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Speeches

Aleksandar Milosavljevic
Aleksandar Jerkov

Speech delivered by Aleksandar Milosavljevic, drama critic
at the promotion of The Twilight in the Balkans
Belgrade, National Museum, March 16, 1995.

Novels by Gordana Kuic honor the sequence of time: from not-so-far-away past they make their way to the present. The first novel starts in Sarajevo with the shot from Gavrilo Princip’s revolver which introduced him to history but at the same time colored the future of the Balkans in red. The last book in the trilogy ends with another explosion now in Belgrade. This is one of the bombs the explosion of which does not define any historical moment, it does not change the destinies of the nations, but it still paints one’s life in crimson.

Between these two explosions the story of a Sarajevo Jewish family - the eternal exiles convicted to roam the world - is developed. This story Gordana Kuic told us calmly, convincingly with firm belief that she has been noting something of importance which surpasses the frame of an ordinary family album. Skillfully and gradually she introduces us to the secrets of the Salom family, she takes us into an intimate world of a group of people whose individual stories fly high above the dimensions of numerous fragment of a simple family saga. It seems that the author followed the track of the scattered parts of different stories and a variety of destinies in order to find her own path to be able to prove the truth of her novel’s motto: "To know one’s family means to know oneself."

Gordana Kuic’s trilogy, therefore, contains, among others, this very personal code which will perhaps enable the author to find the way to define her own biography. From the nostalgic story about the five Salom sisters and their parents Gordana Kuic leads us with a firm writer’s hand to the moment when the story of a family grows thin and is reduced to one exceptional woman, just as brave and strong as her predecessors, but who lives in an epoch of absurdity that does not take into account such characteristics.

I do not know whether Gordana Kuic was successful in tracing her self-recognition. I don’t know whether I wish she were. Perhaps for her and definitely for us, her readers, it would be better if she continued with her search.

During her roaming through the wilderness of the Balkan history which was neither only Jewish nor exclusively Serbian, Croatian or muslim, wars raged, states disintegrated and were created, personal and familial tragedies occurred. Along with the intoxicating as well as threatening "scent of rain" storms raged and brought our day to a close, to its "twilight". And between the scent and the twilight Gordana Kuic places a moving story about a linden tree that blossoms in the Njegoseva Street, her second novel entitled The Blossom of Linden in the Balkans. In Bosnia there is an ancient belief that linden tree is sacred. To cut it is a sin. The novel ends with cutting of the old linden tree in front of the leading character’s house. Records from the XVII century note that people of a particular part of Bosnia worshipped a linden tree that grew in the midst of a wasteland. Let me point out that the windy Balkan soil is not considered to be good for linden trees. That is why in the consciousness of people the thought that linden is a rarity. Therefore, ethnologists say, the cult of linden should be understood as an expression of special respect for rarities. In the Balkans rarities are just as rare as tenderness, lasting happiness, and love. The author’s metaphor about the scent of Balkan rains which announce the final twilight and the dark night that we have been living through should be accepted as a witty, spirited play that announces the triumph of another kind of hope, a different one, the one that shows to the readers that in spite of the calamity we are faced with, here on this peninsula, one can love, one can encounter happiness no matter how short is might be.


Dr Aleksandar Jerkov, literary critic and university professor

at the promotion of The Fairy Tale about Benjamin Baruh, Pavillion "Cvijeta Zuzorić", November 2002.

It is very easy to conclude by looking at the representative circle of readers of Gordana Kuic’s novels that we are faced with a cultural event of great importance. The appearance of her books outside of all trends of contemporary Serbian literature, only proves that literature communicates vividly with its readers, that it educates them, forms them, and protects them so that when an author has such a faithful and dedicated public she has nothing to worry about in terms of her work. For us who flatter ourselves to be professional interpreters of literature it is only left to attempt modestly to give an addition of a few theoretic categories that might offer a deeper sense to the author’s novels.

