Return to the Story: Post-War Fiction in the Former Yugoslavia

Radmila Gorup, Columbia University

The recent wars in the former Yugoslavia have given rise to a great deal of creative activity, in visual arts as well as in writing. In the proposed paper I analyze and compare two recent novels, Album by the Croatian writer Miroslav Kirin and Mamac by the Serbian writer David Albahari. Both novels were awarded prestigious prizes in their respective countries.

With the destruction and the suffering, the wars in the 1990s also brought changes in the literature of the region. After attempting to destroy the story and to convince the reader and themselves that the story does not exist, certain writers are now returning to the story realizing that it is the only thing relevant. The clash with history that one character experiences as "the mallet that with inexhorable precision comes down on you whenever it wants," brings a return to the story. For the individual who directly experiences the war and the suffering the telling of the story becomes an issue. The story does not lessen the pain but in sharing the experiences with others the narrator strives to understand them. The story turns into a narrative investigation.

The authors of both novels give intimate and historical accounts of their family life from the post-war perspective at the end of the 1990s when yet another war has ended but its full comprehension is still incomplete. Life in the family serves as a background against which Albahari and Kirin explore the crucial themes of humanity which find their expression on the plane of family life. It is here that the authors look for them and for the key to their understanding.

The need to tell the story is the basis of the two novels. The narrator of Album reconstructs the family time by looking at the photographs which survived the war. The narrator of Mamac reassembles his family history by listening to the tapes on which his mother recorded her earlier life. Both novels are permeated by nostalgia and dwell on the loss of life fullness and anonymity against the background of narrative reconstruction.

The two novels are written as series of fragments as if mimicking the devastation of the times. They can be read as a whole or separately, but in either case, the synthesis occurs only in the reader's mind.

Albahari, David. Mamac. Belgrade: Narodna knjiga, 1996.
---. Bait, trans. Ellen Elias-Bursac. Evanston: Northwestern UP, 2001.
Kirin, Miroslav. Album. Zagreb: Vukovic & Rujnic, 2001.