cover image Belladonna


Daša Drndi´c, trans. from the Croatian by Celia Hawkesworth. New Directions, $19.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2721-6

This panoramic work by Drndic´ (Trieste) is less a novel than a life’s worth of reminiscences annotated with photographs and copious footnotes, reminiscent of the works of Aleksandar Hemon and W.G. Sebald. The life in question belongs to Andreas Ban, a 65-year-old writer and psychologist who has given up both vocations and resides in a remote Croatian village, combing through old letters, books, and other leavings that comprise “the collision of what had been and what is now.” Ban meditates on histories both personal and national (“parallel tracks... that touch only for an instant through the crazed sparks”), reconstructing the Croatian War of Independence and its aftermath, the cultural impact of anti-Semitism, his old life in Belgrade, a youthful trip to Amsterdam that brought him in contact with the then-recent memory of WWII, and the clashes between European intellectualism and the military-religious ideologies that have frequently absorbed it. But when Ban is diagnosed with cancer and prepares to undergo surgery, his search for a coherent past becomes charged with purpose; he undertakes an inventory of friends living and departed and ideas accepted and discarded, and his increasingly dark thoughts turn toward belladonna, a berry whose sweetness hides its poison. This work may well be the national novel of Croatia, whose identity is effectively merged with that of Andreas Ban, and what it lacks in plot propulsion, it makes up for in comprehensiveness, as Drndi´c takes on the chaos of the past and the unruly present. [em](Oct.) [/em]