Review of Belladonna by Dasa Drndic, translated by Celia Hawkesworth
The novel's protagonist Andreas Ban is recently retired from the univeristy where he lectured in psychology. Ban is unwell and living on the meagre Croatian state pension (and waiting for another stipend on it as art of his service working in Yugoslavia when it existed but Ban is not holding out for it).
While dealing with his own decline, Ban was also a witness to the grotesqueness that entrapped Europe in the 20th century with World War II, not just the Nazi war crimes but their Croatian puppets of Ustasche' Independent State of Croatia (This hadn't been entirely new information for me as Ustashe had been featured in the book Yugoslavia, My Fatherland by Goran Vojnovic). This book is as much about remembering the past of Europe and Croatia in particular as a man remembering his own life.
The book when reading it did make me feel angry, particularly the amnista (as was termed by Giles Tremlett in the book Ghosts of Spain where he looked at the recent history of Spain under Franco and how there is a consious amnesia towards their crimes). Similarly with this book, Ban is haunted by the ghosts of WWII, twice listing those murdered by the nazis and their accomplices. A compelling catalogue of the inhumanity of humanity.
Ban's writing to me conveys an urgency and a need for Europe not to repeat the same misstakes we made in the 1930s and 1940s. This urgency might be brought on by Ban's own health problems.
Hawkesworth superbly translates Drndic, both the anger, sadness but sprinkled with bitterly humorous observations here and there. Through the photos and text and lists of people, Drndic and Hawkesworth bring the horrors of the 20th century as a grave reminder to people to not forget and not to let the same happen again.
A read that I really felt was excellent and will be one of my books of 2018, though not one for the faint hearted.
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on a side note: the flap of the book states that Ban is a "castaway intellectual of a society which subdues every critical thought under the guise of political correctness", I expected some different type of text in the book, usually when a statement similar to that is made, it usually takes aim at liberalism but this didn't.