Lana Bastašić. European Literature Prize EU
What happens when life distances us in time and kilometres from a friend who suddenly yells at us asking for help as if this distance had never happened? At first glance, Lana Bastašić in her book Atrapa la liebre ( Catch the rabbit) [Edicions del Periscopi in Catalan and Editorial Navona in Spanish, with the translation of Pau Sanchís in both editions] tells us about this reunion, although we must read until the end of the story to understand that there is something, beyond what is narrated with the naked eye, much more psychological and profound than it initially seems.
Lana Bastašić, an author of smart pen, uses Sara’s narrative voice to lead us through a road trip from the Balkans to Vienna, but, above all, the trip that Lana Bastašić proposes to us is a psychological journey, the same introspective journey she takes. Sara through her memories of childhood, adolescence and the days of the university with Lejla, her best friend, who, slowly throughout history, glimpses for the reader as what could be Sara’s alter ego.
When the reader discovers Bastašić’s cunning play, the story may remind us of other novels, such as Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club (Debolsillo, 2017), for the psychological play on the characters, between the cheeky Tyler Durden and his most conservative friend, who also acts as a narrating voice, like Sara, the narrating voice and, at the same time, the most moderate character, compared to Lejla, the most daring character. The parallelism between characters that gives the author a lot of play, since Sara’s character is discovered to be more timid and traditional, it could be defined as “more socially correct”, compared to Lejla, a more rebellious girl with a much more personal personality. more determined and daring than the narrating voice. As the novel progresses, some phrases emerge in which the reader can ask the question: Is Lejla the friend Sara had or is she an alter ego of the protagonist? Although it is true that, as readers, we will find clues throughout the story, the secret is to pay attention or to let them pass, simply, and, without going deeper, to allow the story to be simply a road trip that Lana proposes to us at first sight Bastašić.
Although, after reading Bastašić’s novel, I recommend delving as deeply as possible Atrapa la liebre ( Catch the rabbit) [Editions of the Periscope in Catalan and Editorial Navona in Spanish, translation by Pau Sanchís] and making the most of this tremendous young and fresh but total quality within the current european narrative. For example, on page 101 of the edition of Edicions del Periscopi, we can read: “Who was the one who sat next to me in that car? Who I was? Or maybe it was us, the real us — if this existed — those silent figures in absolute darkness and all the rest is a wink to fools ”
Sara, a familiar, funny and loquacious narrative voice, who could be a close friend of the reader, explaining her most intimate memories. Reflecting on the behaviour of her friend, this ending that leaves us speechless but that in the initial quote of the book already makes it quite clear, if, at the end of the book, we reread it “I could tell you about my adventures … starting this morning Alícia said with a certain shyness. There would be no point going back until yesterday because then I was someone else. ” But it is not only the narrator’s change, time travel, but also history makes us feel this atmosphere of the wooded landscapes of the Balkans, the green cypresses, traditional of the Balkan geography, and the skies dark. The border crossing between countries, and the repercussion caused in its population after the warlike conflicts: the coexistence between religions, the name changes so as not to arouse suspicions, the fact of Sara’s need to emigrate to have a better future, or of the impossibility of not being able to emigrate from her friend Lejla and of not having good job opportunities, this uncertain future that exists in a country that is reborn after a war conflict. Situations that translate into small details such as the simple difference between a mobile with a touchable screen or a basic mobile, without current technology, these little anecdotes from the history narrated by Bastašić and that make us feel the atmosphere that is lived in the countries that, even today, they suffer the consequences of the warlike conflicts of the Balkan War, and that without a doubt, the author knows her origin well.
The background of the road trip of Atrapa la liebre ( Catch the rabbit) [Editions of the Periscope in Catalan and Editorial Navona in Spanish], becomes a literary resource, which can be captured as a metaphor for the rediscovery of itself by Sara, the protagonist of the history. Travel as a process of change, or rather in this case: as recognition of the personal change made, as a process of personal growth achieved, where very good quality literature is present on every page of the book, from the first pages to the end from the book. Just to mention a few, which are really good literary moments for the reader, we read on page 27 of Edicions del Periscopi “The words, suddenly, seemed false, worn out, like the makeup embedded in the wrinkled face of an old woman”, or later, on page 223 of the same edition: “For my infant’s brain, death and non-birth were the same things, a mere absence.”
