As I mentioned in my last blog, my next destination was Zagreb in Croatia, with "Zagreb, Exit South" by Edo Popović. This was another country impacted by the Bosnian War and the wider Balkan conflicts of the 1990s. However, for this leg I travelled not just between countries but forward in time... to 2005, for an account of lives in this Balkan state several years on from the war:- lives which are nevertheless still impacted upon by those recent conflicts.
Firstly, I have to say that I am really pleased that I came across Popović as a writer, I loved the realist approach that he takes in depicting Zagreb through his main protagonist, the failed writer Baba - both in terms of addressing difficult personal issues, and in his depiction of the wider social problems of the city of Zagreb. Whether these issues are a product of the past conflict or the current commercialisation of the country (or a mix of both) is never made clear - and to be fair to Popović this is not really his concern.. I would put him more in the genre of social commentators such as Bukowski, Selby or Salinger (who sadly died today: 28/01/10). What he is detailing is the minutiae of a set of personal lives which are bound by a shared youthful past but which are now slowly disintegrating - largely through the ravages of the recent social and political upheavals of the country - but also on an individual level due to alcohol abuse (a common theme in many European works which I am using as stopping points on my world trip; including those in the UK).
In terms of narrative: I can offer no better detailed account than the publisher's synoposis of this work:
"Zagreb, Exit South masterfully illuminates the lives of diverse, colorful characters adrift in postwar Croatia. Through bleary, middle-aged eyes, stymied writer Baba takes readers on an amusing, thought-provoking ride as he circles the streets of Zagreb bemoaning the dying out of domestic beer, Kancheli's ridiculous musical lighter, and the fear of going home. His wife Vera, facing wrinkles and an alcoholic spouse, discovers that e-mail is cheaper than therapy as she reshapes her life. Reflective insight, biting humor, and life-changing experiences combine to revive hope in the shadows of Zagreb's city buildings".
And so I move on to the neighbouring state of Montenegro... I had planned to visit this country after my trip to Bosnia & Herzegovina as it shares more of a land border, however there were Visa problems (okay: in real terms my Montenegrin book didn't arrive on time!)
Of all of the major countries and tiny states throughout the world - including those tiny island-states in the pacific with no literary history - I found Montenegro the most difficult country to find a book for. I toyed with an idea of a history book about Montenegro in the past 100 years; but this would have been a compromise as it would not have been about the PEOPLE and the CULTURE of this tiny, yet strategically important, country.
And so I was delighted to find - at a late stage - a wonderful work entitled "A Stranger's Supper: An Oral History of Centenarian Women in Montenegro". This book consists of interviews with about a dozen Centenerian women (all of whom were between 101 and 114 years old!) in Montenegro. One woman is a Serb muslim, the other a Catholic Albanian and there's a Muslim Albanian and the rest are Serb women.
In being written post-1990 and featuring current recollections of these women in the last decade of the twentieth century, this book fits my travel criteria well:- I feel that this work forms an invaluable addition to my trip and a unique perspective on the conflicts that have beset this region throughout (and beyond) living memory...
And so I take my leave of Croatia, via Croatia Airlines at Zagreb Pleso airport... I advise you to shop around if you are making this journey: I was quoted up to €948 for this one-way trip but ended up paying €109 in total including taxes and admin!
I leave Zagreb Pleso at 14.10 and arrive in Montenegro at Podgorica Golubovci airport at 15.20. I look forward to updating you on this leg of my journey soon...