Blesok no. 90, May-June, 2013
A Monumentally Important Novel by a Belgrade Author
Dragan Velikić’s (1953) ninth novel, Bonavia, proves that great books do not happen by chance, as the result of someone’s good graces or marketing savvy tactics, but rather due to painstaking persistence and hard work.
Indeed, Velikić, even after his first novel, Via Pula (1988), had positioned himself as a talented writer; however, it has taken until now, after a slew of eight novels, three collections of short stories and five book of essays, or rather after twenty-five years of active writing and publishing, to have him write and publish a monumentally important book, archaically speaking: Bonavia seems to have journeyed over from a time when literature was not just a cheap commodity and when books were being truly read, pondered over for days and years at a time, since we were genuinely interested in everything they had to say.
The novel Bonavia is comprised of its author’s trademark combination of family history, love story and travelogue. Thus, quite expectedly it is populated by exiles, gastarbeiter workers [migrant workers], characters generally unsettled and uprooted, with years of challenging life circumstances and hardships behind them. Hence, Bonavia is characterized by fathers, mothers, sons and loves, all who, long uprooted from their daily lives, have surrendered themselves to the service industry, working in dingy hotels and international shipping companies, mostly on the Belgrade-Budapest-Vienna route, and sometimes even the Mediterranean Rijeka-Dubrovnik direction.
No matter how recognizable, or even typical, Bonavia’s main characters, i.e., Marija, Kristina, Marko, Milijan, appear to be when we first encounter them, their personal dramas, passions, experiences and overall existence, are quite authentic and singular. Velikić writes “each fucking little life is worth living, if it is yours to live”; in a sense, this little line could stand as the novel’s motto. Since Velikić is a great chronicler of all things Anonymous, his Marko and Marija or Kristina are no heroes, for they are so alike their readers who concurrently dive into their own story and autobiography, and who at the end of the novel are joined by the author himself in a masterful game at autobiographical striptease.
Though the novel reads close to Velikić’s early established poetics, he seems to have allowed things to run their full course. Hence, in Bonavia the story unfolds on its own, allowing its characters to grow holistically. Velikić insists that the destinies of his characters are worth telling no matter how difficult or dire they may appear to be. This novel is once a drama following the everyday universality of things, freed from the terrors of the Generalized and the Predictable, as well as a novelistic enquiry rather than a typical novel, i.e., a biographical and emotional experiment that has partaken of the archives of the yet un-told, whence Velikić finds his inspiration.
Bonavia is indeed a masterful novel, woven as such by a mix of literary sensibility, elegance and refine, brilliantly atmospheric, inspirationally told, elegant and passionate, underlined by a kind of ephemeral thoughtfulness. Indeed, Bonavia is not merely the product of authorial skill and years of experience, since if this were the case, the novel would be just another routine narrative about forced or self-chosen immigration, which from 1991 till present day have been the norm for writers in our region. In Bonavia, Velikić has freed the grand literary-emotional potentials of the regional, while excluding the provincial, thus this novel will in fact be the subject of a good deal of thoughtful conversation, and will certainly be read again and again.
Translated by Bela Gligorova
Originally published in: Jutarnji list