Farewell Cowboy, by Olja Savičević: a beautiful, subversively appealing novel

THE IRISH TIMES, Sun, Apr 5, 2015

by Eileen Battersby

In Dada, the Croatian writer Olja Savičević has created a compelling witness who is also a survivor, not particularly heroic, but likeable and sympathetic.



Dada is a candid young woman with few delusions about her place in the world. She belongs to a lost generation and she knows it. Geographical distance and time have given her the courage to face her past. In Dada, the Croatian writer Olja Savičević has created a compelling witness who is also a survivor, not particularly heroic, but likeable and sympathetic.

As the novel opens, Dada is on her way back home to a small coastal town in Croatia where, for her, only her mother and sister are left. The war may be over, yet the smell lingers as do the memories, the debris still visible as is the graffiti.

“Looking back, I can see clearly that everything had changed faster and more fundamentally than I had. I must have spent the last few years standing still on a conveyor belt, while everything else was rushing and growing. I rarely came home, caught off-guard every time I went to the centre, to the west of the town, where my sister lives, into the scintillating showroom, that garish shop-window of a broken and robbed world. Going into town is a digital adventure in which I’m met round familiar corners by ever newer and more unrestrained silicon hordes. The adrenalin scattered through the air is an aerosol that fills and pierces my lungs.”Dada is a candid young woman with few delusions about her place in the world. She belongs to a lost generation and she knows it. Geographical distance and time have given her the courage to face her past. In Dada, the Croatian writer Olja Savičević has created a compelling witness who is also a survivor, not particularly heroic, but likeable and sympathetic.

As the novel opens, Dada is on her way back home to a small coastal town in Croatia where, for her, only her mother and sister are left. The war may be over, yet the smell lingers as do the memories, the debris still visible as is the graffiti.

“Looking back, I can see clearly that everything had changed faster and more fundamentally than I had. I must have spent the last few years standing still on a conveyor belt, while everything else was rushing and growing. I rarely came home, caught off-guard every time I went to the centre, to the west of the town, where my sister lives, into the scintillating showroom, that garish shop-window of a broken and robbed world. Going into town is a digital adventure in which I’m met round familiar corners by ever newer and more unrestrained silicon hordes. The adrenalin scattered through the air is an aerosol that fills and pierces my lungs.”

Her mood of displacement is quickly established as is her laconic disillusionment filtered through a conversational tone. Yet the sexually-liberated Dada is also a dreamer, her mind is alive from images from her childhood and thoughts about her father, who died young. Because of his illness he was placed in charge of the movie house at the cement works; “The Balkan Cinema it was called back then.”

A few pages earlier Savičević has already introduced Western movies, one of the defining motifs of this wonderful novel, and in truth she is something of a lone gunslinger herself. She has ridden into town, well, not quite, she has acquired a Zippo, a little scooter and she needs to discover the truth behind a family tragedy.

So her father liked cowboys. Once upon a time in the old Yugoslavia, where so many Westerns were cheaply filmed, everyone else preferred the Indians: “It was only much later that cowboys came into their own. But my father loved the proper cowboys: John Ford, Zinnemann, he used to say. He adored the Italian westerns of Leone and Sergio Corbucci . . .” Her father also had a self-important white cockatoo that was savaged, after his death, by the family cat.

Her mother’s grandmother had once lived with them and she can still remember the ancient woman who had buried three husbands and lived her final years in a living death. By far the most alive in Dada’s memories is her brother Daniel whom she resembles – beautiful, clever and somewhat strange Daniel who threw himself down on the railway tracks. Late in the novel, a stranger, attempting to make conversation with Dada, declares: “I like trains, regardless of the bad air,” and then asks: “What precisely is it that you don’t like about trains?” Dada’s response is characteristically direct: “Someone close to me threw himself under one. So it’d be stupid for me to say I like trains. Otherwise I don’t have anything against them.”

