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Antonio Costa Gomez
David Albahari
Igor Mandic
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Simha Kabiljo
Ljiljana Banicanin
Ljiljana Šop
Predrag Palavestra
Aleksandar Jerkov
Ljiljana Šop
Vasa Pavković


Antonio Costa Gomez

"I had read in French, years ago, before traveling through Yugoslavia, "The Smell Of Rain In The Balkans" and I was dazzled. I immediately began writing about it everywhere, wanting to contact the author, to spread it as an example of literature that transcends boundaries. Literature which helps us escape doctrines, fanaticisms and fierce exclusivism. As literature which invokes rain as an element where we can all be ourselves beyond concepts, boundaries, races."

Oliendo la lluvia en Sarajevo

Estábamos en el Club de los Trotamundos, en Skadarlija, el barrio bohemio de Belgrado, y veíamos un montón de objetos curiosos del mundo entero, y constatábamos que los serbios...

ESTÁBAMOS EN el Club de los Trotamundos, en Skadarlija, el barrio bohemio de Belgrado, y veíamos un montón de objetos curiosos del mundo entero, y constatábamos que los serbios no eran todos nacionalistas feroces como nos querían hacer creer, y nos acordábamos de Gordana Kuic, y sentíamos no poder verla, porque nos había dicho que no podía aguantar el calor en Belgrado, que se iba a una casa que tenía en el campo, y también nosotros pensábamos en ir a los monasterios perdidos y maravillosos de Serbia, pero después nos fuimos a Kosovo a través de Macedonia, donde los americanos habían arrinconado a los serbios, y había que poner dotaciones militares para que los albaneses no destrozaran sus iglesias, y cuando nos fuimos de Belgrado Consuelo dejó para Gordana una mantilla española, ya que España era su país mítico, al que siempre deseaba ir, del que hablaban como un sueño sus personajes, los judíos sefarditas que recordaban su origen, y hace poco Gordana vio su libro principal traducido al español, pero tampoco pudo venir por no sé qué problemas, y le aconsejó a la editorial que yo presentara su libro, pero la editorial ya tenía a no sé qué sesudos académicos preparados para analizar sesudamente su obra.

Yo leí en francés hace unos años, antes de viajar por Yugoslavia, ‘El olor de la lluvia en los Balcanes’ y quedé deslumbrado, enseguida empecé a escribir sobre él en todas partes, a querer contactar con la autora, a ponerlo como ejemplo de literatura que supera las fronteras, que nos ayuda a escapar de las doctrinas y los fanatismos y los exclusivismos feroces, que invoca la lluvia como elemento donde todos podemos encontrarnos más allá de los conceptos, de las fronteras, de las razas.

La novela es como una elegía o como una balada, es la historia de la madre y las tías de la autora, las hermanas Salom, en la Sarajevo de entreguerras, Nina pone una tienda de sombreros, una ‘butica de chapeus’, Klara se casa con un donjuan que la abandona en París, Buka escribe cuentos y leyendas en sefardita, Riki es una bailarina fantástica y bohemia pero acaba mal de los huesos, entonces pone una tienda de sombreros en Belgrado que se llama La Parisiense, Blanki (la madre de Gordana Kuic) se enfrenta a los prejuicios y toca sutilmente a Chopin, todas conservan su vitalidad inexpresable por encima de brutalidades y fanatismos, el olor de la lluvia las libera, tienen nostalgia de España, el país de sus antepasados, de donde los echaron unos reyes implacables, cuidan el recuerdo de esa tierra, conservan el español del siglo XV, sueñan al escuchar las guitarras, y muestran que como musgo la vida crece y se desarrolla a pesar de las exclusiones, incluso cuando gentes idiotas quieren culpabilizar a razas enteras.

Gordana Kuic ve como en las pequeñas emociones, en las vivencias, en las sensaciones, sobrevive la vida más irreductible, capta las capacidades del arte para superar los inmovilismos y esquematismos, Riki es un ejemplo con las innovaciones de su baile, y la vivencia como medio de conocimiento es superior a las elucubraciones intelectuales, el novio de Riki le suelta discursos filosóficos pero ella quiere vivir y sentir, y Gordana expone la magia de las historias, la novela presenta con mucha más garra y lucidez la fuerza de una cultura, el genio de unas personalidades, que pudieran hacerlo estudios y conceptos.

Y la novela expresa también el ansia de vivir de unas mujeres aprisionadas en el dominio de los hombres: Blanki tiene condiciones para aprender pero la familia gasta dinero inútil en pagar los estudios de su hermano que es un vago, aparece otro nivel de sojuzgamiento, el de las mujeres por los hombres, con sus cabezas cuadriculadas, con sus prejuicios dominadores, con su exclusivismo, es otra vez la voz de las mujeres que se manifiesta imparable en la creación, en el arte, en la resistencia, en la supervivencia, y en la comunicación con la lluvia.

