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Knjižara Karver

TO MAKE A SHORT STORY LONG: CONTEMPORARY MONTENEGRIN SHORT STORIES

 

 

The short story is probably one of the oldest literary genres, dating back to the oral tradition of the distant past, when telling stories was practically the only pastime and was also the only way of preserving the collective knowledge and lore of a community. Through the ages, that genre has developed into a refined literary form, highly praised especially for its brevity, which very easily reveals either the ineptitude or the masterful craftsmanship of its author.

The stories in this collection certainly provide eleven examples of the latter: they testify not just to the literary skills and merits of their authors, but also to the vitality, freshness and diversity of contemporary Montenegrin literature. Written in a variety of approaches, voices and styles, these stories manage both to build themselves into their rich national literary tradition and to announce new possible paths for its further development. This is quite obvious from the very first story, in which Sreten Asanović creates an apparently archaic atmosphere, in perfect accordance with the almost mythical environment in which 'Playing with Fire' takes place – showing that all stories that are properly told or written are indeed timeless. Ognjen Spahić’s piece, comparable with its predecessor only in its striking impressiveness, offers a stark contrast: powerfully written, poetically condensed and emotionally highly charged, 'Cut, Copy, Paste' points to the fact that life and art stand in a much closer connection than is usually assumed - death and art even more so. 'Transition' by Vladimir Vojinović, in a somewhat similar mode of 'dirty realism', offers a piece of real life, raw and passionate, permeated by a discreet vein of the metafictional spirit: apparently dealing with the troubles of storytelling, it turns into a full-blooded story about the futility of life and purposefulness of creation.

Creation, in a slightly different sense, is also at the centre of 'The Body, a Story', written by Andrej Nikolaidis. Set in a recognizable urban milieu and within the distinct framework of contemporary popular culture, this story deals with the difficulties of attaining spirituality and solving the dichotomy between body and soul in the civilization of fast food and Coca-Cola. Such a world is partly present in the story 'Teshuva', executed through subtle and sensitive writing that focuses upon the connections between past and present, everyday life and myth. Employing the cultural and literary legacy of thoroughly different civilizations and epochs, Lena Ruth Stefanović strives at creating new myths, deeply personal and strongly universal at the same time, firmly built upon the ruins of the old ones. With at least partly similar intentions, Balša Brković draws a map of the world that belongs to the very recent past, but is nevertheless permeated with a strong air of mythical timelessness. 'An Occurrence in the Life of Parmenid Pejanović, 1958' is a story whose title character, in spite of all the facts his fictional life is shaped from, stands as a fine embodiment of the ineluctable elusiveness of human existence.

In his story entitled 'The Dance', Zuvdija Hodžić, on the other hand, gives potent expression to an almost metaphysical yearning for ideal beauty, in a world deprived of any ideals. In a clear-cut, meticulous style, with a strong lyrical dimension that never stands in the way of the precisely structured and executed plot, the author reminds us that in this world of deep and multifarious alienation, beauty may very well be one of the last things that is still able to create bonds between people. Such bonds are examined in the story 'Mad Živan', by Bosiljka Pušić whose artistic vision is characterised by a sharp eye for meaningful detail, and power of insight into the complex metaphysics of so-called ’ordinary life’. Pervaded by deep humaneness, this story is also saturated in odours, colours, tastes and sounds – all of them joined in a kind of Joycean synaesthesia of childhood. 'The Raft of the Medusa' is one of the most striking artistic symbols of the horrors pertaining to the epoch of the end of history; in the eponymous story bz Dragan Radulović, that raft is sailing through the chaos and disorder of the contemporary Balkans and Europe, carrying human wrecks that are not even sure whether they want to be saved, so they waste their lives in trivial, futile rituals, waiting for an answer to the question they do not dare to ask. In a similar vein of gloomy existentialism, illness becomes a powerful metaphor in the Poean atmosphere of Aleksandar Bečanović's  'At the Stroke of Midnight', a  masterfully performed journey into the very heart of desperation, that reaches its climax in the eerie, paradoxical triumph of life. Finally, 'The Circle', written by Jovan Nikolaidis, sums up many of the topics and motives that have been tackled and explored in the stories that precede it – mostly homelessness as a permanent individual and collective state of mind, and an eternal lust for travel as a means of escape from the fact that there is no such thing as home. Or that it exists only in dreams: people, places and events are nothing but landmarks in the unceasing quest with no ultimate goal; apparently based upon firm, undeniable facts, human existence attains reality and importance only when it is turned into a tale.

And this is what all the stories in this book are about. In their colourful and captivating diversity, they persuasively demonstrate how every authentic and vivid national literature, Montenegrin in this case, easily and naturally finds its place in the global context of imaginative writing. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, the eleven authors from this collection show us how any life can be turned into a story, any story into life.

 

 

Zoran Paunović