• Antonio Costa Gomez
• David Albahari
• Igor Mandic
• Predrag Lazarevic
• Simha Kabiljo
• Ljiljana Banicanin
• Ljiljana Šop
• Predrag Palavestra
• Aleksandar Jerkov
• Ljiljana Šop
• Vasa Pavković
Antonio Costa Gomez
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."
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
Igor Mandic, literary critic
Zagreb, Belgrade weekly magazine “NIN”, September 1986.
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
The novel is recounted in readable, fluent, natural style,
but not lacking in thoroughness... One of those novels
that the reader cannot put down...
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
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,
Twilight in the Balkans Narodna
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
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
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
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
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
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
Aleksandar Jerkov, ,
literary critic and university professor
Women writers: Gordana Kuic
BLOSSOM OF BOOKS IN THE BALKANS
Weekly magazine Vreme, September
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
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
Weekly magazine Srpska reč,
, November 8, 2002.
Life is (not) a Fairy Tale
THE FAIRY TALE ABOUT BENJAMIN BARUH, Narodna
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
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
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
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.