Joining the author to discuss the book at the headquarters of the Croatian Writers’ Association was writer and essayist Željka Lovrenčić, literary critic Branimir Romac, and event moderator Lada Žigo Španić.
The headquarters of the Croatian Writers’ Association was the venue on the 16th of October for a presentation of Munich resident and author Nela Stipančić Radonić’s latest novel Slušaj ptice kako pjevaju (“Listen to the Birds Sing”). The book is published by prestigious Naklada Bošković of Split, a publisher that often features authors in the diaspora communities writing in a broad range of literary forms, including prose, poetry and essays. Joining the author to discuss the book was writer and essayist Željka Lovrenčić, literary critic Branimir Romac from the University of Split’s Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, and excellent event moderator Lada Žigo Španić. An inspired reading of excerpts from the novel was provided by actress Dunja Sepčić.
As Lovrenčić notes, the plot of Stipančić Radonić’s latest book has all the tension of a good football match, with the game of football forming the internal thread around which the plot develops. Stipančić Radonić has already published three collections of poetry and two novels. The broad historical novel Grišnici i pravednici (“Sinners and the Righteous”, 2016) tells a history of Bosnia, while Putovanje u Indiju (“A Trip to India”, 2017) deals with contemporary issues. In it we meet characters drawn largely from our own neighbourhood. In her latest novel Stipančić Radonić again catalogues some facets of current Croatian society. Through the lens of the world football (soccer) championships, i.e. through the prism of the game, Lovrenčić explains, the author explores our societal reality.
In her discussion of the book Lada Žigo Španić observes that Stipančić Radonić’s trademark poetic voice is defined by the ease in which she narrates entirely untypical aspects of the quotidian episodes of a consumer society, intriguing structures and always fascinating familial affairs (marital, fraternal, related to friendship and so forth), which have won her a place all her own in the landscape of that segment of recent Croatian literary production that sets its stage to a migratory backdrop, quickly identifiable by its bi-locality, i.e. having one’s feet planted in two disparate societal environments.
For his part literary critic Branimir Romac observes that this novel—with great simplicity and in the face of the hopelessness besetting the protagonists—touches upon some of the enigmas that make up the fabric of human life; things like happiness, an awareness of the other, presence and absence, the inescapable and fickle turns of events, the necessity at times for departure and distance and, in particular, the pursuit of beacons of hope. In the intricacies of various motives set into the concrete story of two brothers the author also touches upon the perennial aspects of our existence, the invariabilities and variegations, between individuals and their individual destinies, and between ideas and modes of existence in the course of familial life.
Lovrenčić, a literary theorist, noted further that this is a social and psychological novel that treats familial and general relationships between people through social circumstances. It speaks, from a not altogether optimistic perspective, of the state of the soul of the Croatian people, and of the superficiality, selfishness and disinterestedness many of our compatriots exhibit to the world around them.
In brief, the chief protagonists are the brothers Fabijan and Boris, two entirely contrasting individuals. While journalist/columnist Fabijan is an introverted dreamer that experienced great love with Julija, the sister of a workplace colleague that passed away, and has since then lived a withdrawn existence between house and office, Boris is his antipode: a charmer and lover of women. By profession a painter, he lives a family life but has frequent episodes outside the familial nest. His wife Lara is no longer overly perturbed by this reality, finding greater significance in the form. She has arranged her daily affairs and sees to the nurturing of their son Sven, maintaining the pretence that she knows nothing of Boris’s amorous adventures. Even the young Tea, the girl his son is enamoured of, does not resist Boris’s charms. As a father that never finds the inclination or time to deal with his son’s issues, Boris turns to money as the panacea. A great football enthusiast, Boris organises a trip to Brazil for the world football cup matches. A row erupts between father and son when Boris discovers that Sven has no interest in pursuing higher education. Sven’s own discovery that his father is seeing Tea, the object of his own affection, leads to a car accident in which his life is extinguished.
Brothers of differing character, Fabijan and Boris, are once again sharing their fraternal bonds in the summer that sees the Croatian national side, nicknamed the Vatreni (“the fiery ones”), chalking up a series of wins on the pitch. The relationship is marked by Fabijan’s perennial inclination to find something to be riled by, and Boris’s equally endless ability to be taken aback. In this novel, read in gulps due to its dynamic development and tension, there is no happy ending. And while this very skilfully crafted text gives the outward appearance of a light read, it in fact treats complex issues. Among other things, Lovrenčić concludes, we find here the author’s own attitudes towards Croatian reality.
Nela Stipančić Radonić was born in 1967 in Mrkonjić Grad, a town in Bosnia-Herzegovina. She earned a degree in French and Russian language and literature at the University of Zagreb’s Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and went on to acquire a master’s degree in political science, with a specialisation in comparative politics, at the University’s Faculty of Political Science. She has spent most of her life in Zagreb and the past decade with her family in the German city of Munich. And while the focus of her interests and work abroad are literary, she also finds time to dabble in work as a publicist. She has composed poetry since her early childhood and added short stories and novels to her sphere as she matured. Besides the already mentioned novels she has published the collections of poetry Mjesečeva djeca (“Children of the Moon”, 2016) and Kamena šuma (“The Forest of Stone”, 2017). She is the recipient of a number of literary awards and, as a participant of the Croatian Diaspora Congress, in her public appearances encourages collaboration between homeland Croatians and the diaspora communities. She is a member of the Croatian Society of Victimology, the New York-based poetry association Croatian Lyricism Abroad, and is the secretary and a member of the Munich-based Croatian Family Circle association. She is a publicist with the weekly culture magazine Hrvatsko Slovo and an associate of the Croatian Voice of Berlin Internet portal.
The audience at the Croatian Writers’ Association, which included writers and activists from the USA, Australia and Venezuela, wished the author an excellent reception among readers in the homeland and in Germany. Nada Pritisanac Matulich, the president of the US chapter of the Croatian World Congress and the representative of this association at the United Nations, congratulated the author on her latest novel and presented her with a commendation on behalf of the CWC for her exceptional contribution to the work of this eminent diaspora organisation.
By: Vesna Kukavica
Photography: Snježana Radoš