Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ulysses in Trieste

Book Review: Trieste by Dasa Drndic [translated by Ellen Elias-Bursac]

James Joyce, author of Ulysses, spent about ten years in Trieste in the years leading up to World War I. In Trieste, author Dasa Drndic uses Joyce's stream of consciousness style to convey the chaotic mix of cultures, religion, and politics in Italy's border regions in the years between the wars.

The unrelenting flow of words is not always effective when detailing the history of the characters' families, resulting in a confusing mix of names and dates that can leave the reader bewildered. But when the story moves into the horrific years of the Nazi 'ethnic cleansing', the reader gets caught up in the flow. Life and death, loyalty and betrayal dance in a schizophrenic 'tarantula', and Drndic is unrelenting, the words flaming on the page, and in the reader's mind.

Great fiction should blur the line between reality and imagination. A great deal of non-fiction has already been written about the Holocaust and its associated horrors, in fictionalizing some aspects of her story Drndic has not lost anything; she puts a human face to the horror, and does honor to those who actually lived (and died) as a result of it. There is plenty of history here; what has been fictionalized supports the facts, it does not undermine them.

Trieste is not a book for the faint-hearted, either in style or subject. Although at times I found the interior monologue annoying (especially in the early going), it is devastatingly effective in the last half of the book. Enter if you are brave enough, and if you stay the course you will be changed.

"... in this 'library' of horrors, in this alchemist's kitchen of maniacs, little lives of little people have been foundering already for sixty years; they are waving their deportation I.D.s, their brittle, faded and cracked family photographs, their hastily penned letters, diaries, their birth certificates and marriage licenses, their death certificates, sketches, poems, their coupons for food and clothing, anything that can supplant their cry, they are waving: Here we are, find us."