Original language: Croatian
Original title: In late summer
Translation: Jordi Cumplido in Catalan for L’Agulla Daurada. No Spanish translation at the moment.
Year of publication: 2022
In this first novel by Magdalena Blažević, the author places the story in the Yugoslav tragedy of the late 20th century; a tragedy caused by the Balkan wars of the 90s after the death of General Tito and the subsequent rise of radical nationalisms that unleashed a civil war of extreme violence against the population with mass executions, torture, rape (especially in the villages) and concentration camps in a clear example of ethnic cleansing. In this context the author places the story in the town of Kiseljak (Bosnia and Herzegovina); a town that was a victim of the “Ethnic Cleansing of the Lašva Valley” that took place between 1992 and 1993 and that Blažević uses as a reference to relate the drama of war throughout society, but especially in small towns because “the weight of History does not lie in who are the victims and who are the executioners, but in the injustice that war represents and the suffering shared between the victims. In this way, the author focuses the story on the massacre perpetrated in Kiseljak on August 16, 1993, and does so by narrating what happened from the child’s perspective of Ivana, a fourteen-year-old girl murdered during an ambush who recounts what happened days before. , but also days after his death in a successful exercise of dissociation that makes the description of what happened even more crude.
The book begins where the protagonist introduces herself to us narrating in the first person and does so in a direct and forceful way: «my name is Ivana. I lived 14 summers and this is the story of the last one »and she also tells us about her main interests, typical of a girl: her doll Julija, her truck driver father and her mother. Also about the place where they live, which the reader predicts is poor and cold. And just as cold is the gaze of the girl, who states, looking at the garden, that “only a worm-eaten skeleton remains from the bench beneath the orchard.” Death rests a leg on him. Take a good look at her! He has a pleasant face, his eyes are still not visible under the one-eyed beret. This is how Ivana sees Death, hidden under the face of a soldier, the face of hell. In this way it can be seen how Blažević’s style is full of metaphors, as when stating that “men’s bodies are an unstoppable avalanche of rocks (…) they will soon burst into our courtyards through the dry paths and gorges, dispersing through the town like worms” or also “the fountain used to be dangerous, with a metal fence with sharp spikes and thin arrows that pointed to the sky. They looked like rifles hanging on their backs” or “the roots of the chestnut trees have sunk like a witch’s curved fingers under the wide concrete stairs.”
Thus, and as it cannot be otherwise, the environment in which the story takes place is hostile, decadent, sad, full of palpable poverty in the environment, in the absence of food and sanitation in the homes. There is company, but little affection. There is mainly rudeness and coarseness. At the plot level, there is no delimited plot; The book is a set of fragmented memories that the author conveys to us without a defined plot thread; In a similar way to the clothes that the children who star in the story wear, the plot thread is frayed and without obvious continuity. Thus, the power of the story lies in the detail of those scenes in which misery excretes in the complicated and sad day to day life that makes up the daily life of small towns in which everything has ended except the war, which remains latent but always perceptible in every beat of the afflicted hearts of society. It is there where the war breaks out most crudely, rooting and unraveling the small possessions (also emotional) that the towns and their surviving inhabitants still possess, in a small way.
As for the narrative rhythm, it should be said that for a little more than the first half, the story is sustained by small touches of everyday life that, although they allow us to understand the setting in which the story takes place, break the rhythm and fail to maintain the tension. . Fortunately, it is from a little more than halfway through the book with the appearance of the soldiers in the town, that everything changes radically so that a reading that in the almost one hundred previous pages had become quite monotonous, repetitive and slow , suddenly becomes a great abyss of desolation beautifully narrated and with an intensity, emotionality and poetic sense that is more than remarkable. The passage that breaks the story is devastating, describing the arrival of the soldiers stating that “they are fast as worms in cans.” The interior of the houses shakes with screams and curses. They hit the walls. Bodies shrink under beds, behind doors, closets and pantries. All in vain. “They take them out like rabbits from holes.” And Ivana sees death approaching with the face of a soldier, soldiers with “breathing deep and cold like a basement.” Their insides are rotten like old potatoes »and she sees it with her child’s eyes, and her family tries to protect her, because «mother keeps her arm on my back. But you can’t save a child with a hug. In this way, the narration of the scenes and of the death and its subsequent moments has an unusual force and an indisputable literary quality. Because the narration of the moments after death by the deceased herself is heartbreaking, as can be seen when she talks about her brother and she states that, “she would scream, but her mouth is full of dirt. Eyes full. She can feel the shovel digging into the mound of grainy dirt and spreading it into the dust. “I’m lying next to my brother and I shake his hand.”
For all these reasons, it is a recommendable book, although very hard because if the tragedy of a war is seen through the eyes of a child, the effect is even more devastating, because of what it breaks, because of what it prevents, because the broken and dislocated dreams of a life that is destroyed and impeded at the hands of cruel hands and sadistic ambitions.