THE CELEBRATION

DAMIR KARAKAŠ

OceanMore, 2019, 120 pages
•30-pages excerpt available in English

The writer virtuously characterizes his nameless hero, in just a couple of words and moves, without epic intervention, explanations, documents, dates and strong facts. The book The Celebration by Karakaš is written in the way and the spirit of the peak of the modernistic literature dating to the post-war decades and times the South-Slavic writers were discovering Sartre and French existentialism. Deep roaming through the woods, during which timelines and periods change, reminds us of the black-and-white movies from the late sixties, narratives by Vladan Desnica and Vjekoslav Kaleb, and early writing by Mirko Kovač. However, while these components might be in the character of the period, the sentences and expression are bald and accurate, typical of Karakaš. The reader’s hair frequently stands on end, partly due to their own agreement to this kind of world and text, and partly from pure aesthetic sensation.

Miljenko Jergović | Author of Sarajevo Marlboro

There are novels which are hard to read and leave you feeling stripped of any kind of illusion and misleading décor, reduced to the pain of soul and the weakness of body. Despite that, you are well aware that you would have regretted giving up on this book. The Celebration is exactly that. Immensely grievous and unspeakably precious, like any great life or reading experience.

Prof. Đurđica Čilić| Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of Zagreb

The Celebration is a masterpiece of Karakaš’s work to date, an event in Croatian modern literature.

Strahimir Primorac | Vijenac

The discipline of writing, a rarity in today’s writing practices, is a virtue of the greatest, those who see literature not as shallow journalist chatter, but as art and pure life. The Celebration is a masterpiece of literary talent.

Mile Stojić | Radio of Bosnia and Herzegovina

In The Celebration, the acclaimed Croatian author Damir Karakaš goes back to his roots of Lika, the Croatian region hidden behind the majestic mountain of Velebit. This short, elliptic novel brings upon us three generation of peasants of their small village, lead by the protagonist Mile who, in the aftermath of the WWII, found himself on the losing side of Ustasha regime.

The Celebration is composed of four chapters, House, Hounds, Celebration and Father, whose fragmented structure works almost like as memories. Memories composed of palpable sensations, remembrance of smell, touch, a grasp of a few rare moment of true happiness. Time distortion, flashbacks, condensed narration give this novel almost a dreamlike quality. On the first pages, we meet Mile watching the distant lights of his family house while hiding in the woods from the partisan army. In the World War II, which did not spare even his remote village, he joined the losing Ustasha forces, a fascist regime that established the Independent State of Croatia during the war years and was closely connected to the German and Italian regime. The state saw its end in 1945., after the liberation of the antifascist forces. For Mile, that very likely means an execution.

In the chapters to follow, Mile goes back to his youth anchored in the harsh heart of the bare rock. The Celebration is a vivid revival of the peasant life in Lika, which wasn’t easy in times of peace, let alone in war years, when poverty and hunger dimmed any spark of hope. The flashbacks to follow are bursting with visceral, hamsunian descriptions of the poverty and hunger that all lead up to a scene in which Mile, in an Aeneas manner, takes his elderly father to die in the woods, as his father and generations before him did. Although not explicitly, The Celebration is a deeply political novel, the author’s choice to put his protagonist on the fascist side is far from being the apology of the regime; Mile’s decision is not of ideological nature. Grand speeches and the festivities held for the birth of the independent state left opened a possibility for a better life and a better world in which Mile and his beloved Drenka can raise their children. Instead, he lost the little that he had: a roof above his head, his wife’s touch, the faces of his children.

Karakaš has always been a masterful prosaist and in The Celebration he exhibits his exceptional ability in full glory. The reader can almost sense the crunchy rustle of leaves under Mile’s boots, a distant bark from the sleeping village, the drops of sweat in the zenith sun. At the same time laconic and voluble, reserved and impassioned, The Celebration is a novel that reads quickly but leaves a strong, indelible trace.