Oliendo la lluvia sobre la tierra mojada uno se escapa de los racismos feroces, de la persecución de los nazis, de la condenación por ser judío, del esquinamiento por ser mujer, de la negación del derecho a existir, uno se libera y se explaya en el olor de la lluvia que nadie puede prohibir, que nadie puede cuadricular, que entra en lo más íntimo como una compañía indestructible, como un recuerdo sutil, como la vivencia del cuerpo que se resiste a las rigideces intelectuales, a los uniformes de los nazis, a las sentencias de los teólogos, la lluvia sigue ahí, y es tan necesario oírla en una ciudad como Sarajevo, donde conviven a la fuerza las culturas, donde tantas veces las culturas se han odiado y se han negado mutuamente y a pesar de todo se han acompañado, la lluvia es un refugio en medio de la intolerancia y la separación y la condena.

Después de estar en Kosovo volvimos a Sarajevo y buscamos el sitio donde estaba la tienda de sombreros, era en el sitio que ahora está enfrente al hotel Europa, no recuerdo que local anodino hay ahora en ese lugar, y nos emocionamos pensando en cómo allí se vendían sombreros, como las dependientas o la dueña olían la lluvia que descargaba las tensiones después de días amenazantes, como se metía en sus huesos y en sus recuerdos y les hacía soñar libres en sus sensaciones, como abría un pasillo hacia el pasado igual que en la obra de Proust o hacia otras dimensiones donde los hombres no se empeñan en controlar a los demás y fabricarlo todo a su gusto.

‘El olor de la lluvia en los Balcanes’, ahora ya en español, muestra como pocas lo que es literatura: hacer vivir a la gente y alumbrarle los secretos de su vida, los momentos más sutiles que son los más valiosos, la literatura ha de sacudir a la gente y hacerle ver que está viva y que hay otras formas de vida tan valiosas como la suya, y esta novela en ese sentido produce un deslumbramiento, y el estilo es sencillo y accesible, pero está lleno de sutilezas, de vivacidad, de comparaciones ágiles, de gracia expresiva, y rescata la gracia (el espíritu vital) de unas personas únicas, y nos regala a nosotros la gracia, y nos indica que estando en Sarajevo, o en España, o en cualquier parte, hay cosas que nadie puede secuestrar, que siempre nos liberan sutilmente, como el olor de la lluvia.


David Albahari, writer
review of The Scent of Rain in the Balkans, Vuk Karadžić, l986.

This novel represents a mature work by an author who, as far as we know, has not published anything previously. In their first works, writers usually deal with narrow, intimate themes, and if they decide to tackle a larger contemporary or historical topic, they usually do not succeed in finding the right form of expression. In her first work, Gordana Kuić has courageously plunged into an unusual topic, the one that has not been touched upon yet in Yugoslav literature: the disintegration of traditional Jewish culture in this country in the period between the two World Wars. She has judged her writing abilities accurately and discovered a format in which she was able to express herself successfully. Short fragments, mostly based on dialogues, pages from diaries and passages from letters enabled her to describe her subject objectively.

The story of the novel is simple (like all good stories should be). A Sephardic Jewish family from Sarajevo, the Saloms, is placed in the center of action. The First World War, triggered by the Sarajevo assassination of the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand, marked the end of a way of life, but also opened numerous new possibilities for young generations ready to change the existing family values. Straightforwardly the author follows the movements of individual members of the Saloms. Their social emancipation blends in with the events of the period and seems to coincide with the idea of Yugoslavism, which is strongly personified in one of the leading characters, a Serb, Marko Korach. At the same time the traditional Jewish community of Sarajevo approaches its inevitable end. The death of the Mother, Esther Salom, announces both its final disintegration and the Second World War, which now arrives in full force. Gordana Kuic thus manages to record a moment when assimilation becomes a need, when the fear of real identity requires a complete transformation.

The Scent of Rain in the Balkans possesses all the characteristics of a good book. In her attempt to show the destiny of a Jewish family living on Bosnian soil, the author has gone much further: she shows that the inevitability of historical developments is inescapable; she pains history as a monster who continually returns in cycles, but also as a mad joker who is ready to change the colors at any moment.

The novel is also a document of a world that no longer exists – the world of the Sephardic Jews of Sarajevo. Therefore, this above all exciting novel is a truly important contribution to the rather meager Jewish literary output in this country, but it definitely grows beyond the boundaries of such a definition and undoubtedly takes a more general significance.


Igor Mandic, literary critic
Zagreb, Belgrade weekly magazine “NIN”, September 1986.
CONTEMPORARY NOVEL
JEWERY
The Scent of Rain in the Balkans, Vuk Karadžić, l986.

Every storyteller instinctively wants to establish his own "family literature". Or more accurately, one becomes a true storyteller only when such pretensions are overcome, for in their early works only a few writers succeeded in mastering the difficulties of writing about their own families, which to them seem a worthy subject. Family literature is a risky business in that the writer is usually not the best judge of how important and compelling the micro world of his family is to the others.

