Thursday, April 8, 2021

Review: We Trade Our Night for Someone Else's Day

We Trade Our Night for Someone Else's Day We Trade Our Night for Someone Else's Day by Ivana Bodrožić
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the embedded goals inside my Europe 2021 reading project is to better understand the conflicts between groups in the Balkans. That requires some reading in translation from authors with different backgrounds.

Ivana Bodrožić sets this novel in Vukovar, Croatia, and it is known but never named in the novel. Vukovar was the location of some of the first massacres during the Balkan wars, and only began it's reintegration in 1998. Now Croats and Croatian Serbs (aka Serbians) live tentative and segregated lives with a lot of violent history beneath the surface.

There are multiple characters in this novel dealing with violence in the recent past. Nora is a journalist sent to write a lighter piece about a teacher's relationship with a student and murder of her husband (ha, I know I said lighter, but it's the context that makes it so) - then there is the taxi driver, the school principal and mayor desperate to maintain control, and more. It took a while to keep the stories straight but only because of how many places and ways they connect, and how much of the context I'm missing as someone who didn't live through it. (I lived during but not through.)

The translator's note in the back is incredibly useful..she explains that when the book came out in 2016, people were very angry because of how it goes below the surface of things people don't want to acknowledge or deal with. This isn't a "good people on both sides" tale, it's rather the opposite, and it's hard to grasp the why's behind it. I've spent time searching for clarification - what is the difference between Serbian and Croatian? (Even in the realm of cooking, the YouTube comments to different versions of the same recipe are often territorial.) What took place in the 1990s? What is existed before Yugoslavia? It could take a lifetime to grasp it.

One thing that's becoming clear in some of the recent books I've read is that whether or not the differences "exist," many of the countries formerly known as Yugoslavia are working hard to create differences, whether that's linguistic (alphabet choice or even some interesting changes in pronunciation that are emerging), religious, and more.

I think it's important to note the author was born in Vukovar in 1982 and her family was displaced by the war, so it is personal and her point of view is necessarily from what I imagine is a trauma perspective. At the very least I don't believe she can be objective. Not that she needs to be for a novel, and she does allow for nuance even in the Serbian characters.

Also important to note that the English translation comes from an unapologetically political and dare I say left-leaning independent publisher, which certainly centers some stories more than others. I don't expect one book to hold all points of view but I personally don't know enough about it yet to weigh in on if she "got it right."

I had a copy from the publisher through Edelweiss, and it comes out April 20th, 2021.

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