A private reflection

Irena Vrkljan was born in 1930 in Belgrade right into a combined household of Austrian, Bosnian, Croatian, Slovene and Italian origin. The author would have maybe been remembered as an important poet have been it not for her slim quantity The Silk, the Shears. She was 54 years outdated when it was printed, a form of latecomer into reputation. That e-book alone, her first novel, marked not solely a distinct form of writing for her – poetic, autobiographical, fragmented prose – however her model and affect again residence in Croatia and Yugoslavia grew to become referential in breeding a brand new form of literature written by ladies related to feminism and écriture féminine. Abruptly, it was alright to jot down about your childhood recollections, to analyse your relationship along with your mother and father, to jot down concerning the bitter style of affection gone fallacious, to be private and emotional. Her subsequent novels Marina, or About Biography, Dora, or Autumn and lots of others confirmed her standing and affect when it comes to model and matters. 

Irena printed some twenty books of poems, translations, radio dramas and scripts for documentary movies. In 1966 she met Benno Meyer-Wehlack, a poet and radio dramatist, and from then on she lived in Berlin. They labored collectively, particularly on radio dramas and translations. Two of her novels can be found in English: The Silk, the Shears and Marina, or About Biography (translated from Croatian by Sibelan E.S. Forrester and Celia Hawkesworth).

Irena’s relation to feminism was complicated. She rejected being known as a feminist – but she was one in her life and her writing. Feminism for her meant activism and in that side she was an old-style leftist who believed that girls have been emancipated by way of socialism and there was no must battle for equal rights, for a selected form of writing, or matters. Irena, like many others of her era and earlier than, made just one distinction – there was good and unhealthy writing, no matter intercourse. It’s due to this fact a paradox that she grew to become a mannequin for the brand new form of writing in Croatia and Yugoslavia. However a author can hardly management her reception.


Irena is sitting on the outdated couch in the lounge. I’m dealing with her, within the leather-based armchair. There’s an ashtray on the desk between us, nearly full. She pulls out an extended, slender cigarette, takes a few drags, then irritably stubs it out. ‘I’m finished, I can’t go on’, she says. I do know she’s saying this as a result of her husband Benno died not way back. She says one thing of the kind every time I go to. Her face appears drained, she’s not sleeping nicely. However her eyes are nonetheless as black and full of life as ever. ‘Don’t speak like that’, I say, ‘you continue to have so much to offer’, though I do know it received’t assist. Nothing will assist when the person you spent 4 many years with, actually each single day of 4 many years, has gone. And she or he retains saying it, as a result of that’s her manner of letting me realize it’s so onerous on her that she would quite have adopted him.

I take into consideration Benno Meyer-Wehlack, a thin, fragile-looking man with a face like a French actor’s, an editor, a author of radio performs whom Irena had helped begin writing longer items by him dictating to her. A stranger in Zagreb, and simply as a lot a stranger in Berlin the place he was born. Even when he had began to lose monitor of what was occurring to him, when he requested the place Irena was regardless that she was sitting subsequent to him, holding his hand, he nonetheless had the identical sweetness of expression that he had all the time had.

We’re in Zagreb. She has left her remaining flat in Berlin, in Pestalozzistrasse, for good. Typically she is seized with doubt; was it truly a good suggestion? All her Zagreb pals have died by now, and he or she is lonely, in fact. The youthful individuals round her can’t make up for what’s lacking, not correctly. There’s none of that ‘do you keep in mind that night we spent at Angel’s, or after we went right down to Zlarin collectively,’ the way in which individuals speak after they have grown up collectively. The next week we make a date for lunch. I see her are available in, her bearing upright, and her hair simply finished. As quickly as she sits down on the desk within the restaurant, she asks me what I take into consideration the title Protokol jednog rastanka (Protocol of a Go away-taking), and that’s Irena: she’s began a brand new e-book and he or she’s already set pen to paper. Sorrow emerges, flows out and turns into very good writing. It’s not that she has freed herself of it, quite that she has discovered the power to share it with others.

Library in Zagreb. Picture by Michal Balog on Unsplash.