Vivid portrait

By then Dada and Savičević have pieced together a vivid portrait of the mercurial brother whom Dada realises she barely knew. Her doubts are the result of a series of emails she reads which he had once sent to the local vet, a clever man with whom he had shared a complex friendship. The offbeat vet, Karlo Sain, is also a mystery; he too had gone away only to return. “Perhaps it will appear strange, dear Dada, but your brother was my best, perhaps even my only friend . . . the only radiant thing in my life,” he tells her, “was my friendship with Daniel.”

Odd encounters

The narrative evolves through a series of odd encounters with various characters, many of whom are strange or troubled. Aside, that is, from Dada’s sister, who expresses herself in slang, is comfortable in her skin and tends to survey all about her with caustic humour. Dada recalls being interviewed for a German student radio programme “about the postwar life of young people in Croatia”. The student held a Dictaphone and prefaced his question by telling Dada that she lived in a multicultural country. Dada disputed this but her sister took over: “Oh I know what he means . . . There’s various nations here, at least two nations in every house in our street, but it’s all the same mangy culture, if you ask me. Only the Chinese can save me from boredom.”

A simple exchange reveals a great deal. Savičević, who was born in 1974 and grew up with the war, also belongs to a lost generation. This novel, which appears to be an account of a personal quest, is about so much more. The Croatia of today is now a tourist destination and had come to be so, even before the scars of war had begun to heal. “English and Dutch people had recently settled in our narrow land, followed by Belgians and French people – I don’t think the Chinese believe that poverty is especially romantic. It was fascinating to watch dwellings stuck together with stone, cement and bird droppings . . . turn into little picture-book cottages,” remarks Dada, who adds: “My sister calls all the westerners who have moved into our street over the past few years, transforming those hovels into pleasant summer-houses, tourists.”

The more Dada delves, the more she discovers. Admittedly, much of her research is contained in that, by now, most archaic of devices, a floppy disk: “. . . who still uses any of those things? In fact it’s easier to find someone who plays gramophone records . . .”

In the long opening sequence, ‘Eastern’, the emphasis is very much on contemporary Croatia and the changes Dada notices all around her when not thinking of her childhood or recalling the brother she thought she knew and of the times he almost seemed to die, before he actually did take his life.

The second section, ‘Western’, is interestingly ambivalent. On one level it is a clever parody of the Western genre. Yet it also pursues an even more poignant tragedy, that of an initially comic young woman who had failed to find any safe haven. Maria Carija is abused by her family and ridiculed by everyone else. Her desperate attempts to belong bring her ever closer to disaster. Ultimately she is involved in a parody of a Wild West shootout.

Savičević’s prose, which is always relaxed and descriptive, and sustained with conversational ease, becomes increasingly beautiful in moments of high drama. The distinguished translator Celia Hawkesworth continues to serve Balkan literature brilliantly and she conveys the mood of the moment in Farewell, Cowboy, as well as she did in Vladimir Arsenijevic’s much earlier despatch, In the Hold (1994), which appeared in English two years later.

Dada, having completed her mission, takes her leave not only of her home town, but of her younger, naive self. A dramatic version of this novel is about to be staged, and it should also be filmed. The humour and sheer anarchy of the action combined with the comic exasperation, unforgettable characters and Dada’s wry acceptance of the way life happens to be, make this subversively appealing novel all the more profound; even, unexpectedly, beautiful.

 

Eileen Battersby

Literary Correspondent

Eileen Battersby is an Irish Times staff journalist and literary correspondent. She has written about all aspects of the arts, particularly classical music and literature, as well as archaeology, historical geography and architectural history and has championed fiction in translation.

Four times winner of the Arts Journalist of the Year award, she has most recently won the Critic of the Year and has published two books; Second Readings and Ordinary Dogs.

o nama

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.

proza

Hana Kunić: Vidjela sam to

NAGRADA "SEDMICA & KRITIČNA MASA" - ŠIRI IZBOR

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.

proza

Saša Vengust: Loša kob

NAGRADA "SEDMICA & KRITIČNA MASA" - ŠIRI IZBOR

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.

proza

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.

poezija

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.

proza

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.

proza

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.

poezija

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.

proza

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.

proza

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.

poezija

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.

proza

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.

Stranice autora

Književna Republika Relations PRAVOnaPROFESIJU LitLink mk zg