2021: The Best Croatian Literature in English Translation

Jonathan Bousfield delivers a real gift with his overview of the best Croatian literature that was translated into English in 2021.


2021: The Best Croatian Literature in English Translation

By Jonathan Bousfield 


Last summer I saw a British tourist reading Miroslav Krleža’s existentialist classic The Return of Philip Latinowicz on the beach. An uncommon choice of holiday reading, perhaps, especially inbetween swims. But a sign nevertheless that at least some people make a point of reading the literature of the country they are visiting.


It’s not that often that you see foreign tourists with a Croatian novel in their hands, even though it is something that old-school guidebook writers like me constantly exhort our readers to do. It set me thinking about what Croatian books we actually recommend to outsiders, and whether it is possible to come up with a best-Croatian-books-of-the-year list for readers who are dependent on English translations.


What I came up with is not exactly a very long list (and despite being in the grave for forty years, Miroslav Krleža is still on it). Until a few years ago however any such list would have been difficult if not impossible to compile: either no Croatian books were published in the Anglosphere in a given year, or it was impossible to pick out Croatian books that were inherently more worth reading than translated Slovak books, translated Lithuanian books, or translated books from Liechtenstein. Now at least, we have more of a basis on which to make a choice. 


The last few years have seen a significant increase in the number of Croatian books appearing in English translation. This is not so much the work of big publishers and mega-agents as the result of the tenacious enthusiasm of small houses and their editors. Thanks to them, there is an emerging sense of who among Croatian writers might be considered “important” (and which of them, besides the perennial Krleža, should be tossed in your travel bag). The confrontational, uncompromising books of Daša Drndić, who died in 2018, are nowadays accepted as contemporary European classics, thanks in large part to the single-mindedness of the publishers who brought her work to the English-reading audience (namely Maclehose Press, Istros Books and their translators Celia Hawkesworth, Ellen Elias-Bursac and Susan Curtis). Indeed Drndić’s characteristically abrasive 1998 title Canzone di Guerra, due to be published in English by Istros in spring 2022, looks set to be one of the literary highlights of the coming year.


Writing about Croatian writers translated into English always comes with a subtext: which deserving Croatian writers are not breaking through? Damir Karakaš is currently the most lyrical, unsettling and at the same time commercially readable novelist in Croatia, known for his frequently autofictional take on growing up in the rural Lika region. Lighter, but also deliciously grotesque, Maša Kolanović combines the intimate, comic in her fantasmagorical-but-true tales of the horrors of contemporary life. Both would attract readers in the Anglosphere if their work was available.


The best book I read in 2021 (and which is highly unlikely to be ever translated into English despite its sparkling quality) was Glazba za žedno uho (Music for a Thirsty Ear) a musical autobiography by legendary alternative concert booker, club-runner and festival organizer Mate Škugor. Taking the form of 69 essays about the albums that marked his life, it is an intriguing hybrid of personal memoir and pop-cultural handbook. It also works as an alternative history of Croatia’s last three decades, as told by someone who fought against institutional philistinism and dysfunctional local politics. Non-fiction writing is taken far less seriously in Croatia than it should be, and Škugor’s insightful and moving personal history has been far too easily pigeonholed as a rock book rather than hailed as the accomplished literary autobiography it really is.


And so back to the best of the English translations: an awful lot of mediocre Croatian books have been translated in the last few years, but also a lot of rather good ones too – enough, indeed to make an annual best-of list worthwhile.  And the fact that I can “only” find four books to put in my list is a sign that things are looking up, not a recognition of defeat.



Ivana Bodrožić We Trade Our Night For Someone Else’s Day (trans. Celia Hawkesworth)

A noir thriller set in Vukovar in around 2010, two decades after the siege that laid waste to the town and killed or scattered its inhabitants, this deftly written thriller brings together all the open wounds of small-town Croatia: economically depressed, ethnically divided, and ruled over by nationalist cliques. The story centres on a female journalist sent to Vukovar to profile a woman imprisoned for a murder she has confessed to, but can’t possibly have committed. Confronting corruption, political clientelism and the impotence of local residents, it’s a book that reveals just how well-suited the noir format is in uncovering the failings of transitional society and the human wreckage it leaves behind. It also tackles the genre from a feminist perspective, juggling a cast of strong female characters and hinting at a patriarchal culture that re-seeds itself in generation after generation. Above all it is a pacey, disciplined and tightly-structured piece of work, virtues which in Croatian literary fiction are frequently in short supply. The use of Vukovar as a setting is more than just a thriller-writer’s instinct for evocative scenery. Vukovar is Bodrožič’s native town; her characters have the flesh-and-blood authenticity of people drawn from life; and the book is propelled by an emotional rawness that other noir writers struggle to find. 


