Drazan Gunjaca - Love as punishment



Love as punishment
- book on-line
- introduction
- editor's note
- review

- Balkan Farewells
- The Balkan Roulette
- The Shade of Reason
- Love as punishment
- Half-way o heaven
- Good night my friends
- Dreams have no price
- We are all brothers
- The Balkan aquarelle
- The sky over Dalmatia


A year after the publication of his first novel, Balkan Farewells, the central part of a trilogy depicting the years before, during and after the war, Dražan Gunjača presents himself to the public with his second novel, Love as Punishment, the third part of the mentioned trilogy.
Just like in the first novel, which was internationally recognized in a way the author himself would have never hoped for, in this one Gunjača continues to articulate a textual world looking for hidden threads of historical determination of small human destinies in the apparently chaotic two decades of our recent past. Therefore, it is not surprising to see almost all composition principles used in the first novel, repeat themselves in the second one. There are, nevertheless, some important breakthroughs in treating novelistic material.
If we defined the first novel as a parable on the senselessness of war, then we could define this one as a novel with a thesis in which war is considered through its indelible long-term consequences for the destiny and conscience of people: even when the conscience of direct social, socio-psychological and personal, existential effects of the war fades out, it continues to be present in the consequences it caused and still causes in people's lives. This is the subtext on which Gunjača builds the narrative structure of Love as Punishment, not giving up on the basic features of his narrative style: his language is equally harsh, sometimes even bluntly direct when expressing the truths we avoid, the characters are in a minimalist manner reduced to performers, the plot is mainly developing through dialogues in which cause-and-effect ties create a network of relationships between characters, that does not let the texture break up.
Since the material itself is demanding it, the second novel comes with some major breakthroughs in some elements of narration. Because of limited space I shall mention only those I consider most important in relation to Gunjača's style. First of all, there is a subtler psychological and character profiling of the characters. While the characters were one-dimensional in the first novel, like the masques in the commedia dell'arte, this being the only way for them to function in the depicted world, in Love as Punishment they have, for the same reason, become more complex. The are not any more a metaphor of different choices in the moment of a historical turning point, they represent personal lives as its consequence. It made Gunjača delve deeper inside, in their Umwelt, focus on their motives, hopes and illusions. This new approach to characters conditioned a different interpretation of the importance of descriptive elements, especially regarding the context of the atmosphere, in which the characters act and which acts on the characters. In other words, the atmosphere in the other novel, much less oppressive and dark than in the first novel, is mostly the result of the text as a whole and not of specific textual strategies.

Nevertheless, it is obvious that in Love as Punishment Gunjača dedicated special attention to the interference of the atmosphere since it is an extremely important element of the textual world. In that respect, the relationship between dialogues and narrative parts of the text seems especially important.
Although the predominance of dialogue over narration comes from the author's minimalist composition, as it is best seen in the closing chapter of the first novel in which the process hearing took the role of narration, in Love as Punishment there is a balance of the two elements, resulting in a sort of latent mental incongruity, a discrepancy by which Gunjača reifies a border line perception of reality in which tragedy and pessimism give way to a fatalism we could, paradoxically, call optimistic.
Even though, when discussing his work, the author himself likes to say that everything our senses perceive in it is only by coincidence, I think it is due to a "beginner's" low profile impression of his own literary work, while in reality, hi work is a meticulously planned creative process whose completeness will be totally clear only when the third part of the trilogy will finally be published. Anyway, I believe the reading public will recognize Love as Punishment to be interesting and accept it just as well as it accepted its predecessor, Balkan Farewells.
M.S. Srđa Orbanić