| Diwan Special issue|
Born in 1947 in Banja Luka (B&H), lives in Sarajevo (B&H).
(or reading novels by Mirko Marjanović)
The series of novels by Mirko Marjanović (U ime oca i sina / In the Name of the Father and of the Son, 1969, Povijest izgubljene duše / History of a Lost Soul, 1980, Braća / Brothers, 1983, Topot divljih konja / The Bat of Wild Horses, 1989, and Osmjehni se i u Plaču / Smile Even when Crying, 2000) is presented as a continuos research of one aspect of story telling in novels, very appropriate to the writing talent of this author.
All of Marjanović’s basic literary traits have been visible ever since his first book (containing the novel In the Name of the Father and of the Son as well as a fragment or an addition to the novel, a previously untold story Bolest / The Illness). A mythic experience of the microworld in which its heroes tread tragically as well as the relationship towards the very story i.e. the fascination with the way it is going to be told. The microworld is a homeland which in this novel remains nameless just as none of the main characters carry a name (their names are Father, Mother, Bride, Sister, Brother and their names represent them, just as Dog is simply a dog). It is a world of a foggy, mystical village refracted through two narrative minds (both with proper names): Petar, the son who tries to set straight a very traumatic story of importance to his life and another protagonist in the story who, in a very peculiar way, tries to tell the story about the narrator to the other protagonist.
It seems that In the Name of the Father and of the Son is shaped by a sort of a Faulkner-like rondo which will follow Mirko Marjanović constantly until the recently published novel Smile Even when You Cry where that rondo is probably shaped in the most harmonic way.
The images of the world are usually conceived in some detail from the world of a family with complex and often traumatic relationships, in the world of the house or in the back of the mind of one of the tenants, only to be reflected further in the world around it, the world of the village, which represents a type of extended family with various influences caused by the outside world, nearby towns and distant cities of the world. In the narrative environment all of this is refracted as if in a prism. The vertical point of the unreachable, unexplainable, of the yearning and the traditional code in that prism is the church, whose clerks, in a different way, from one novel to another, establish contact with their surroundings of which they are the (true or false) central point.
Everything that is outside of this small prism, the city, the world (usually it is Sarajevo even though Paris is there as well) is a prism as well, where everything that happens in the basic prism is reflected.
This constructing and reading of a prismatic literary landscape is visible already in Marjanović’s next novel, the novel about lost souls.
History of a Lost Soul is in fact a story about Jelena. A femme fatale who in a special way casts light on all the characters in the story. Sarajevo of the late 60’s and early 70’s is a stage of literary kitchens and quarrels hosting Josip Hrnjez, an editor of a literary magazine and a writer experiencing writer’s block. His friends are also there: Fabris, the painter and Adnan Bujas, the writer with his wife Matilda. Jelena is a frustrated, claustrophobic person who finds physical love to be the cure for all of her traumas. This is very accented in the key moments of her life with Josip, the moments that remind her of the darkness of her own experience. Jelena is a wound for everyone she meets, a wound for herself. The novel The European, written by Josip Hrnjez is actually an attempt to write about his life. Jelena has some similarities with Justine from the Alexandrian Quartet. Fragments of The European end with Hrnjez’s complete helplessness to finish his work and with the word of his parrot which in a Poe-like manner pronounces what mute Hrnjez can not anymore: He’s lost the words, he’s lost the words! The novel about Jelena and Josip, about Sarajevo and its writers (scenes reminiscent of Bulghakov), is written by the one who has found his words again: Adnan Bujas, the author of the History of a Lost Soul, that is the one who is Alija Karišik in The European, Martin Stupar’s parallel novel.
The novel The Brothers corresponds to the previous novel. A unique story is crystallised out of a series of stories-episodes.
The Bat of Wild Horses is a precise and interesting history of a destiny which was influenced by its surroundings and the events that took place earlier. These events are entirely out of the main character’s range and beyond his capability to influence them. They are secret services, loyalty and betrayal, trust, distrust, obedience under pressure.
Smile Even when Crying is a testimonial of the end of the century in Šomart (an obvious word play on the name of writer’s place of birth, just like Darg is) and in Bosnia. Šomart is a place a bit larger than a village but still not big enough to be considered a town. Characters such as the prophet Jakov Bračuljić and father Amrozij Martić live in it and their destinies constantly intertwine during the tragic war days of the end of last decade. Jakov’s brothers are also there as well as Pavle Kodra, sister Valentina and in the end the very narrator of this chronicle of events, the one who smiles even when he cries, the painter Lovro, Pavle and Janja’s son.
Marjanović’s chronicle describes Šomar as an old Bosnian place, populated by Croatian Catholics, surrounded by villages and small towns mostly populated by other Bosnian nationalities. In father Ambrozij’s mind as well as in his interpretation, the existence of Šomart is equal to the historical existence of Bosnia.
The author’s examination of domestic subjects is evident in the parts where he names the places where the action takes place by using anagrams or associations (Murmur, Šomart, Darg, Ojbod etc. in which we can recognise his hometown Tramošnica, Gradačac and Doboj). One can’t avoid the impression that all of Marjanović’s novels are basically one chronicle. This continuos chronicle of his birthplace is intersected with the chronicle of Bosnia and Sarajevo as the modern centre of all the cultural and political happenings in the country.
Marjanović builds his novels painstakingly. Sometimes he uses fragments, at other times in a type of rondo, minding that the pieces of information relevant to the story are repeated and complement each other in the changes of the view point. In this way every segment of the story can be, more or less, simultaneously visually experienced. This is very evident in the novel Smile Even when Crying where a prophet’s vision is realised through the repetition of events as well as through historical interpretation. Sometimes these situations seem surreal, a Boschian canvas where the dead inhabitants of Šomart live their spiritual life which quite naturally connects on a psychological level with the cold and anxious realism of Šomart’s everyday life.
Regardless of whether the so-called reliable or unreliable narrators are employed, Marjanović’s narration always begins somewhere in the omniscient or recognising point of view. By using more or less harmonic changes of view point (the most recent example is Smile Even when Crying) Marjanović adds new information to the already told or opens a new angle in which his already told story can be seen in a completely new light. The exchange of the so-called real and the fantastic is also natural. In this way the story in Smile Even when Crying is told several times, using the stream of consciousness of different narrators. It was almost fully narrated two times in two parts of the novel with simple and concise names Prorok (Prophet) and Franjevac (Franciscan monk).
The novels of Mirko Marjanović stand as testimonials of an experienced and mature narrator who tries to show all of his dilemmas and anxieties in the mirrors of literature. Even though all of them are independent and self-sufficient, they are, at the same time, parts of a series in the form of a chronicle of a small place in the north of Bosnia (regardless of its name in any given novel), its inhabitants and the ones who had left it to be scattered around the world. It is also a chronicle of the citizens of Sarajevo whose origins are in that small place. It is a fragmentary (and it seems it can only be that way) chronicle of the country of Bosnia.
Translated by Edin Balalić
Diwan 2002. Sva prava zadržana.
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