The capacity to see the bricolage of a reticent, morally compromised, elegiac past—and, more unsettlingly, how that past might see us—is a central feature of the work of the Croatian writer Dasa Drndic. “I have arranged a multitude of lives, a pile of the past, into an inscrutable, incoherent series of occurrences,” one character says in Trieste, Drndic’s most acclaimed novel to date. “I have dug up all the graves of imagination and longing … I have rummaged through a stored series of certainties without finding a trace of logic.”
Drndic adorns her novels—ostensible fictions encircling the Holocaust—with rich archival materials: photographs, biographical sketches, transcripts, testimonies, making a kind of blackened garland of twentieth-century history. It is as if, for Drndic, the atrocities of the recent past overwhelm the capacities of both fiction and fact, that only in braiding the two can our proximity to such horror be countenanced.
Her most recent novel, Belladonna, is forthcoming in English from New Directions. A ferocious book, it follows the life of Andreas Ban, an elderly psychologist, as he sifts through the remnants of his life—clinical research, books, his failing body, and the complicities of Central Europe—looking for “a little island of time in which tomorrow does not exist, in which yesterday is buried.”
Though she speaks English beautifully—in fact, she studied English Literature at the University of Belgrade—it is not her mother tongue. This was in no way a hindrance as Drndic adeptly answered my questions about the monstrous repetition of history, the mantle of “documentary fiction,” and the moral gravity of bearing witness. Drndic corresponded with me from Rovinj, a Croatian port on the Istrian peninsula. Read More