I used to be on the Mladost tutorial bookshop, the one which was once on the nook of Preradovića Ulica (Preradović Road) and the Flower Market, and it was the spring of 1985. I used to be attending the launch of a e-book that had simply come out. The e-book was known as The Silk, The Shears, and Nenad Popović, an editor at Grafički Zavod publishers, was talking on the occasion. It was principally ladies who had come. Nenad was a tall man, and Irena appeared to me to be even smaller, even tinier standing subsequent to him. Along with her black hair cropped quick and the face of a small little one that she had all her life, she spoke concerning the e-book quietly, and I assumed, a bit hesitantly, which stunned me. It appeared that she had been taken unawares by its great success – she was not used to promoting hundreds of copies, to occasions, opinions, interviews…

It was largely my era, twenty years and extra her junior, sitting there. She might see that she had a brand new viewers earlier than her, however at that second she had maybe not but grasped the way it was totally different from the one she was used to, and why they discovered her e-book so interesting. Within the Nineties a brand new understanding of the place of girls in society had emerged, together with a necessity, or maybe a craving, for a distinct kind of prose, one which was addressed to ladies and spoke with a lady’s voice. That is what they found in Irena’s e-book, the primary Yugoslav instance of what we have now grown used to calling écriture féminine. What they found was themselves. Even after Dora and Marina Irena fairly often distanced herself from ‘ladies’s writing’ and from feminism, refusing to name herself a feminist. Or higher mentioned, she distanced herself from lining up with any facet, however not from her feminine readers and their devotion to her writing. From The Silk, The Shears onwards, her writing grew to become a bridge between her instances and mine whether or not she appreciated it or not. However she was comfortable that her books had discovered a large viewers.

I had learn the e-book a number of instances, slim because it was, earlier than I ever truly noticed her. My Holograms Of Concern had not but been written, and I didn’t even know that I used to be going to jot down it. It’s tough to say what position Irena’s e-book performed in my choice. I simply know that I felt inspired, someway, every time I learn it.

It was Holograms Of Concern that introduced us collectively. She and Benno have been residing in Berlin, and solely visited Zagreb once in a while. I keep in mind coming throughout them on the street, on the nook of Ilica and Margaretska Passage. Each of them collectively, as a result of, after I give it some thought, I don’t consider I ever noticed them aside till Benno died. She was wanting summery in a white skirt and a light-coloured shirt. ‘I learn Holograms, and it’s good.’ I felt one thing between rapture and astonishment. May or not it’s that my favorite creator was saying this? I came upon later that when she appreciated one thing she solely ever mentioned, ‘It’s good’. She didn’t make prolonged introductions or scatter compliments. In reality, she disliked well mannered dialog. She solely as soon as mentioned something extra to me, and that was after I printed The Invisible Girl. She advised me I might merely cease writing now, as a result of – it was excellent. Though this meant an important deal to me, I knew that she was not going too far. Higher to place it right down to her being in a passing good temper about one thing else, I assumed.

Quickly after this assembly on the street, the German publishers Rohwolt determined to publish a translation of Holograms of Concern. Nenad Popović advised Irena and Benno to them as translators, perhaps due to stylistic similarities, a minimum of partly. The Holograms have been printed of their outstandingly poetic German translation in 1989, with the title of Das Prinzip Sehnsucht (The Want Precept), one thing we mentioned at size. Speaking about different books and translations, not merely linguistic however cultural, she defined to me why that they had needed to change the title. Germans don’t like concern of their titles, she mentioned. I used to be to recall these phrases later, when the German publishers Aufbau altered the identify of my novel Mileva Einstein, teorija tuge (Mileva Einstein, a Concept of Sorrow), altering ‘sorrow’ into Einsamkeit, or loneliness. Germans don’t like having sorrow of their titles, both.

We bonded over these conversations, and at last, when the e-book was printed finally, we have been nonetheless speaking, a dialog that continued for the subsequent thirty years.

Cellphone calls have been costly and we made worldwide calls solely after we wanted to. However letters, those in envelopes with stamps, making their sluggish journeys by practice, slowly fell out of vogue. However the e-book in Germany and my work as a journalist meant that we met in Berlin.

