Sunday, 25 March 2012

A hero on a donkey

The last couple of years I’ve read a number of (translated) novels by authors writing in the Serbo-Croatian language. Amongst them well-known names like Andrić, Selimović, Krleža and Tišma. Recently I read the Dutch translation of a book written in 1967 by the Montenegrin writer Miodrag Bulatović. The original title of the novel is Heroj na magarcu, which translates as A hero on a donkey. This blog is a summary of my Dutch language weblog post about this novel: De held op de ezel.

The story takes place in 1943, in a village in Montenegro occupied by the Italians. Bulatović outlines the boredom, poverty, oppression, humiliation and opportunism in a grotesque way. The army leadership is obsessed with women and has no time for their inferiors. The soldiers diverse themselves with drinks, prostitutes and dirty songs. In the midst of this debauchery, the pope and the hodja can’t do much. The Montenegrin peasants are poor but also cruel and ruthless.

The leading character is a Montenegrin who was once an abandoned child and was given the name Gruban Malić. Gruban is an antihero. He owns a pub frequented by Italian soldiers, not only for drinks, but also because of the whores. Gruban looks upon this with sorrow, for he regards himself a revolutionary communist, an enemy of the Italian fascists. To his anger and frustration the Italians don’t take him seriously, even though he walks around with guns and grenades and paints in red communist slogans and symbols. In his naivety he gives financial support to strangers posing as executives of the Communist Party. He wants to join the partisans in the mountains. During his departure he blows up a bridge by chance. Suddenly he is enemy number one of the Italians. He flees into the mountains. But the partisans don’t take him seriously either. They don’t know him and they don’t trust him. He is chased away. Finally, the Italians catch him and return him to the village as a prisoner tied to a donkey.

The tragedy of Gruban’s life is that nobody did take him seriously. But justice came at last. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague added Gruban to the list of wanted war criminals! He would have abused women in the notorious Omarska camp. It turned out to be the result of a practical joke by the Serbian war reporter Nebojša Jevrić, who wrote a book about this farce: Hero on a donkey goes to the Hague. In 1998 Gruban was removed from the wanted list.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post.I might say that translators really plays a good part in terms of literature.Wherein we could share to others through books what has been written and translated it to different languages.We could learn to understand the exact meaning of a text in one language to another and convey it accurately in another.dutch translation is great.Keep it up.

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