I’ve just finished reading Daša Drndić’s novel Trieste. It is an amazing piece of work, fiction made of a myriad of real documents. Superficially it is the story of a mother searching for her son stolen from her as a baby during the war but it is much more. It is a book about memory, about not wanting to see what’s happening, complacency and cowardice, about facing reality and history. It is the amazing portrait of a region which has changed language, nationality, identity. At its core is the list of the 9000 Italian Jews murdered in the Holocaust. Drndić tells us one story but behind all these names lie as many other stories, forgotten, silenced, ignored. It is also the story of children punished for crimes committed before they were born, sometimes by parents they never even met. It is fascinating, horrific, disturbing and must be read, absolutely.
Do read Daniel Hahn’s review of the book in the Independent, as he puts it all much better than me.
Daša Drndić is a distinguished Croatian novelist and playwright. She also translates and teaches at the Faculty of Philosophy in Rijeka. She is not Jewish and I am particularly happy she accepted to launch her book at Jewish Book Week on Sunday 26 February.
Here is her interview:
– If you could escape to another world, what would there be that is missing here?
Justice, equality. Opportunities for all. The world I would escape to would be a utopia, so I cannot escape, but I can dream and hope and write about what is unjust and wrong with and in the world we live in.
– What is the book you “inherited” from a parent or teacher that made a profound impression on you?
There is no “one” book. Just as there is no “one” person. That is precisely what gives life substance, the non-existence of oneness. Or, if you wish, diversity.
– What is the book you would like to pass on to the future generation?
My mission is not to pass on to. Nor should it be anybody’s task. I think we must ask questions, question our lives, our deeds, our actions; our past, our present. Then the future will present itself. Time is in a flux and nothing is definite, so whatever one wishes to “pass on to” might not work. The future generation(s) should have open access to facts and search for its own ways.
– What is the most Jewish thing you have ever done?
I have done many things, good, bad, clever and stupid “things”. Whether they are Jewish, Croatian, atheist, socialist, masculine, feminine, and so on “things”, hard to tell.
– What is the most important Jewish book of the last 60 years?
What is a Jewish book?
– When did you know you would become a writer?
Although writing demands skills, learning, practice and work, it is not the same as training to become a surgeon, for example. Writing is also an urge. I did not know, and I still do not know.
Tomorrow I might stop writing forever.
– If you were not a writer, what would you be?
A sculptor or a plastic surgeon.
– What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
Generally speaking I am against such categorical statements. Life is not (or at least should not be) composed of sets of rules. Who is it that was or is supposed to give advice, and how?
– What would your superpower be?
To change this world.
– Who (living or dead) would you invite to your ideal Friday night dinner?
Intimate friends. And that is what I do.
– On the very distant day when you will make it to the other side, what would you like God (assuming there is one) to say to you?
For me, there is no other side, I cannot assume there is a God, because I try not to assume. Assuming can turn out to be dangerous business.