The story has a female narrative voice as the main protagonist: Sara, and around her, Lejla is a co-protagonist, but we also find other characters representative of each of the societies that surround them in the story: Michael in Dublin, as a couple Sara’s current husband, supposedly in Vienna as Platonic love of Sara, Lejla’s current husband, who is also curious as Lana Bastašić portrays him, typecasting the character in a very stereotypical masculine type, but at the same time, it turns out even funny, as the author ridicules him through the thoughts of Sara (the main character).
It is a pleasure to read Lana Bastašić, to recognize that there are voices in European literature that are worth discovering, and not only this but also to enjoy with this fresh air of interesting, current and quality literature and of which, without a doubt As a reader I wish I could read more often.
Bastašić is a writer of Yugoslav origin (of Serbian culture, born in Croatia and emigrated to Bosnia as a child). She has studied English Philology and Literature and has a Master in Cultural Studies. Atrapa la liebre ( Catch the rabbit) [Editions of the Periscope in Catalan and Editorial Navona in Spanish] is his first novel, a finalist for the NIN awards, the most prestigious of Yugoslav letters and now a few days ago the prestigious European award: European Union Prize for Literature 2020, 2020 European Union Literature Prize representing your country Bosnia. Bastašić collaborates as a writer on several literary magazines in the Balkans. She is co-founder of Escola Bloom and co-editor of Carn de Cap magazine. She has lived in Barcelona and currently lives in Belgrade.
For this reason, I wanted to meet Lana, via Skype, because of the current situation in Europe during the COVID pandemic, 19 because I believe that she is an author who is worth meeting and chatting with, not only from her novel Atrapa la liebre ( Catch the rabbit). ”But also about the rest of his relationship with literature.
CR: Lana, we will talk first of Atrapa la liebre ( Catch the rabbit) for less expert readers. What does the hare symbolize in your story? I would say that the hare is a clear influence of Alice in Wonderland but why? Who is the hare and what does it mean in the development of the story?
LB: For me, Alice in Wonderland was more symbolically important. I didn’t want to have a character that was just Alícia, another that was the rabbit, etc. I wanted to create a dialogue between the two books and the two worlds: Wonderland and Bosnia. In this world, the hare is an instance of life that an artist (a writer) tries to stop and turn into art. The idea came to me how much I saw the Hare by Albrecht Durer and I began to wonder about the real hare, if it existed and what the painter had done to it. There was a question of responsibility that art has with life. On the other hand, the title also includes a feeling of hunting, which is the feeling that I wanted to have in the novel.
CR: In Atrapa la liebre ( Catch the rabbit) we find the literary resource of the trip. What novels have influenced you as a reader to reach this road trip as an author?
LB: It was Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. Not only for the structure of the road trip but also for the relationship between the narrator and the character of Lolita. I decided to have a similar dynamic between my two characters: one would have the privilege of telling stories, the other would have her entire story at the mercy of the narrator. On the other hand, Alice in Wonderland is also a type of road trip, a trip, for which I thought it would be good to gather these elements to tell this story. There is also a great Yugoslav road trip film from 1980, which is also the year Sara (the narrator) was born. It’s called Who Sings There (originally Ko Tono Tamo Peva) and is a black comedy about a group of passengers travelling by bus to Belgrade in 1941, during the last days of Yugoslavia, just before their occupation. It is a very different story from mine, of course, but the idea of a trip between two historical moments in a bus full of different characters seemed to be a fantastic way to represent the Balkans.
CR: Sara, the voice of a woman speaking to us. The girl who has emigrated in search of a future with more opportunities, in front of Lejla, the friend who remains and who cannot progress as much as Sara has. Future and present, versus past, what is and what could have been having he not “escaped” from the country. You have managed to narrate this atmosphere with absolute literary talent, Lana. Alla Tatarenko in Letopis Matice Srpske writes about you “we are not aware of” the esteemed and talented son living abroad “and Bastašić shows us that this talented son, in the end, was a daughter” but, explain to us, is this reality that. Can you also explain a social criticism of the lack of opportunities for the “daughter who stays”?
