Adventures in Literature - Sept. 2020
Hi Everyone - This a 'live' page. It will be updated as your emails and comments come in.
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Next meeting on Zoom - here is the link. Feel free to join on Monday 14th September at 2pm. Click here: Adventures in Literature - Sept. Zoom or Copy the link below into your web browser.
From Sharon 13.9.20
I have been reading a book written by Serbian writer Svetislav Basara, called The Cyclist Conspiracy. It is without doubt the weirdest book I have ever read and it is very hard to actually describe it. So here goes. It is written as if it is the result of research and refers to manuscripts, letters, poems which purports to reveal this mysterious sect. The sect is called The Little Brothers of the Evangelical Bicylists of the Rose Cross. They meet in dreams, gain esoteric knowledge from comtemplation of the bicycle and seek to move in and out of history, manipulating events. In some cases the members are not aware they are part of the sect. They can communicate with the dead through dreams. They intervene in historical events such as the Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and even influence a story of Sherlock Holmes. It intertwines with threads of waking and dreams involving the present, the past and the future. If you see a bicycle from above it looks like a cross which the sect claims represents God and death. The book is heavy on religion, Freud, politics. The nearest thing I can come up with is that it is sending up Religion, Masons, Society, Psychoanalysism and conspiracy theorists. Wow. The strange thing is I was compelled to read it to the end even though I was left turning myself inside out to understand it.
'Café Europa' by Slavenka Drakulić 1994-95, Abacus English edition 1996.
It is not a specific café, although there are several Europa Cafés in the former Communist Eastern European Countries. Western European countries and their wealth and sophistication were the envy of Eastern Europeans during Communist rule.
The book is a collection of essays, musings on people, events and attitudes by Drakulić who was born in Istria in 1949. She was comparatively lucky to be born a Croatian in the former Yugoslavia as, like her compatriots she enjoyed more freedom to travel and buy goods from abroad, during the more liberal regime under Tito. She also married a Swedish man and obtained dual citizenship.
The complexities of trying to keep body and soul together under Communism are well known from Russian literature; Drakulić manages to convey both the humour and tragedy of daily life, of smuggling goods like toilet paper, jeans and cigarettes, along with the guilt at having access to things that people in neighbouring countries could only dream about.
She recalls the anger and humiliation of crossing the border back into Croatia: the indignities to which returning citizens are subject, compared with the ease at being waved through without formalities when entering Sweden.
But the stories become darker as the book progresses. The feelings of helplessness at the events of the war and the complicity of the Croations in atrocities and betrayals. I’m going to have to read this again to pick up the nuances, which passed me by during the time this was happening. I need to read more of the history of Croatia to understand what lies behind this awful turmoil. One of the keys is the story, ’People From The Three Borders’. Istria is largely Croatian but also has an Italian part and a Serbian part. Many people play the system. They are ‘Istrian’ when they fill out the census forms, even though there is no such category listed. They refuse to be pinned down and some even have three passports. They can go shopping in whichever country particular foods are cheapest.
Theoretically, all this has changed in the last 25 years since the book was written, as Croatia is now in the EU. During the wars in the former Yugoslavia, Western Europe steadfastly refused to become involved. Croatians could not understand this, were they too not European now? Why were they ignoring the atrocities of Neofascists? I also did not realise that during WW2, when Croatia was occupied by the Nazis, Croatia set up a fascist government and rounded up Jews, Serbians, gypsies and dissidents into concentration and extermination camps. When Russia liberated Croatia, the government simply continued, adopting Marxism as its new creed and retaining Tito as president.
Chris Shaw 8.9.20
Margaret has sent this review
'The Cellist of Sarajevo' by Steven Galloway
This novel is set during the 1990s Siege of Sarajevo. It tells the story of three people trying to survive in a city rife with the extreme fear of desperate times, and of the sorrowing cellist who plays undaunted in their midst.
One day a shell lands in a bread line and kills twenty-two people as the cellist watches from a window in his flat. He vows to sit in the hollow where the mortar fell and play Albinoni’s Adagio once a day for each of the twenty-two victims. The Adagio had been re-created from a fragment after the only extant score was firebombed in the Dresden Music Library, but the fact that it had been rebuilt by a different composer into something new and worthwhile gives the cellist hope.
Meanwhile, Kenan steels himself for his weekly walk through the dangerous streets to collect water for his family on the other side of town, and Dragan, a man Kenan doesn’t know, tries to make his way towards the source of the free meal he knows is waiting. Both men are almost paralyzed with fear, uncertain when the next shot will land on the bridges or streets they must cross, unwilling to talk to their old friends of what life was once like before divisions were unleashed on their city. Then there is “Arrow,” the pseudonymous name of a gifted female sniper, who is asked to protect the cellist from a hidden shooter who is out to kill him as he plays his memorial to the victims.
Margaret Stanger 5.9.20
As we discussed in our August Zoom meeting, this may be a tricky one. However, we do have a special list thanks to author and blogger Ann Morgan who inspired us with her website 'A Year of Reading The World'. She tweeted her followers for a list and I have copied the resulting Tweets here: Yugoslavia - Ann Morgan Tweet (or if you want to try Twitter you can click on Yugoslavia)