It is clear to me that Gordana Kuic’s opus lived through a substantial transformation the course of which I’d like to describe to you bearing in mind the French literary theoretician, Martha Roberts, who claims that the novel is actually a sort of family genre and that each novel is born as a family romance. What Roberts has in mind is an old Freudian thought about finding the root, the creative gene which contains the need to write. Ms Roberts emphasizes that novels do not appear because people intend to write them, but because there is something irresistible in them that in itself requires to be written.

In the course of more than fifteen years of fruitful writing, Ms Kuic in her novels sprang to life both the world that she researched and the world that she carried in herself and was willing to offer it to us as a gift, as an opportunity to dive into it and become its accomplices, its colloquists, its co-tenants.

I have an exceptional respect for the great tradition in Serbian literature and culture which could be named multiculturalism: the meeting, the acceptance, the permeation of different histories and similar destinies – not such a long tradition but very powerful and tough which in all phases of Serbian literature used to give masterpieces and make a difference without which one could not possibly understand historical and cultural memory of this region.

If on one side there is something that elevates the pathos of reception, and on the other there is a deep powerful need to write, then a terrain for a castle of novels such as Ms Kuic’s is established. When I mentioned the transformation that Ms Kuic’s opus went through, please let me say with a very modest, slight note of critical objectivity that from one novel to the next the author grew towards an increasingly more self-conscious storyteller, a writer who with assuredness and tranquility leads her story into a calm port of pleasure, an author who has conquered the firm fictional style without which story telling becomes a disordered narrative material.

From an initial familial capsule, from book to book, her stories were better folded, her imaginary world painted with an exceptional skill was developed in the most natural way into a great, wide canvas. When I say "familial" I do not allude to one restricted experience of a circle or one family. Under this term I have in mind the fact that we are all parts of one huge family of human race. The spotlight here is placed on all those points that connect us and that allow us to live or lives in the brilliance of closeness. The power of closeness is an anthropological constant which has been addressed by many great writers. With an innate talent that grew in her and made her a master of the written word, Ms Kuic was able to reproduce this portion of human nature with an exceptional skill.

The destiny of an individual human being, a resolute man, the one who takes his fate into his own hands, and especially in those novels in which Ms Kuic allowed her leading character to be a woman gave her work a specific kind of cultural appeal.

The writer dealt with changes of relations and social systems that surround us. I wish to emphasize the role of such books for the development of contemporary literature and to express my deepest respect and support for such writing. On the other hand if someone challenged me by mentioning names such as Joyce and Proust, I’d smile and calmly refuse to answer this challenge. It is not the point of world’s literature to state the most precious matters in the most complicated manner. The purpose and meaning of literature is to sustain the power, the virtue and the value of storytelling as a source of human existence and to keep it alive among all of us. Therefore, if one writes so well that she can make her stories alive and keep us all together, what more can we ask from literature, and should we add to it anything? When on top of this the author moves sovereignty through history (let me mention another great star of our time, Amin Malouf who does the same) then it is absolutely clear that Gordana Kuic belongs to the trends of contemporary literature and that her stories are culturally rich, powerful, plentiful in refined details and nuances. All of her six novels are a worthy addition to the contemporary Serbian literature.

In her last novel, The Fairy tale about Benjamin Baruh, it is so easy to detect that the mind that rules over this prose is high above the basic requirements of storytelling. In this novel the ironic, sentimental, auto corrective comments spoken by the author’s voice create a specific sort of counterpoint which allows us to oscillate between the nearer and further past, between one and another horizon of her narration.

It is with great pleasure that I follow Ms Kuic’s opus and I separate it strictly and without reserve from other books that might have reached a similar popularity but which would never have gotten a single word of my appraisal. Ms. Kuic is an important factor of the large pageant of contemporary literature and I am pleased to have been able to add a few modest words of my support to the joyful event of promoting her new novel. Thank you!