Drago Jančar and a Touch of Inspiration from Contemporary Slovenian Literature


As part of the book fair's main topic this year, The Ground-breaking 20th Century, the Lapidarium venue at the Exhibition Grounds played host to a renowned contemporary Slovenian prose writer Drago Jančar. Debate with the author, moderated by his current Czech translator Kamil Valšík, focused mostly on his novel that has recently been translated into Czech and published, entitled I Saw Her That Night. 

The novel's main protagonist is a Slovenian aristocrat by the name of Veronika, who disappears one day in the middle of the 2nd world war. Nobody knows what exactly happened to her, but everybody eagerly awaits her return. The story is narrated in five chapters using the recollections of five different characters, who had enjoyed some kind of intense relationship with her - her mother, a housemaid, a butler from her manor, a simple peasant who taught her how to ride horses and had a passionate affair with her, but also a German officer from the occupying army and a doctor. The entire story is thus composed from various points of view, reminding us of a mosaic, and set in the chaos of the Second World War on the territory of former Yugoslavia, where hardly anything is black and white.

"I didn't seek that story. It sought me," Drago Jančar answered when asked where his inspiration came from. As he was leafing through a family chronicle at the Strmol castle in Upper Carniola, in it he found a very evocative account of the disappearance of the lady of the castle. At night images evoked by the text from the annals kept coming to his mind - hence also the novel's title "I Saw Her That Night".

Translator Kamil Valšík remarked that this is not Jančar's first book to feature a female hero. The author commented that women are more sensitive and perceptive to historic upheavals. Much deeper is their perception both in the rational and emotional dimension, which is to literature's advantage.

It is characteristic for Drago Jančar's work that it is often set against the backdrop of decisive historical events. As the author remarks, "Every nation has its shady side, which is not easily reflected in official history or political discourse. Literature is much better equipped to address these problematic topics and put a name on them."

Drago Jančar is also an essayist - one of his essays describes his four-day experience from the war-torn Sarajevo, which he visited as part of a humanitarian mission in the 1990s.