However, when the family belongs to a world already set apart, then the chronicler is in a rather privileged position: that which is strictly familial takes on a second, social meaning. For example, the special historical status of the Jews seems to automatically obligate each of their writers to be witness and interpreter of Diaspora and genocide, in whatever aspect. It is difficult to ignore such an appeal, which because of its serious nature often exceeds the writer’s capacities. Not so for Gordana Kuic who in describing seventy years of the history of her obviously not imaginary family has not succumbed to excessive ambitions.

The novel is recounted in readable, fluent, natural style, but not lacking in thoroughness... One of those novels that the reader cannot put down...


Predrag Lazarevic, literary critic
Odijek, december 1986.
THE WORLD OF BOOKS
THE STORY OF A SEPHARDIC FAMILY

When I read Gordana Kuic's novel The Scent of Rain in the Balkans, I was first struck by the question of what is meant by the title, or more precisely, what is the relationship between the title and the book that it designates. To the extent that it is true that "the title of a work of art often refers more to some accepted code than to the content of the work”, this question can be modified to say: To what code does Gordana Kuic refer the reader in giving the title The Scent of Rain in the Balkans to her first novel, which encompasses two world wars and the period of peace that they bounded, and recounts the fate of a family of Sephardic Jews from Sarajevo. Every reader will have noticed the title phrase among the nostalgic Parisian reminiscences of her native Sarajevo that are related by the ballerina and couturiere

Riki Salom, "Yes", she murmured, the scent of rain in the Balkans, that is something unique." (224) However, it seems to me that it would be too simple to say that the code was taken from the fact that she "liked rain"; rather, the answer should be sought in the letter that Riki, eight years after her Paris interlude, writes from her wartime hiding place to her sister and brother-in-law on the occasion of the birth of their daughter: "I wish her life in a world she can believe in, and that she be proud that her father is a Serb, her mother, a Jew, and that she was born in the Balkans... How fortunate that she is born now and is so small that she won’t remember anything...

Apart from that," she continued, "it is raining here, and rain in the Balkans, more than anywhere else in the world, makes for mud." The attentive reader will immediately note two levels in this expression of opinion: a level of hope for the future, in the form of a desire for change, and a level of disgust with the present reality, which it would be better not to remember. And reality, only mentioned in Riki Salom’s letter, is seen in the sentence about the weather in the village of Grbavce, where she was hiding under an assumed name. It is the second part of the sentence, with the connotations it evokes in this context, that stands out as a poetic picture of the tangled conditions in the Balkans, It is by no means accidental that the two levels of the letter are connected by a single element—the Balkans—and that the letter is linked to the title by the word rain, while it is only through the metonymous relationship between rain and mud that the word scent is connected with muddy vapors. The connection obviously exists, and another question arises...

This family chronicle situated in real historical events is for Kuic only material which offers the possibility of discovering her own identity. She makes the framework of her novel an intimate "coming to accounts" with the past, whose reflexes she feels strongly in herself. This is the "first voice of poetry", as T.S. Eliot would say. The sender and the receiver of the message-topic are all the same person, but these reflections are intimately relevant to others as well. It is to such a code within the novel that the title The Scent of Rain in the Balkans refers.

The work is based on real events which came down to Gordana Kuic in the form of family traditions. The fate of the Salom family appeared to her not only as a symptom of the times, but also as a model of the survival and disintegration of a Sephardic family in the historically unpredictable Balkans. She was attracted by the tension between tenacious, stubborn preservation of tradition and the unavoidable taking root in new surroundings.and new cir¬cumstances. She was interested, in fact, by the reciprocal influences that made the inhabitants of these surroundings into such complicated personalities. Although all the events of the novel take place in urban settings (Sarajevo, Belgrade, Zagreb, and several European cities), Kuic shows them whenever the occasion presents itself in the context of the traditional .customs of the people. This interspersing of folk culture does not represent mere decorative detail, but the basis of the religious and ethnic core of the characters, the amalgamated traits of their common existence.

