prose

Damir Karakaš: Excerpt from Remembering Forest

Karakaš’s vivid descriptions will jolt you into the world he grew up in- a remote, conservative community in Croatia’s mountainous region of Lika. He was always different and the simple, traditional values of his small village struggled to contain his vast imagination. When his first grade teacher called him a thoughtful boy, his mother considered it an insult or at the very least, a cause for concern. (Karakaš, Damir. Interviewed by Mirjana Dugandžija, Jutarnji List, 29.1.2017).

Read an excerpt from Karakaš’s semi-autobiographical novel, Remembering Forest below. Translation by Tomislav Kuzmanović.



 

Atomic Bomb Sleeps

Nana watches as Father lays new tiles in the toilet: brown tiles on the floor, white tiles on the walls. Father says, “Why don’t you go away, you’re blocking my light.” Nana leaves, and Father lays a new brown tile and says, “Go get me a glass of brandy.” I walk down the corridor to the kitchen, get the bottle and the thick glass and run back as quickly as I can; with one eye closed, he measures the tiles. In the morning he takes out his only suit, coffee colored, his only tie, blue, puts them on, and all dressed up takes the oxen and the cart to the town; around noon he comes back with the water tank, spigots and the squat toilet. I carefully help him unload the tin squat toilet. Mother helps us too, she tells me, “Let me.” I tell her, “No, let me.” Father affectionately pats the toilet with his hand and says, “Let them see who is the first in our village!” In a couple of days, he gets up early again and yokes the oxen, this time he wears his everyday clothes; he walks in front of the oxen and whistles: it’s been a while since I’ve heard him this happy. I peek through the window and think, today he is surely going to get a TV, the first TV in our village, I’ve been hoping for it for years. And he’s been bringing it up a lot too. Later on I get dressed, leave for school. Half way there I sit under a hazel bush: Pejo comes along and I tell him in confidence, “Tell the teacher I’m running a fever, and tell to my folks we only had two classes.” I go back and immediately climb the hill above the house: I stand and wait. I keep my eyes peeled at the point where any moment my father should appear: shadows of the trees have extended their necks, and it seems that everything around me keeps peering at that one spot. Father is not yet here: then I see him. When he finally arrives, he stops the oxen and the cart in the middle of the yard; at first sight that iron barrel tilted in the hay looks like an atomic bomb. I touch it with my hand, knock on it with my finger, knock-knock. Father says to Mother, “There, that’s water pump, now we’re going to be the only ones in village with running water.” Nana asks, “Does it take a lot of power?” He says, “It takes how much it takes.” Soon an electrician in blue overalls comes from the town in his Zastava van; he and Father take the water pump into the basement. Father turns on the light with his elbow as they pass; they set the pump in the corner. They spend hours messing about with it. They attach wires, run black, rubber tubes: wave their hands about as if trying to create magic. The electrician goes to the kitchen and sets up the spigot with his pliers. He opens it, waits. Something rumbles, then bangs irregularly: yellow, murky water unwillingly starts flowing out of the spigot. The electrician glances at my father, pats his shoulder and says: “It’s good!” He then takes the water tank, goes to the toilet, asks for a chair; Father brings him the chair, the electrician climbs on it and sets the water tank. A smile on his face, he lets me flush the toilet, Father is confused, then he shouts, “Come on already, what are you waiting for!” Then, all together we watch ceremoniously as the foaming water runs from the tank and crashes into the squat toilet’s dark hole. After that the electrician takes a shot, bright yellow screwdriver out of his bag and installs two dark red light switches next to the toilet door. He explains to my father, and now as he speaks there’s a loud sound in his chest, the first switch is for the heater, but since there’s no heater, he says, it won’t work. “The second one,” he adds, “is for warm water.” The electrician walks to his van and together with my father brings something grey, metallic, cylindrical, something that again looks like a bomb. “The boiler,” says the electrician to Nana who has just come from the field, she just shakes her head in desperation. “Go do something,” Father tells her. They use long screws to put it on the toilet wall, again it takes them a long time to attach the wires. A little later, the electrician presses that other switch and it turns bright red. He turns it off, nods happily, and says, “Well, that’s that.” In the afternoon, Father, his stride long as if measuring something all the time, goes to town and comes back with a shower on his shoulder; first he sets up the pole, then the head that looks like a telephone. Happily he calls Mother to come over. When she comes, and straightens her sleeve with the hand, he presses that other switch next to the toilet door and tells her, “You turn this on an hour before you want to have hot water, don’t forget to switch it off after that.” Then the walk in the toilet together, I follow them at a safe distance: ready to take to my heels in case something happens. Fully dressed Father steps on the ribbed surface of the squat toilet; he then sets up the showerhead a couple of inches above his head. He turns on the spigot and the water disperses in a hundred little arrows. Father bursts into laughter, his hair wet, he jumps to my mother and peers at the water as it slams from the shower and into the squat toilet’s hole; laughter sets free from his mouth again. “This will save our lives when we come back from the field and take a shower,” he says gleefully.

