Ein Brief von Lana Bastašić

Lana Bastašić, 1986 in Zagreb geboren, ist eine der aufregendsten jungen Stimmen Ex-Jugoslawiens. Ihr viel beachtetes Romandebüt Uhvati zeca (Fang den Hasen) erscheint demnächst bei S. Fischer.

Zagreb, 30 March 2020


Dear Teresa, 

I find it hard to write anything, even this letter. It's funny how apocalyptic scenarios affect one's style. All of a sudden my friends are sending me long emails full of adjectives and metaphors. There are commas everywhere. Commas, suddenly, everywhere, cutting, everything. To be honest, it's all a bit irritating. This is not Paris in the twenties and we're not Fitzgeralds and Hemingways. We don't need so many commas, the world is already in shreds. Zagreb is doubly wounded. There is still debris in the streets from the March-22 earthquake. Some buildings are shut off and their residents have been moved to temporary shelters. The cathedral is damaged. There's a lot of tension in the grocery store. A prerecorded woman's voice tells us not to panic – we don't have to overbuy, there is no shortage of supply. But a voiceover telling you not to panic is always a clear sign of panic. A man stops by the coffee and tea section and looks at me. I'm not wearing a mask, I couldn't find one anywhere. In a single breath I mumble: »I'm sorry, I'll be quick, I'm sorry I'm taking so much time« and take a bag of Nescafe 3 in 1, which I normally never buy. I can't explain why, but there is shame. Shame for breathing in public, only to buy coffee. After such scenes it's hard to go back home and write. Everything seems fake, everything is overwrought. Of course, I never thought literature should be useful. I believe such thinking makes writers feel morally a cut above the rest and this always translates into style. Danilo Kiš was right, I think, when he said that literature is just another way of saying something. Nothing more, nothing less. So I don't think that the »uselessness« of literature in this crisis is the reason I can't write. I'm not sure what it is. Somehow, a crisis always exhausts language. I think this is because a crisis brings us closer to a sense of reality, an acute feeling of »here and now«, whereas language is always there to create a distance even when it seems to be doing the opposite. Language distances us from the thing we are describing and it also distances us from the here and the now. A letter is always written in the past. The reader is always in the future. Maybe that's the reason I can't write fiction at this moment. The here and the now are too strong and a writer needs to be able to transcend those, at least for a couple of hours a day. So I sit at this desk and look through the window. What I see is forced individualization on a society that had already individualized itself to an extreme. I see people carrying enough toilet paper to mummify and entomb their entire family. I see elderly citizens taking their usual walks as if they couldn't care less about yet another crisis in the country. I see a homeless guy going through the garbage. (The city administration has proved that it takes less than a day to organize shelters and feed people. What can be done for the victims of an earthquake cannot, it seems, be done for the victims of capitalism.) I hear people singing patriotic songs about Croatia, something I can try to understand but cannot relate to. I also see an old lady who, on her walk to the supermarket, always stops to inspect the buildings for damage. The face of her street is much changed. As for me, I haven't spent this much time in Zagreb since I was about four. Back then, we had to leave. And now I can't. I'm a confined stranger in the city I was born in. I wear rubber gloves and walk other people's dogs as they sing about their beloved country. As I have said: that's simply too much for fiction.


P.S. Did you happen to see the live stream of the Pope's Urbi et Orbi blessing? I read somewhere that 11 million people across the globe watched that. I am not a believer, but the image was very powerful: an old man in white slowly (and painfully) crossing an empty St Peter's Square to comfort an unknown audience. For a second he looked like a writer.