In the first part of the novel the Salom family is treated as a compact whole, with all of its members dealt with simultaneously, so that the center of attention is always the member who steps out of the traditionally closed family circle. A synthesis of the first part is successfully completed in the chapter End of an Era (in the subchapter Changes). The structure of this section parallels the ritual seven days of mourning for Mama Esther, who had been "the defender of old ideas and the first to welcome the new." (265) The members of the family are gathered for the last time. The long, drawn-out rite makes contemplation inevitable, permitting the differences in character among the family members to be shown in concentrated form, while the drawing out of events, given a human dimension, through comic details, reveals itself as the key to understanding the rather ponderous and sprawling structure of the first part of the novel. Such a structure provides an excellent reflection of the rhythm of life in "an era that historians later called entre deux geurres." (276) It was an era of slow changes . and long intervals between important events, even in the life of the Salom family, many of whose members lived lifes that were ahead of their times. In the second part of the novel, in which events follow one another frenetically, and in which the whirlwinds of war" blow the Salom family to far-flung corners of the world, the center of interest shifts to the fates of the individual members. Here, the form of the novel evokes inevitable comparison with Herman Wouk, but The Scent of Rain in the Balkans differs essentially from The Winds of War. Here, "the sphere of general history coincides with the individual, human sphere." That is, history, which is evident mainly in the dialogues and inner monologues of the characters, and seldom in the plot of the novel, has the function of some unseen driving force that manifests itself exclusively in the personal fate of the characters. The Sarajevo assassination, for example, is refracted through the consciousness of the children. It is at first less significant for the Galom family than the fact that in the resulting uproar it loses its youngest daughter, Riki. People are-as one of the characters, Milos Rankovic, says - "like ticks, stuck to their miserable existence (...) narrowly looking only at themselves." (455) But within this world Kuic reveals evocative, Dickensian details which function as a counterpoint to larger events.In crucial moments of history, in the most darkly dehumanizing times, humanity surfaces, often at the risk of death, while comic details counteract pathos in the idealized scenes from the family’s past and in the description of rituals, returning such episodes to the realm of reality. Thus, for example, Blanki, who with Riki and Marko Korac is one of the books central figures, listens as a child to stories about the history of her people, about the first "Grand Inquisitor," the Dominican Tomas de Torquemada, and about the driving of the Jews out of Spain. As a mature woman during the Second World War, at a time when Jews were being hysterically hunted down, her oldest sister is saved by a Catholic nun. On the other hand, Blanki’s ideal love for Marko Korac and her youthful fervor are embedded into the Balkan setting by episodes like the one in which the belt of her skirt breaks as she is trying to 'casually skip by Marko" (75) when they meet by chance in the street. The joking comment, "Little girl, your belt is broken," reduces this love to the level of their social surroundings and eliminates its idyllic though not its human side.

Episodes like these, which carry a comic charge, seem very benign in relation to the rest of the world. For Kuic does not consider the Balkans in isolation. Her characters come in contact with Europe, and Korac’s wealth loses its local glitter, while his Hercegovinian jokes gain in humanity in comparison with the "polished" and businesslike offers of love from Franz Laschteter. Through the understated confrontation of such episodes, Kuic strips away the mythology of the past and gives meaning to it while getting at the truth about her and our roots. Born in exile, the fate of the Sephardic Jews serves her as the archetype for understanding how taking root in new surroundings does not mean the denial of tradition, but rather its participation in the new life. And in all of this, the greatest value belongs to love. "I realized," says Milos Rankovic, "that the discovery of oneself in love, as well as the discovery of one’s partner, is perhaps the most valuable part of the game." (167).

The Scent of Rain in the Balkans is a game in which Kuic gets to know herself through - her love for her characters. In the life of the Salom family she has revealed an intriguing Romanesque structure, and so offers us not a novel about one family, but a novel of a family which is a synthesis of archetypical characteristics of Balkan reality. Its unforced narration and unpretentious form class this novel by Gordana Kuic among those contemporary works that have relevance to television. This makes them popular with readers, though it is a minus among academic critics, but it leads one to assume that they will live a second life on the screen. I am convinced that The Scent of Rain in the Balkans meets all the conditions for a good television series, certainly a match for the best of those thct we import.


Review by Simha Kabiljo, literary historian
1995.
Twilight in the Balkans Narodna knjiga, Belgrade

With her novel entitled Twilight in the Balkans, Gordana Kuic brings her trilogy to an end. It is a trilogy in the form of a Balkan family chronicle that envelopes all of the XX century. It is a saga about a Jewish Sephardic family, the Saloms, from World War One which created the Kingdom of Yugoslavia to the recent civil wars that triggered the disintegration of the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia. Similar to all sagas that present numerous characters from many generations, this trilogy composed like an epic river deals with great historical events and social movements.

The story of Twilight in the Balkans is situated in Belgrade, Sarajevo, Zagreb, and many towns and cities of the former Yugoslavia as well as in Salt Lake City at the beginning of the nineties in the duration of one year, the duration of the fatal love affair of Vera Korac, the last offspring of the Salom-Korac family and Ivan Domazet, a composer from Sarajevo. Events and characters from the previous two novels, The Scent of Rain in the Balkans and The Blossom of Linden in the Balkans, are interwoven into the fictional tissue of the third novel by reminiscences and retrospection.

This novel consists of many layers which are interrelated and conditioned so that only by cutting through all of them a complete structure and its meaning becomes visible.

Above all, Twilight in the Balkans can be read as a psychologically well nuanced love story. Its leading topic, a marital triangle, gets complementary meanings on the background of Vera Korac’s previous sentimental experiences as well as parallel love stories of Vera’s girl friends, Lana and Adriana.