That same night I dream that he and the electrician have brought me a present; inside is an iron heart. Father calls my name and announces ceremoniously, “Only two people in the world have a heart like this, the American president and you.” I stand next to the box, peek inside, ask the electrician, will they accept you into the army with a heart like that? He pats my shoulder, points at the box and says, “There’s no bullet in this world that can pierce this iron heart.” I salute and, happy, as if I’m already in the army, run into the field. I lie down in the grass, watch clouds in the sky; they remind me of pillows filled with feathers, then I fall asleep again. In the morning the water pump wakes me up, it bellows like a captured animal; the light bulbs flicker in the evening, they sometimes even burn out, as if the water pump takes revenge on us for some reason. And as time passes, most people from the village complain about the water pump: they say it ruins their light bulbs. Father replies calmly, shrugging his wide shoulders, which he inherited from Grandpa: “Dear people, it’s not my fault that we have such weak power in the village.” At home, he tells Mother, “Fuck them, fucking rednecks.” When in the evening I go over to some of our neighbors, almost always the light bulb starts flickering in the ceiling; then everyone in the room keep their eyes peeled on that light bulb, then start cursing my father, his mother and the water pump. At first they curse silently, then more loudly and angrily, until they remember I’m there, then they calm down a bit. But, I’m glad when they curse us; they are on one side, I and Father on the other: that’s when I feel the closest to my father.

By Damir Karakaš

Translated by Tomislav Kuzmanović

panorama

Beloved Croatian Children's Show Professor Balthazar Now Available in English on YouTube

The colorful, eclectic and much beloved Croatian children's cartoon Professor Balthazar was created by Zlatko Grgić and produced from the late 1960s through the 1970s. Now newer generations will be able to enjoy the Professor's magic, whether they speak Croatian or English.

panorama

New Book on Croatian Football Legend Robert Prosinečki

Robert Prosinečki's long and fabled football career includes winning third place in the 1998 World Cup as part of the Croatian national team, stints in Real Madrid and FC Barcelona as well as managerial roles for the Croatian national team, Red Star Belgrade, the Azerbaijani national team and the Bosnian Hercegovinian national team.

panorama

What To Do in Zagreb in December

A scaled down but still lovely Advent in Zagreb awaits everyone seeking some holiday cheer during this pandemic winter. Click on the link below to find a list of events and activities happening in the capital in December.

panorama

Croatian Christmas Markets in 2021

Coronavirus restrictions may be in place, but there are still plenty of decorations, festivities and safe-ish ways to enjoy the holiday season outdoors. Take a look at some of the lovely Christmas markets that are brightening up every corner of Croatia this year below.

news

Sandorf Publishing House Launches American Branch

Croatian publishing house Sandorf launched their American branch called Sandorf Passage earlier this year.

panorama

Jonathan Bousfield on the Seedy Side of the Seaside

From strange tales of mysterious murders to suspected criminals hiding out to scams, duels and gambling, Opatija, a favourite seaside escape for Central Europeans at the turn of the last century, routinely filled Austrian headlines and the public's imagination in the early 20th century.

review

Review of new English translation of Grigor Vitez's AntonTon

Hailed as the father of 20th century Croatian children's literature, Grigor Vitez (1911-1966) is well known and loved in his homeland. With a new English translation of one of his classic tales AntonTon (AntunTun in Croatian), children around the world can now experience the author's delightful depiction of the strong-minded and silly AntonTon. The Grigor Vitez Award is an annual prize given to the best Croatian children's book of the year.

news

The Best of New Eastern European Literature

Have an overabundance of free time, thanks to the pandemic and lockdowns? Yearning to travel but unable to do so safely? Discover the rhythm of life and thought in multiple Eastern European countries through exciting new literature translated into English. From war-torn Ukraine to tales from Gulag inmates to the search for identity by Eastern Europeans driven away from their home countries because of the economic or political situations but still drawn back to their cultural hearths, this list offers many new worlds to explore.

panorama

More Zagreb Street Art

Explore TimeOut's gallery of fascinating and at times thought-provoking art in the great open air gallery of the streets of Zagreb.

