I received a review copy of this title from the publisher, Istros Books. They are a small, independent British press that specializes in bringing the best literature from Eastern Europe into English translations. Please visit their website for more information and additional titles: http://www.istrosbooks.com
Dada has grown up in a small town in Croatia from which she escaped as soon a she could at the age of eighteen. But she is drawn back to this bizarre town by the horrible suicide of her younger brother, Daniel. The book is told from Dada’s point of view and we are given information about her life and hometown as Dada remembers it. She speaks of memory being like a tape that “rolls forward and backwards. Fw-stop-rew-stop-rec-play-stop, it stops at important places, some images flicker dimly frozen in a permanent pause, unclear.” The narrative runs in the same way that Dada describes a tape: sometimes we get a passage that is an old memory and then all-of-sudden we are thrust into her present; Dada also likes to fast forward to her future and speculate on what she will do next.
The setting is a coastal town in Croatia which is hot, dirty and badly polluted. Dada’s own father died from an acute case of asbestos poisoning. People in the town, especially the children, love old westerns and when they were young, Dada and her brother Daniel act out scenes from the westerns they have watched at the local movie theater. Like a typical American western that takes place on the border between civilization and the vastly unorganized territory, Croatia at the time also occupies a space somewhere between civilization and a strange wilderness. The western theme is fitting for a place like Croatia which was torn apart by war in the Balkans and it is Dada’s generation that is still trying to recover from this conflict.
Dada describes many eccentric characters that she has known since childhood; many residents of this town that she calls the “Old Settlement” do not seem to conform to what most would consider normal social behavior. For example, her great-grandmother, who was a diabetic invalid, is described as the “insatiable one” because of her reputation for sex. Professor Herr, a neighbor of Dada’s family and the local vet, has his home ransacked by a group of young people and he mysteriously disappears soon after. It also seems that he is the only one who has any answers about Daniel’s mysterious and puzzling death.
The cowboy and western theme is further developed when a group of actors and extras show up to film a western-style movie. All of the extras hang around the Old Settlement with their big hats and belt buckles. Some of them even start shooting chickens with their pistols. Dada has a very brief and passionate affair with one of these extras named Angelo. It appears that Angelo also knew Dada’s brother Daniel and although he denies it, he might have some knowledge about Daniel’s mysterious death.
The final part of the book comes to a very fast-paced and dramatic conclusion. The circumstances of Daniel’s death are revealed amidst a showdown between the fake cowboys and one of the eccentric villagers. I was not surprised to learn that this author is also a poet since many of the lines in this book blur the distinction between lyric and prose. In the end, we are reminded that cowboys, although a nice fantasy as a short distraction, are not real and that oftentimes there will never be a hero riding into town on that white horse. Sometimes the bad guys do win.
About the Author:
Olja Savičević is an awarded poet and novelist, who burst onto the authorial stage with her short story collection Make the Dog Laugh in 2006. Last year, her collection of poems Mamasafari and Other Things was short-listed for the ‘Kiklop Award for Best Collection of 2012’, awarded annually by the Pula Book Fair. Her best-selling book Farewell, Cowboy has already achieved great success in the region, and was even adapted into a stage play. The book was translated by Celia Hawkesworth and published by Istros Books in April, 2015.