This book can be read as a novel with an international theme since Vera Korac’s professional life is connected with constant traveling and a gallery of Yugoslav, British and American characters. Their meetings and conversations are an illustration of cultural and ideological differences or a conflict of two civilizations, i.e. Western (American) and Eastern (Yugoslav/Balkan).

Twilight in the Balkans can be read as a socio-historical novel about events in Yugoslavia at the beginning of the nineties which point to the tragic arrival of new wars. The climax of this aspect of the story is achieved by gathering all the characters of various nationalities and religions in one place on one evening: the great celebration on the occasion of the premiere of ballet The Scent of Rain in the Balkans which is based on the novel written by the heroine of this novel and performed in Sarajevo in 1991. During the night this glorious party is transformed into an incredible fight triggered by a drunken outsider unknown to all of the carefully chosen guests. In her witty satirical tone the writer transforms the luxurious restaurant fit for elegant occasions into a typical Balkan inn fit for discord.

Twilight in the Balkans is a serious novel and deserves a deep critical evaluation. It paints a picture of a country with its contrasts and its conflicts between the individualistic and the collective, between the personal and the historical.


Ljiljana Banicanin, journalist
Weekly magazine “Ilustrovana Politika”, October 19, 1996.
TO READ OR NOT TO READ
SHE WRITES BESTSELLERS

Gordana Kuic is a unique case in Serbian literature: she is a writer of several best selling novels without a true literary review! It is obvious that a woman who writes novels is suspicious to the "serious" critics. The serious and important critics simply haven’t had the time to read her books because they are still stuck with proving that the Nobel Prize winner, Ivo Andric, is a great writer. So, what a small writer should do when there are no small critics since they become great immediately. A small writer must become great elsewhere so that the great critics here would recognize him as great.

With women writers the situation is even more complicated. When they become popular with readers the great critics get very angry: how come that someone dares to read a writer who was not discovered by them!

Gordana Kuic’s novels may or may not be liked, but their existence cannot be denied which is exactly what the literary critics are trying to do. At the time when people read increasingly less while they (critics) write increasingly more, the appearance of a writer who writes bestsellers permanently, one after another (25.000 sold copies) should at least awaken interest of literary critics: let me see who writes bestsellers.

Gordana Kuic’s works are interesting to read which makes her situation even more difficult - this is allowed by the critics only to foreign writers and only those who were recognized by foreign critics.

For such an unacknowledgement of her literature Gordana Kuic is the guiltiest part: she takes the role of a self-isolated solitary writer in the domestic literature and the truth is that among us a stranger is never accepted as a player in the game.

But, since literature exists thanks to the writers not critics and lives thanks to the readers, Gordana Kuic continues to perform her duties industriously: she published the third part of her trilogy.

Twilight in the Balkans belongs to women’s writing. It starts with an unmistakably feminine description of a woman in her late forties. Everything is moderate, slightly reserved, without intimacy which would lead into pathetic. The heroine comes out of the hospital and ponders about old age which often takes writers to the level of the pathetic. The author frees herself from the melodrama in a simple manner: by telling an old Jewish joke. One man tells his friend "Let God give you many problems!" How’s that, the friend is surprised. "Well, if you have only one problem, it means that you are ill".

About her country the writer thinks as follows: "This country is ill. Therefore, it should not be left alone". To explain what happened to her native land she leans on Nitzsche: "The suppressed truth becomes poisonous... Is it because of the hushed up truths that such disaster is happening to my native land?" she asks herself.

Her novel is decorated by the purity of the Serbian language and it is an infinitely interesting text.

At the end a piece of advice: do read freely interesting books because they can be good literature also.


Ljiljana Šop, literary critic
Weekly magazine Srpska reč, December 26, 1996.
GHOSTS OVER THE BALKANS

As a writer, Gordana Kuic matured with the growth of her opus which she started a decade ago unpretentiously and mostly outside of the modern experimental and blessed by the critique trends. She dedicated her work to her family and the people of her descendants, Sephardic Jews. This is how a tetra logy of 2.000 pages was created – on one side unrecognized by the critics, on the other unusually popular among readers.

If the critics did not comment on Gordana Kuic’s novels for their realism, simplicity, sincerity and chronological order, then this is just because of these characteristics that the three parts of the tetralogy attracted general audiences who are fond of classical stories based on authentic life and its chronological flow untouched by creative exhibitionism.

The focus of the author’s interests, however, slowly moved from the classical family novel (The Scent of Rain in the Balkans) to the social novel (The Blossom of Linden in the Balkans) to a pre-war love story (Twilight in the Balkans) and finally to a phantasmagoric crossing of the previous genres with the new ones. In an imaginative play Gordana Kuic creates both a parody of the so far treated genres and conquers new ones usually thought of as too easy and profane, which she brings up to the level of seriousness and uniqueness by placing her heroine "on the other side, out of the World of Moveable Bodies".

