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
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
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.
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