VBZ, November, 2020, 476 pages
Translation rights sold: Serbia (Booka)
The Traveling Theatre, the fifth novel by Zoran Ferić, a readers’ favorite and one of the most awarded and acclaimed Croatian authors, is an impressive work, a novel that would mark a grand event in any of the great European literatures
A harbour town on the Adriatic serves as a backdrop for dreams which some people use for business, others for films and a few to make their fortune.
This extensive and complex family saga tells the story of the XX century in Croatia and Europe through the history of the author’s family. A family that was not only struck by wars, national and ideological hatred, but also with several shocking love stories, each of which, regardless of the time in which they took place, carried its own tragedy and beauty.
Ferić’s novel takes place through all three wars that were fought during that strange and bloody century in the Balkans, but also many other pivotal events that decisively affected the lives of his characters. First is one of Benjamin Bernstein, the author’s maternal grandfather who fled from St. Petersburg to Paris when the October Revolution broke out, the second is of his paternal grandfather, who fell into Russian captivity as an Austro-Hungarian soldier at about the same time. A young girl from one of the oldest laborer’s neighborhoods in Zagreb, married that Russian emigrant, who arrived via Paris, and became the narrator’s grandmother. Another young girl fell in love with Petar Ćirić, the traveling actor and the owner of the theatre, ran away with him and became the narrator’s great-grandmother on father’s side. The narrator’s father and mother, on the other hand, barely survived World War II.
Father fought at the Syrmian Front and, after such horrendous experience, became a man who shoots at salads in the garden; the mother was often hidden when growing up since it was quite dangerous to have a Jewish name at the time, and when she did leave the house, she always had to carry a Catholic prayer book in her pocket. We follow all these vivid but very real characters from St. Petersburg, Paris, and Tangier to Hrvatska Dubica, Srijemska Mitrovica, and Zagreb, from Petar Ćirić and Benjamin Bernstein to the author himself, his loves, his first published books. And the story is told masterfully, smoothly, and cleverly, in a way only an exceptional narrator is capable of.