The Balkan trilogy encompasses the 20th century in the form of conscious, conscientious and intended realism the magic of which Gordana Kuic believed in. Her fourth novel Ghosts over the Balkans is taken out of the bondage of realism, chronological requirements, and obligations towards psychological motivation of her characters thus building a modern version of the 2500 years old genre, the satyr play or drama. After three tragedies, as required by the ancient genre, this last show of the dramatic tetralogy introduces as leading actors the dead Vera Korac and not much less alive Huan Garcia Galan de Olivares who has been appearing throughout the trilogy as an enigma, as a shadow, dream, play, ghost as well as a potential ancestor, the one who connects the Spanish and the Balkan episodes of the five centuries long family tree. In the ambitious, temperamental, and literary-wise relevant ending which closes the circle not only of the Balkan epopee of numerous characters but also the circle of the nation exiled from Spain five hundred years ago, Olivares is the key both to understanding the past and the author’s alter ego in "directing" the future, her sub consciousness and her knowledge, her imagination and the good spirit of her creation.

It is to the past longer than five centuries as well as to the one not longer than a decade that the heroes of “The Ghosts over the Balkans” are sailing under newly established secretive and hilarious rules of the creative play which follows its own inner laws of a funny and sad, disheveled and controlled, sarcastic and orgiastic logic. Taking the I.B.Singer’s possibility that there must be an archive in space where everything has been noted and memorized, Vera Korac floats between the world beyond and the real world. She succumbs to the natural wish of a mortal to spend a little more time "here" just to observe behaviors, destinies and future of those whom she spent her life with.

In spite of the fact that the essential exchange of experiences between the two worlds does not exist because the author does not believe in it, the story opens a subtle space of superior observance of life from a metaphysical point of view or, perhaps, from an angle of futuristic pessimism or optimism.

While the Balkan trilogy was written under the aura of ordinary life of ordinary people who search for scraps of happiness, the new novel by Gordana Kuic puts the emphasis on the drama of recognition. That is why the characters of The Ghosts over the Balkans often think and speak in citations and quotations from novels, movies, newspaper articles, strips, radio and television programs which are skillfully, functionally, wittily and sensibly incorporated in the mainstream of the story.

Kuic possesses inexhaustible energy of a novelist who seemingly does not think about the theoretical aspects of story-telling but which she intuitively senses as an essential element of her creative strategy and poetic power. That is why her new novel freely and naturally balances between the strictly thought of structure and the fully imaginative motives.

If well and carefully read, The Ghosts over the Balkans will erase some doubts and prejudices towards novels that are very popular among the so-called "ordinary readers".


Predrag Palavestra, member of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences
From his anthology "Jewish Writers in Serbian Literature"
Publisher: Institute for Literature and Art, 1998.

Gordana Kuic’s tetralogy of novels, The Scent of Rain in the Balkans, The Blossom of Linden in the Balkans, Twilight in the Balkans, Ghosts Over the Balkans, achieved much acclaim among readers. Written with ease, descriptive and gripping, novels by Gordana Kuic respect all classical rules of chronicle storytelling: festivity of details, linear plot, direct descriptions, and a variety of characters, numerous individual destinies, and scattered signs of the recognizable time. Submitted to the genre of family saga and social novel, these books posses an intimate straightforwardness which is widely accepted by the readers. Partly based on realistic events and historical characters, Gordana Kuic’s novels connect two important centers of the Balkan Sephards: Sarajevo and Belgrade, cities where the heroines and heroes of her novels come from and return to.

Events are spread over a period of more than fifty years. In this way the voluminous tetralogy of some 2000 pages envelopes the Jewish-Serbian ambiance from World War One to the civil war in Bosnia.

Gordana Kuic’s novels depict primarily life in the urban society; relations that are founded in love and marriage, roaming and suffering of both Jews and Serbs. Various languages are spoken here; gladly and often people travel; multitudes meet; the leading themes are located exclusively in the framework of familial, social and intellectual contacts. In their abundance of characters and numerous episodes, Gordana Kuic’s novels sustain a unique internal thread, a special Jewish Balkan nostalgia, a strong spiritual and emotional connection of Sarajevo and Belgrade Jews with their homeland. In Kuic’s novels Jews are the bearers of traditional civic and urban values, of noble bonds among peoples who shared the same historical destiny.


Aleksandar Jerkov, , literary critic and university professor
Women writers: Gordana Kuic
BLOSSOM OF BOOKS IN THE BALKANS
Weekly magazine Vreme, September 2000.

The Balkan trilogy is good popular prose. All other comments given from another perspective do not oppose the conclusion that this is the kind of literature which has found its way to the reader with a good reason – its ethnographic, historical and romantic potential. Gordana Kuic’s prose succeeds to step out from the boundaries of the genre by symbolization and by building of characters. Her deep ties with one literary world made her return to the story about Sephardic exile in her new fifth novel The Legend about Luna Levi. At the end of the XV century, the (in) famous Spanish inquisitor Huan Garcia Galan de Olivares realizes that his ancestors were of Jewish religion and he embraces his destiny of an exiled Solomon ben Izrael ben Salom of Toledo. This is the introduction to an adventurous plot in which, as the genre requires, even pirates play their role.