Tatjana Gromača Divine Child (trans. Will Firth)

Narrated by the daughter of a woman with mental problems, this is both a moving portrait of a family hit by long-term illness and a searing picture of a society rent by ethnic division and economic change. Appearing between the lines rather than narrated in black and white, it is the breakup of Yugoslavia that kick-starts the narrative – the main protagonist’s mother suddenly finds herself shunned by friends and colleagues as an outsider, an “easterner”, cast out by a society that seems to have lost its bearings. What follows is just as disorienting, society’s fabric unravelled further by communist-to-capitalist transformation. The narrator makes creative play out of the idea that society is one big mental hospital, but the underlying message is a sobering one: Croatia is a deeply traumatized society whose long-term ills remain unresolved. The relationship between social and individual madness is dealt with subtly and with precision, unlocking a sense of dystopian unease with the hyper-materialist world in which all of us now live. The narrator rails against living “by the dictate emitted by ubiquitous large screens, illuminated signs, devices that read people’s thoughts.” A world in which “each and every brain” is “diligently washed.”  Gromača’s protagonist speaks in elegantly sculpted, geometric paragraphs, the literary equivalent of a perfectly-trimmed hedge – once pricked by its sharp edges, however, you’ll feel compelled to carry on reading.


Robert Perišić Horror and Huge Expenses (trans. Will Firth)

Translated literature is often something of a time machine, providing the Anglophone public a belated glimpse of something that was written years, perhaps decades previously in its country of origin. Does it really matter? In this case absolutely not. This cult collection of short stories from novelist, poet and screenwriter Robert Perišić first saw the light of day in 2002, when a young Perišić was being feted as one of the first writers to speak for Croatia’s post-independence generation. Thanks to two decades of political turbulence, financial crisis and a pandemic, we are still living in transitional times, and the cast of characters brought to life by Perišić are still very much with us. While some of the 24 stories in this collection are clearly autobiographical in inspiration, Perišić deploys a dizzying range of protagonists drawn from all walks of life, and he has an unrivalled ear for dialogue - his stories have the feel of conversations overheard in neighbourhood bars from which we cannot tear ourselves away. His tales deal with the unpredictable dramas of everyday life, the fateful meetings and epiphanies we experience while swimming in the sea, waiting for ferries, visiting relations in the hospital, or attempting to look up friends in distant suburbs. When it comes to evoking the vast panorama of Croatian life, Perišić has few rivals.


Miroslav Krleža Journey to Russia. (trans. Will Firth)

Finally getting its US release in spring 2021, a full 95 years after it was first published, this is as good a reason as any to keep reading Krleža. The account of a trip to the Soviet Union, then a young state only just coming to terms with its own creation, the book abounds in lyrical description and insightful comment, all told in the kind of electric prose that reads like something from 2025 rather than a whole century earlier. A large part of the book’s appeal comes from the fact that the Soviet 1920s are less well known than the revolutionary period that preceded it or the Stalinist epoch that came after – Krleža is taking us into the heart of a time and place we still know little about. Krleža is over-enthusiastic about Lenin and his doctrines, but this has a lot to do with his disappointment at the way the rest of Europe turned out – the author’s disdain for an impoverished continent of dysfunctional nation states still makes for challenging reading. 



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Eva Simčić pobjednica je nagrade "Sedmica & Kritična masa" (6.izdanje)

Pobjednica književne nagrade "Sedmica & Kritična masa" za mlade prozaiste je Eva Simčić (1990.) Nagrađena priča ''Maksimalizam.” neobična je i dinamična priča je o tri stana, dva grada i puno predmeta. I analitično i relaksirano, s dozom humora, na književno svjež način autorica je ispričala pamtljivu priču na temu gomilanja stvari, temu u kojoj se svi možemo barem malo prepoznati, unatoč sve većoj popularnosti minimalizma. U užem izboru nagrade, osim nagrađene Simčić, bile su Ivana Butigan, Paula Ćaćić, Marija Dejanović, Ivana Grbeša, Ljiljana Logar i Lucija Švaljek.
Ovo je bio šesti nagradni natječaj koji raspisuje Kritična masa, a partner nagrade bio je cafe-bar Sedmica (Kačićeva 7, Zagreb). Nagrada se sastoji od plakete i novčanog iznosa (5.000 kuna bruto). U žiriju nagrade bile su članice redakcije Viktorija Božina i Ilijana Marin, te vanjski članovi Branko Maleš i Damir Karakaš.

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Natječaj ''Sedmica & Kritična masa'' - uži izbor

Nakon šireg izbora slijedi uži izbor nagrade ''Sedmica & Kritična masa'' za mlade prozne autore. Pročitajte tko su sedmero odabranih.


