We Have to Talk About Historical Experience, We Cannot Remain Passive, Agreed Karšaiová and Vojnović


Books by JANA KARŠAIOVÁ and GORAN VOJNOVIĆ take place in different countries and in different atmospheres. And yet, they have something in common – their theme is a personal story influenced by "great history".

Karšaiová debuted with her novel Divorzio di velluto. It is a story of two spouses and two republics originally written in Italian. "I wanted to write about our generation which was shaped by historical events. Things that happen in politics affect private affairs," explained the author of Slovak origin living in Italy. Goran Vojnović was 11 years old when war broke out in Yugoslavia. His hero is of the same age. "It was a strange time. Everything changed and yet everything stayed the same. I continued to live in my child's world but everyday duties were interspersed with fear and new situations," said the Slovenian author. War raises too many questions and provides no answers which in his opinion is a good starting point for writing.

The generation that both writers describe has a different view of historical events than their parents. "As kids we were the victims of the situation. It's different for my parents – they can blame their naivety. They had illusions about the place they lived in and the war shattered them. To this day, a clash of two opinions is evident in society. One says that there is always at least some possibility not to become a war criminal. The other claims that it is simply fate and some things can't be escaped," said Vojnović describing the complex situation in the former Yugoslavia.

Jana Karšaiová presented another problem affecting our society. "The generation I am describing doesn't have a role model for decision-making because in communist times no big decisions were made. "Homo sovieticus" was born and the next generation spent their formative period in the dark," she said. She believes that the way out of this mess is not to remain passive. Her heroine has to come to that conclusion as well. Goran Vojnović agrees. According to him, passivity lies in the inability to talk about war traumas and in focusing on a better tomorrow instead of facing the unpleasant past. His book Yugoslavia, My Fatherland thus contributes to an important conversation.

Both authors also touched upon the topic of identity. "I didn't get a chance to discover who I was. I was forced to assume my identity. When you live in the Czech Republic and speak Czech, nobody asks you who you are. But it is a common question in the former Yugoslavia. And in 1990s it was even worse – it was black and white. Identity wasn't something complex," explained Vojnović. "I live in Italy, my book was published in Italian and it is about Czechoslovakia. And I am of Slovak origin. People always wonder if I am an Italian or Slovak author. I would prefer if we could have a fluid identity. Life would be better for all of us," added Karšaiová.