The novel celebrates Jewishness as well as a complete religious tolerance. With her pleasant and popular historical picture of Sephardic Jews, the Reconquista and the Inquisition, the Turkish Empire and the Mediterranean trade, Gordana Kuic returned to the best aspects of her prose and wrote a novel which connects the exotic and the unknown to the recognizable and the expected. Also, this novel defines the right measure of female destiny combining dedication to love for a man with courageous exploration of her own character and free will.

There is space in the contemporary Serbian literature for popular prose which is read gladly in all cultures especially if it represents a contribution to the Serbian-Jewish literature of the XX century. Such works do not change the history of literature, but they represent a bridge between trivial genres and the mainstream literary production. Popular books like The Legend about Luna Levi are very welcome in the literature in which most of the writers consider themselves future Nobel Prize winners who simply have not been recognized yet. Gordana Kuic’s prose bears a smooth educational side to it: it speaks of human values which are easily forgotten in the whirlpool of life at the lime of great tragedies such as ours.


Ljiljana Šop, literary critic
Weekly magazine Srpska reč, , November 8, 2002.
Life is (not) a Fairy Tale
THE FAIRY TALE ABOUT BENJAMIN BARUH, Narodna knjiga, 2002.

There are people who like history, politics, trade, and there are those who like fairy tales. I do not understand (or I understand less) why it is trendy to like politics, business and ecology, and it is outdated to like fairy tales; or, why a positive attitude towards the former would be an expression of realism whereas a positive attitude towards the latter would be an expression of naiveté and infantilism. I, myself, tend to believe that to a man of modern sensibility, i.e. tired, neurotic and disgusted with history and insane contemporaneity, a man who witnesses absurdity, fairy tales are absolutely necessary. They are more needed by him than by his predecessor who was closer to Nature, devoid of the "fruit" of technology and the terrorism of speed. The antiquity of fairy tales and their toughness, their presence among all peoples of all times, their communicativeness of motives, their similarity of structure throughout centuries, their theoretical seriousness, their existence during one of the least fairy-tail centuries, the 20th century – all of the above certifies that human race cannot exist without fairy tales while it can without so many other things.

A fairy tale talks about fear and hope, about inexhaustible forms of evil, about limitless belief in the victory of goodness, about dangers of life and manners of overcoming death. In fairy tales, to prove one’s identity means to prove one’s skill, courage, wit, tenacity, wisdom, strength; in fairy tales one is awarded after suffering injustice; in fairy tales one does achieve happiness and higher justice. Fairy tale is the one that offers solutions for human needs and wishes, the one that promises happiness, love, well-being and peace to the end, if the end exists.

Gordana Kuic had all the above in mind when writing The Fairy Tale About Benjamin Baruh, the sixth novel of her saga about Sephardic Jews which encompasses five centuries of persecutions, exiles, pogroms, and the inevitable new establishment of communities "East from the West and North from the South".

Neither the huge burden of history that she depicts nor the writer’s familial or personal experience could be characterized as a fairy tale if the fairy tale is taken as an external, simplified, unbelievable and impossible story with an inescapable happy end. But, if the fairy tale is approached as a literary form in all its seriousness (described by numerous theoreticians), then it will be clear that Gordana Kuic truly wrote a fairy tale, not giving lightly such a title to her new novel, just as her previous novel is not accidentally entitled The Legend of Luna Levi. Her choice has deep creative and psychological reasons and connotations, not profane motivation of a best-selling author.

Gordana Kuic preserved and developed all the characteristics of her previous writing (easiness, simplicity, wit, urbanity, brilliant dialogues, plastic descriptions, abundance of detail) adding to it more experience in the composition and her favorite well interwoven citations. Sticking to her storytelling nature, best described as "Sheherezadeish", and turned towards the same themes, motives, ambiance, characters that constitute her literary world, this time Gordana Kuic follows destinies of four Jewish families (Baruh, Perera, Atias, Albinun), one Serb (George, son of Vujica), and one Spanish woman (Emina-Soledad de Capirino) in four cities (Dubrovnik, Sarajevo, Travnik and Belgrade) in the second half of the 17th century. The tale is told by Laura Papo, Bohoreta, hidden in the hospital in 1942, as a legacy to her two sons who were taken to the concentration camp in Jasenovac.

In her literary world Gordana Kuic feels free, relaxed, happy, although she talks about a chain of tragedies, about infinite roaming and countless new beginnings. This contrast cannot but be seen as a triumph of optimism, as an expression and proof of strength and spirituality of the people to whom the author belongs, as well as a point of view that must be respected. I would like to call this persistent line in all her novels as learning of life and belief in its meaning. The foundation of such learning, belief and meaning consists of love, family, tradition, language, art, goodness. They are the gist of existence, condicio sine qua non of durability, both on the collective and individual levels.