LB: Recently there was a study by the World Economic Forum that showed that Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia and North Macedonia are among the top 10 countries in the world with the greatest “brain drain”, the number of talented people who leave their country of origin. I could already see it when I finished university: almost all my classmates have moved to another country. So there is a very dark chapter in my novel when Sara returns to Banja Luka and there are only older people moving slowly through the dark. It is not a fantasy, it is becoming our reality. But some stay, because they do not have the privilege to leave, and Lejla is one of those who spent her entire life in Bosnia. I think this difference is obvious in the two friends: I wanted to demonstrate that growing and spending life in a certain context can make you stronger, but also more bitter. On the other hand, many who leave go to Austria – because of its proximity – and never find happiness there. The Yugoslavs in Vienna are mostly second-class citizens, who work hard and don’t mix with the rest. They have their bars, restaurants, clubs, social groups and sometimes it seems like this is the only thing left of Yugoslavia: these lonely overworked people in Vienna who miss their homeland and language. The great Jungian dream, then, has become being a waitress in Vienna.
CR: Lana, your stories have been included in the main anthologies of the former Yugoslavia, and have awarded your literary work with several recognized awards from Bosnia, Montenegro, Serbia or even Trieste. The book Atrapa la liebre ( Catch the rabbit) ” went on sale in March 2020 ( in Catalonia and Spain) , published in Catalan by Edicions del Periscopi and in Spanish by Editorial Navona, in both traduction by Pau Sanchís. It will soon be published in English, with Picador, in Germany with Fischer, and in Italy with Nutrimenti, although the book has already been a success in your country where it was published in 2018. What new project are you currently working on? Can you tell us something about this topic?
LB: I have a couple of ideas that I would like to turn into a novel, but I have to take a break. I think it is important to pause between two novels unless you want to take the risk of repeating the same voice and the same themes. So I decided to finish a storybook that I have been working on for a long time. All the stories have children as protagonists and I want to explore how trauma (from the smallest memories to real violence) can transform children and influence them forever. My starting point was a phenomenal book by the Bulgarian author Georgi Gospodinov, The Physics of Sadness, in which he explored the myth of the Minotaur but read the monster as a small abandoned child. At the beginning of the monster stories, Gospodinov argues, there is always a child lying in the cellar. This marked me and I decided to build my 14 stories from this premise.
CR: From your time in Barcelona, you not only publish your book in our language, but you have also transmitted the values of entrepreneurs as an example to follow, by co-founding the Escola Bloom with the writer and professor of the Degree in Literary Studies from the University of Barcelona and Doctor in Theory of Literature and Comparative Literature Borja Bagunyà. The Bloom, as it is known in the sector, and which is an obligatory point of passage for future writers and literature lovers who truly adore quality literature, a school recognized for its high specialization in literary courses. At Bloom, you have also taught literary training. Despite being very different roles, which part do you like the most: being a writer or teaching students to be better writers and, at the same time, learning to read and appreciate literature as you do?
LB: Actually, I gave more classes in literature than in writing, because it made more sense for teachers who write in Catalan and Spanish to teach creative workshops. But I enjoyed doing seminars on James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, or a 100-year short story course in English. What fascinates me about the Escola Bloom is how in a small group of 10 people maximum, you can get to make such diverse and creative readings of the same text. I learned a lot with my students, I saw things that perhaps I would not have seen if it were not for them. In addition to all these great courses and seminars that we do, Bloom is also a type of magical place where creative people get to do what they want to do, what they are passionate about. When you look at the names of Catalan writers (and other writers) who have passed through Bloom, you quickly realize that one day it will be one of these historical-cultural places in Barcelona and I have the honour of having seen it be born and be part of still from her.
CR: Thank you very much Lana, not only for this interview, also for delighting us with this good literary character which you write, and provoking, with this good novel Atrapa la liebre ( Catch the rabbit) [Edicions del Periscopi in Catalan and Editorial Navona in Spanish, translation both in Spanish as well as in Catalan by Pau Sanchís] that we want to continue reading to you in the future, We hope to see you soon in Barcelona, Lana Bastašić! And congratulations again on this well-deserved 2020 European Union Literature Prize for Bosnia!
LB: Thank you very much for this talk!