers are identical twins, which makes them, genetically, half-siblings. I don't know what it is with these authors, but they loved keeping it in the family. Is the ick factor of this a recent development in society and cousins getting together just no big deal in the sixties and seventies?