Feeling intuitively that the fairy tale is the most adequate frame for the mentioned point of view, Gordana Kuic, also rationally, respecting the laws of the genre, poured enormous historical, chronological and documentary material, imaginary characters and events into the powerful world of a fairy tale and its rich tradition of expressional possibilities and meanings.

Wizard Benjamin Baruh, the medicine man of Travnik, is the embodiment of the principle of goodness and, at the same time, he is a funny, clumsy little man who cannot cope with practicalities of everyday life and who ignores its material and materialistic side. He is the one who connects people in time and space; he is the one who floats through scattered threads of multitude of destinies in this endless story. Benjamin Baruh pours miracles, charms and magic as well as knowledge and experience into his "medicine booklet". He represents the predecessor of contemporary doctors and psychiatrists – an unusual Jew in typical circumstances or, a typical Jew in unusual circumstances. Building up his character, Gordana Kuic demonstrates optimism, humor, imagination, her faith in noble causes, altruism and perpetual good will as sound foundations of life itself. According to the rules of fairy tales, Benjamin Baruh is a father of seven beautiful daughters who will marry seven honest grooms – an award for all the good deeds he had been performing throughout his long life.

Other classical motives of fairy tales such as journeys, kidnapping, slavery, miraculous cures, changing of personalities, fanatical love, and the fascinating story about "the bird of laziness" in a golden cage which proclaims her view of human race and of freedom – all of the above are skillfully inserted into the everyday life of the leading characters.

Gordana Kuic separates moments from the tumult of historical reality in order to build a history of private lives, in accordance with the standpoint of many contemporary historians (mostly French) who claim that only in this manner we can get a whole and objective picture of the past. History perceived as a catalogue of wars, rulers, and the so-called historical personalities has been rejected and the new perception of understanding history as the totality of life at a prescribed time and place has been embraced. This is the kind of history of Sephardic Jews that Gordana Kuic has described in a fictional form.

Certainly, many roads lead to such a huge social, international, interconfessional, intellectual, and emotional complex. Gordana Kuic has chosen her own in accordance to her character, strength, taste, interests, her personality and her family tradition, to the extent that she herself with her life and her view of the world has become one of the heroines of the saga she created. Urban society, sophistication, binationality, multilingualism, and tolerance are the author’s natural surroundings.

For Gordana Kuic writing is not craftsmanship, although she masters it, it is not profession, although this is all she does – writing for her and according to her is joy and suffering, debt to the dead and gift to the living. It is a continuation of the story that has started long ago and will continue forever, a modest contribution to enormous treasure of spiritual and artistic wealth which is created and collected by generations but, above all, by individuals regardless where they come from and what they believe in. The fact is that the author has given us a unique saga, a sea of novels made up of six romans-fleuves that tell a story about Jewish, Spanish, Balkan nostalgia and togetherness of numerous nations belonging to almost all religions.

For Gordana Kuic this saga has not ended yet. Life is a story, she believes, and vice versa.


Vasa Pavkovic, literary critic
Review in magazine Bestseller

Ballad about Bohoreta is the ending tone in Gordana Kuić’s creative effort that produced seven books. With this exciting novel she ends her story about Sephardic Jews which she started by expulsion from Spain, continued with many tragic, funny, unexpected events and ended at her desk in the present day Belgrade.

The texture of Ballad about Bohoreta is made of knowledge and memories. The writer uses the so-called strategy of a discovered manuscript, i.e. diary of her heroine Laura Levi, Bohoreta, written in Ladino. By translating it, the author tells the reader about the Levi family’s poverty in Istanbul, their return to Sarajevo, and finally the emotional crescendo in Paris. Bohoreta’s fragmentary diary makes it possible to follow her life, the life of her family, and to discover her passionate correspondence with the Spanish composer, poet and explorer, Manuel Manrique de Lara. Putting together genre characteristics of family novel and of a discreet love story, going deep into the heroine’s thoughts about meaning of life, love, writing, Gordana Kuic created and exceptional novel. From the Epilogue point of view this novel throws a different light at her previous six novels. Not only that the author depicted Bohoreta’s, her family’s, Spehardic Jews’ destinies, but destinies of all of us living in the Balkans.

The reader follows Bohoreta’s intellectual development, her emancipation, her growth as a woman which might be all fictional, but in the Epilogue of this novel Gordana Kuic describes Laura Levi, Bohoreta, as a realistic and historical personality. Here, the author points out her value and importance as a historian, a writer, a collector of Sephardic literary treasures. Thus, Kuic presents a delicate balance between imagination and documented facts, between tale and palimpsest. The author managed to find both the best diary-epistolary form for placing a great biographical story, and an optimal cultivated, distanced voice to write an exceptional text, a valuable novel which will be read until our native language lasts.