for Punishment", the new novel by Dražan Gunjača, is part
of a trilogy and a logical continuation of the book "Balkan
Farewells", although on one occasion I said that there
should be the "Balkan Meetings" as something to which
"Love for Punishment" points to.
This book can be read separately because the people and the
mosaic situations are coherently intertwined, held together
by strong ties of characters, their destinies, their nature
and the circumstances. They are determined by history and circumstances
of a given time.
The people who mostly felt and were victims of the Croatian
War of Independence were the simple people, often marginal office-workers,
civil servants, members of the ex Yugoslav National Army, police
officers, small artisans, manual workers, housewives, women,
demimondaines, mostly from mixed marriages between Croats and
Serbs, Croats and Montenegrins, Croats and Bosnians. Their destinies
and daily lives stem from that tragic historical disaster. They
did not choose their parents and the place of birth, nor that
bitter regional Balkan mentality or the historical and political
moment of their birth in the ex-Yugoslavia.
Whether they wanted it or not, all those circumstances involved
the characters of the novel and the writer himself, and the
art of survival and the capacity to remain somehow normal are
the greatest achievements of the novel's idea and of the creation
of its characters.
The book sees meticulously described characters in tragic, subtle,
philosophical but also grotesque scenes. All those characters
intertwine and drag us into the world of ordinary people in
the Istrian town of Pula, confused, marginalized, exiled, trying
in the last five years to survive and find their identity in
an almost ghostly environment.
As the author is walking through the halls of the court and
the streets of the cities of Pula, Zagreb, Rijeka and Sinj,
he is also walking through his character's lives thus going
through all the sociological, economical, legal and security
situations and anomalies of the society, the microcosm of Pula
which is a realistic reflection of the national and global atmosphere
determined by constant coping in an independent state after
All those individual destinies, for as much as they may be ridiculous,
tragic or even noble, carry a trait of humanity and goodness
deep inside. These destinies make the reflections of the author
touch apathy and nihilism at times, but they also help him find
the strength to make it by living their lives directly or indirectly.
The bright spot closing the novel is little Sanja who, through
the memory of her late father, is seeking for tenderness, innocent
and clean, thus making us see that there is hope for people
in the future, if only we give them the right education and
the right directions. Not in the context of hatred, a constant
in this area, but in a new light, in a world our generation
will not live to see but whose seeds have been planted for the
is important in the end is the author's message. As much as
this country is difficult and the neighbouring Balkan areas
full of mental, ethnic and political controversies, he stays
where he is. He does not go to Germany or Canada, clearly conscious
of his own sacrifice of love. He stays at home with the ordinary
people, their flaws and personal tragedies, with his friends
who prove to be a constant no matter where in the Balkans you
may be, with his loves that helped him so significantly in certain
moments, and in writing to Sanja he tries to find humanity.
Because he believes in people.
"For us to learn to appreciate life again, this most precious
gift that has, in this rough areas, been underestimated to the
point of absurdity, in any way… Because there is always reason
for tomorrow. Always!"
This novel should be read in order to discover ourselves through
others! It makes us think and, I believe, become better people!
Dr.sc. Vesna Girardi Jurkić