Hana Kunić: Vidjela sam to


Hana Kunić (Varaždin, 1994.) završila je varaždinsku Prvu gimnaziju nakon koje upisuje studij Glume i lutkarstva na Akademiji za umjetnost i kulturu u Osijeku, gdje je magistrirala 2017. godine. Kao Erasmus+ studentica studirala je Glumu i na Faculty of Theatre and Television u Cluj-Napoci u Rumunjskoj. Glumica je pretežno na kazališnim (HNK Varaždin, Kazalište Mala scena Zagreb, Umjetnička organizacija VRUM, Kazalište Lutonjica Toporko), a povremeno i na filmskim i radijskim projektima. Kao dramska pedagoginja djeluje u Kazališnom studiju mladih varaždinskog HNK i u romskom naselju Kuršanec u sklopu projekta Studija Pangolin. Pisanjem se bavi od osnovne škole – sudjelovala je na državnim natjecanjima LiDraNo (2010. i 2012.), izdala je zbirku poezije „Rika“ (2018.), njena prva drama „Plavo i veliko“ izvedena je na Radiju Sova (2019.), a njen prvi dječji dramski tekst „Ah, ta lektira, ne da mi mira“ postavljen je na scenu lutkarskog Kazališta Lutonjica Toporko (2021.). Suosnivačica je Umjetničke organizacije Favela. Živi u Zagrebu, puno se sunča i alergična je na banalnost.


Saša Vengust: Loša kob


Saša Vengust (Zagreb, 1988.) završio je školovanje kao maturant II. opće gimnazije. Nakon toga je naizmjence malo radio u videoteci, malo brljao na Filozofskom fakultetu po studijima filozofije, sociologije i komparativne književnosti. U naglom i iznenadnom preokretu, zaposlio se u Hladnjači i veletržnici Zagreb kao komercijalist u veleprodaji voća i povrća. Trenutačno traži posao, preuređuje kuću, savladava 3D printanje, boja minijature, uveseljava suprugu i ostale ukućane sviranjem električne gitare te redovito ide na pub kvizove da se malo makne iz kuće.


Sheila Heti: Majčinstvo

Sheila Heti (1976.) jedna je od najistaknutijih kanadskih autorica svoje generacije. Studirala je dramsko pisanje, povijest umjetnosti i filozofiju. Piše romane, kratke priče, dramske tekstove i knjige za djecu. U brojnim utjecajnim medijima objavljuje književne kritike i intervjue s piscima i umjetnicima. Bestseleri How Should a Person Be? i Women in Clothes priskrbili su joj status književne zvijezde. New York Times uvrstio ju je na popis najutjecajnijih svjetskih književnica koje će odrediti način pisanja i čitanja knjiga u 21. stoljeću, a roman Majčinstvo našao se na njihovoj ljestvici najboljih knjiga 2018. godine. Hvalospjevima su se pridružili i časopisi New Yorker, Times Literary Supplement, Chicago Tribune, Vulture, Financial Times i mnogih drugi koji su je proglasili knjigom godine. Majčinstvo je tako ubrzo nakon objavljivanja postao kultni roman. Sheila Heti živi u Torontu, a njezina su djela prevedena na više od dvadeset jezika.


Selma Asotić: Izbor iz poezije

Selma Asotić je pjesnikinja. Završila je magistarski studij iz poezije na sveučilištu Boston University 2019. godine. Dobitnica je stipendije Robert Pinsky Global Fellowship i druge nagrade na književnom natječaju Brett Elizabeth Jenkins Poetry Prize. Nominirana je za nagradu Puschcart za pjesmu ''Nana'', a 2021. uvrštena je među polufinaliste/kinje nagrade 92Y Discovery Poetry Prize. Pjesme i eseje na engleskom i bhsc jeziku objavljivala je u domaćim i međunarodnim književnim časopisima.


Ines Kosturin: Izbor iz poezije

Ines Kosturin (1990., Zagreb) rodom je iz Petrinje, gdje pohađa osnovnu i srednju školu (smjer opća gimnazija). Nakon toga u istom gradu upisuje Učiteljski fakultet, gdje je i diplomirala 2015. godine te stekla zvanje magistre primarnog obrazovanja. Pisanjem se bavi od mladosti, a 2014. izdaje svoju prvu samostalnu zbirku poezije, ''Papirno more''. Krajem 2020. izdaje drugu samostalnu zbirku poezije, ''Herbarij''. Pjesme objavljuje kako u domaćim, tako i u internacionalnim (regionalno i šire) zbornicima i časopisima. Na međunarodnom natječaju Concorso internazionale di poesia e teatro Castello di Duino 2018. osvaja treću nagradu. Poeziju uglavnom piše na hrvatskom i engleskom jeziku.


Luka Ivković: Sat

Luka Ivković (1999., Šibenik) je student agroekologije na Agronomskom fakultetu u Zagrebu. Do sada je objavljivao u časopisu Kvaka, Kritična masa, Strane, ušao u širi izbor za Prozak 2018., uvršten u zbornik Rukopisi 43.


