Love Novel by Ivana Sajko, Translated by Mima Simić

Love Novel is not an easy read, but it is a necessary read. Written in Croatian by award-winning author Ivana Sajko and translated into English by Mima Simić, it is brief yet intricate, raw but profoundly touching.

A necessary read … brief yet intricate, raw but profoundly touching.

The world described, the translator informs us, is the world in which both she and the author were raised, a world of crushing poverty and social upheaval, a world with which both are intimately familiar. I cannot address the accuracy of the portrayal of this society, or the quality of the translation, or whether life experience is indeed necessary to write about and appreciate this world. I can only say that this brief novel moved me in a way that few have, for content, themes, and quality of writing.

This is the story of a toxic relationship, a tempestuous and perhaps not well-planned relationship, an impulsive joining of two artistic souls — a Dante scholar and an actress — who set up housekeeping in the squalor of crowded apartment blocks, chronic unemployment, lack of social or political supports, overdue rent, and a growing dissatisfaction with each other’s accomplishments. In the background, the unplanned child screams, and the neighbour pounds on the door. There is no sweetness in poverty, no wisdom or virtue, and qualities once admired are ridiculed and scorned.

The love story, however, is not just about the deterioration of a personal relationship — a moral tale about falling-in-hate; this is also a complex portrayal of a society, which struggles along but senses there are no prospects on the horizon. The wife’s reflection at Easter — that many are crucified, but only Jesus’ crucifixion is noticed — is a powerful social comment on the little crucifixions that mark everyday life.

There is an economy of prose here, with succinct vocabulary choices, such as words being “muddy bubbles.” It is a condensed narrative, with suggestions and images more than sequential recording of details. The author writes, for example, of the protest marches and the way the TV vans come, soon replaced by ambulance vans. The reader jumps across images, yet the meaning is always clear. The despair and hopelessness of the wars — the strains on the marriages, the children leaving at the earliest opportunity to get away and never return — is repeated in the next generations, in the misery and unemployment, in the protests that lead nowhere, and more children raised in misery and fear to perpetuate the pattern.

The flow of consciousness in Chapter 7 is achieved with structural control: images spill from one to another, connected through a balance of compound structures and subordination, becoming a cohesive whole that spreads over several pages but is in no way rambling. It is gripping, and we emerge breathless.

This book is about the way life cripples and destroys people in a world where there seems little sympathy; people attend theatre, after all, the wife reflects, to see the failings of the world surrounding them and to enjoy the way that other lives are more pathetic than their own. Yet, there is the softness and light of spring, when dreams become possible again, and hope arises.

Love Novel is an intense novel, not to be taken lightly. It is, however, a very worthwhile journey, one that will remain with me for a long time.  

Ivana Sajko is a writer, theatre director, and performer working in the overlapping fields of literature, performance art and music. The author of four acclaimed novels and dozens of political theatre pieces, among which Woman-bomb gained international success, she is the four-time winner of a national playwriting award as well as the French Chevalier Medal of Arts and Letters, the Ivan Goran Kovačić Prize for best debut novel, and Internationales Literaturpreis. A contributor to Die Zeit, she lives in Berlin with her son.

Mima Simić is a writer, film critic, translator, and LGBTIQ+ activist. She holds degrees in comparative literature, English language and literature, and gender studies, and was Croatia’s first openly LGBTIQ+ political candidate.

Publisher: Biblioasis (Feb 6, 2024)
Paperback 8″ x 5″ | 112 pages
ISBN: 9781771965989

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Anne M. Smith-Nochasak grew up in rural Nova Scotia and taught for many years in northern settings including Northern Labrador,  the focal setting for her second novel. She has retired to Nova Scotia, where she enjoys reading, writing, and country living. She has self-published two novels through FriesenPress: A Canoer of Shorelines(2021) and The Ice Widow: A Story of Love and Redemption  (2022).