panorama

Welcome to Zagreb's Hangover Museum

Partied too hard last night? Drop by Zagreb's Hangover Museum to feel more normal. People share their craziest hangover stories and visitors can even try on beer goggles to experience how the world looks like through drunken eyes.

panorama

Jonathan Bousfield on the Future as Imagined in 1960s Socialist Yugoslavia

How will the futuristic world of 2060 look? How far will technology have advanced, and how will those advancements affect how we live our everyday lives? These are the questions the Zagreb-based magazine Globus asked in a series of articles in 1960, when conceptualizing what advancements society would make 40 years in the future, the then far-off year of 2000. The articles used fantastical predictions about the future to highlight the technological advancements already made by the then socialist Yugoslavia. Take a trip with guide, Jonathan Bousfield, back to the future as envisioned by journalists in 1960s Yugoslavia.

panorama

Untranslatable Croatian Phrases

What’s the best way for an open-minded foreigner to get straight to the heart of another culture and get a feel for what makes people tick? Don’t just sample the local food and drink and see the major sights, perk up your ears and listen. There’s nothing that gives away the local flavor of a culture more than the common phrases people use, especially ones that have no direct translation.

Check out a quirky list of untranslatable Croatian phrases from Croatian cultural guide extraordinaire, Andrea Pisac, in the link below:

panorama

Jonathon Bousfield on the Museum of Broken Relationships

Just got out of a serious relationship and don't know what to do with all those keepsakes and mementos of your former loved one? The very popular and probably most unique museum in Zagreb, the Museum of Broken Relationships, dedicated to preserving keepsakes alongside the diverse stories of relationships gone wrong, will gladly take them. Find out how the museum got started and take an in-depth look at some of its quirkiest pieces in the link below.

panorama

Cool Things To Do in Zagreb

Zagreb is Croatia’s relaxed, charming and pedestrian-friendly capital. Check out Time Out’s definitive Zagreb guide for a diverse set of options of what to explore in the city from unusual museums to legendary flea markets and everything in between.

panorama

Jonathan Bousfield on Diocletian's Legacy in Split

Diocletian’s Palace is the main attraction in Split, the heart and soul of the city. Because of the palace, Split’s city center can be described as a living museum and it draws in the thousands of tourists that visit the city annually. But how much do we really know about the palace’s namesake who built it, the last ruler of a receding empire? Jonathan Bousfield contends that history only gives us a partial answer.

interview

The Poetry of Zagreb

Cities have served as sources of inspiration, frustration, and discovery for millennia. The subject of sonnets, stories, plays, the power centers of entire cultures, hotbeds of innovation, and the cause of wars, cities are mainstays of the present and the future with millions more people flocking to them every year.

Let the poet, Zagreb native Tomica Bajsić, take you on a lyrical tour of the city. Walk the streets conjured by his graceful words and take in the gentle beauty of the Zagreb of his childhood memories and present day observation.

panorama

You Haven't Experienced Zagreb if You Haven't Been to the Dolac Market

Dolac, the main city market, is a Zagreb institution. Selling all the fresh ingredients you need to whip up a fabulous dinner, from fruits and vegetables to fish, meat and homemade cheese and sausages, the sellers come from all over Croatia. Positioned right above the main square, the colorful market is a beacon of a simpler way of life and is just as bustling as it was a century ago.

panorama

Croatian Phrases Translated into English

Do you find phrases and sayings give personality and flair to a language? Have you ever pondered how the culture and history of a place shape the common phrases? Check out some common sayings in Croatian with their literal translations and actual meanings below.

panorama

Discover Croatia's Archaeological Secrets

Discover Croatia’s rich archaeological secrets, from the well known ancient Roman city of Salona near Split or the Neanderthal museum in Krapina to the often overlooked Andautonia Archaeological Park, just outside of Zagreb, which boasts the excavated ruins of a Roman town or the oldest continuously inhabited town in Europe, Vinkovci.

panorama

Croatian Sites on UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List

A little know fact is that Croatia, together with Spain, have the most cultural and historical heritage under the protection of UNESCO, and Croatia has the highest number of UNESCO intangible goods of any European country.

panorama

Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb

The National Theater in Zagreb, Croatia’s capital, is one of those things which always finds its way to every visitor’s busy schedule.

panorama

Zagreb's Street Art

So you're visiting Zagreb and are curious about it's underground art scene? Check out this guide to Zagreb's street art and explore all the best graffiti artists' work for yourself on your next walk through the city.

panorama

Zagreb Festivals and Cultural Events

Numerous festivals, shows and exhibitions are held annually in Zagreb. Search our what's on guide to arts & entertainment.

Authors' pages

Književna Republika Relations PRAVOnaPROFESIJU LitLink mk zg