Bojana Guberac: Izbor iz poezije

Bojana Guberac (1991., Vukovar) odrasla je na Sušaku u Rijeci, a trenutno živi u Zagrebu. U svijet novinarstva ulazi kao kolumnistica za Kvarner News, a radijske korake započinje na Radio Sovi. Radila je kao novinarka na Radio Rijeci, u Novom listu, na Kanalu Ri te Ri portalu. Trenutno radi kao slobodna novinarka te piše za portale Lupiga, CroL te Žene i mediji. Piše pjesme od osnovne škole, ali o poeziji ozbiljnije promišlja od 2014. godine kada je pohađala radionice poezije CeKaPe-a s Julijanom Plenčom i Andreom Žicom Paskučijem pod mentorstvom pjesnikinje Kristine Posilović. 2015. godine imala je prvu samostalnu izložbu poezije o kojoj Posilović piše: ''Primarni zadatak vizualne poezije jest da poeziju učini vidljivom, tj. da probudi kod primatelja svijest o jeziku kao materiji koja se može oblikovati. Stoga Guberac pred primatelje postavlja zahtjevan zadatak, a taj je da pokušaju pjesmu obuhvatiti sa svih strana u prostoru, da ju pokušaju doživjeti kao objekt. Mada pjesnički tekst u ovom slučaju primamo vizualno, materijal te poezije je dalje jezik.'' Njezine pjesme objavljivane su u časopisima, a ove godine njezina je poezija predstavljena na Vrisku – riječkom festivalu autora i sajmu knjiga.


Iva Sopka: Plišane lisice

Iva Sopka (1987., Vrbas) objavila je više kratkih priča od kojih su najznačajnije objavljene u izboru za književnu nagradu Večernjeg lista “Ranko Marinković” 2011. godine, Zarezovog i Algoritmovog književnog natječaja Prozak 2015. godine, nagrade “Sedmica & Kritična Masa” 2016., 2017. i 2019. godine, natječaja za kratku priču Gradske knjižnice Samobor 2016. godine te natječaja za kratku priču 2016. godine Broda knjižare – broda kulture. Osvojila je drugo mjesto na KSET-ovom natječaju za kratku priču 2015. godine, a kratka priča joj je odabrana među najboljima povodom Mjeseca hrvatske knjige u izboru za književni natječaj KRONOmetaFORA 2019. godine. Kao dopisni član je pohađala radionicu kritičkog čitanja i kreativnog pisanja "Pisaće mašine" pod vodstvom Mime Juračak i Natalije Miletić. Dobitnica je posebnog priznanja 2019. godine žirija nagrade "Sedmica & Kritična masa" za 3. uvrštenje u uži izbor.


Ivana Caktaš: Život u roku

Ivana Caktaš (1994., Split) diplomirala je hrvatski jezik i književnost 2018. godine s temom „Semantika čudovišnog tijela u spekulativnoj fikciji“. Tijekom studiranja je volontirala u Književnoj udruzi Ludens, gdje je sudjelovala u različitim jezikoslovnim i književnim događajima. Odradila je stručno osposobljavanje u osnovnoj školi i trenutno povremeno radi kao zamjena. U Splitu pohađa Školu za crtanje i slikanje pod vodstvom akademskih slikara Marina Baučića i Ivana Svaguše. U slobodno vrijeme piše, crta, slika i volontira.


Marija Skočibušić: Izbor iz poezije

Marija Skočibušić rođena je 2003. godine u Karlovcu gdje trenutno i pohađa gimnaziju. Sudjeluje na srednjoškolskim literarnim natječajima, a njezina poezija uvrštena je u zbornike Poezitiva i Rukopisi 42. Također je objavljena u časopisima Poezija i Libartes, na internetskom portalu Strane te blogu Pjesnikinja petkom. Sudjelovala je na književnoj tribini Učitavanje u Booksi, a svoju je poeziju čitala na osmom izdanju festivala Stih u regiji.


Philippe Lançon: Zakrpan

Philippe Lançon (1963.) novinar je, pisac i književni kritičar. Piše za francuske novine Libération i satirički časopis Charlie Hebdo. Preživio je napad na redakciju časopisa te 2018. objavio knjigu Zakrpan za koju je dobio niz nagrada, među kojima se ističu Nagrada za najbolju knjigu časopisa Lire 2018., Nagrada Femina, Nagrada Roger-Caillois, posebno priznanje žirija Nagrade Renaudot. Knjiga je prevedena na brojne jezike te od čitatelja i kritike hvaljena kao univerzalno remek-djelo, knjiga koja se svojom humanošću opire svakom nasilju i barbarizmu.

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