They have been nonetheless residing in Mommsenstrasse, in an attic flat, the identical one the place Benno’s mother and father lived till killing themselves collectively in 1954. Surrounded by books and lots of, many artworks – by painters akin to Miljenko Stančić, Karlo Sirovi, Edo Murtić, Vlado Kristl, Đuro Seder and Ivan Picelj – Irena lived in between languages, within the fault zone between Croatian and German. I understood her life, a continuing interpretation of Zagreb to Berlin and Berlin to Zagreb, higher after we have been in each other’s firm, consuming wine, sitting with them and their pals, the Yugoslav author Bora Čosić, the Chilean artists Claudio Lange and Ingrid Lange, the philosophers Susan Neiman and Eva Meyer, and others. She would routinely translate our dialog for Benno whereas they have been collectively, in order that he might take part too. She did this with such ease that the dialog flowed and not using a hitch.

Her personal writing flourished in that zone. She wrote every little thing: radio performs, screenplays and detective tales, her very important autobiographical novels, and naturally, poetry. She usually translated them into Croatian herself. However she by no means reached a wider viewers in Germany, the print runs of her books weren’t giant, her work went comparatively unnoticed, and her writings have been not often translated into different languages. She, along with her analytical flip of thoughts, was nicely conscious of the explanations. It was not with out bitterness that she concluded that books from our a part of Europe wouldn’t succeed and would fail to attract the eye of the critics within the West except that they had unique topics. There was little alternative for up to date, considerate and extremely supple prose like hers, delicate and tremendous, coping with the identities of city ladies. The Germans believed that that they had their very own such authors, however they have been mistaken.

We noticed each other so much throughout the conflict as a result of I went to conferences and discussions, e-book launches and peace initiatives, like different writers from the battle zones who wanted such an excuse to satisfy up. Irena would arrive (with Benno), she would converse and translate, she would socialize, and he or she made everybody really feel higher. Her important instincts and leftist outlook all the time put her on the facet of the victims. Irena, like many others, helped refugees, learn, spoke, and gave all she might on the Centre for Southeastern Europe, an area that had been based and was run by Bosa Schedlich, a translator and a much-respected activist for integration. There wasn’t sufficient room in writing for all their traumas. And the traumas have been overwhelming; they modified everybody who got here into contact with these individuals. Typically individuals simply need to take refuge in writing, and so Irena, like Marina Tsvetaeva, ‘settled utterly into [her] pocket book’

We quickly grew to become neighbours. My husband and I, residing on the yearly grant that he acquired from the DAAD (German Educational Trade Service) and that I’d too, quickly sufficient, and moved in simply across the nook, on the junction of her avenue and Schlüterstraße. We noticed each other every single day, strolling round Charlottenburg or at a bit Italian restaurant on the Ku’damm the place we ate Mediterranean seafood stew in a seek for the comforts of nostalgia. She and Benno had already moved to the primary flooring of the identical constructing as a result of they might now not climb the steps to the highest. And after we as soon as extra moved, on my grant, to Uhlandstrasse, they have been of their remaining flat in Berlin, a bit additional away on Pestalozzistrasse. There too we met in an Italian restaurant and carried on speaking like earlier than. Or nearly as earlier than, since Benno’s sickness had already begun to limit what he might do. He was forgetting phrases increasingly more usually now. He might now not keep in mind find out how to say ‘salt-cellar’ or ‘window’. He would sit on the desk and speak fairly usually, to all appearances, besides that his phrases have been totally disjointed. He started to develop hypertension.

Throughout the evenings at Bora Ćosić and Lidija Klasić’s place, the place we have been frequent friends, she stored watch over Benno, ensuring he didn’t eat or drink something which may trigger him issues. He couldn’t perceive why and have become upset and teasy, like a toddler. He was slipping away, and Irena knew that. She did all she might to maintain them collectively, for so long as doable.

In Zagreb, too, she needed to transfer to a brand new flat, from Klaića Road to Čanića Road. She moved into vacancy. She was left to consolation herself by tidying issues up. She cherished placing his remnants so as and took pleasure in translations of his diaries, printed in Croatia as Hodanje, cěžnje (Strolling, Craving) and his novels Schlattenschammes … oder Berlin am Meer (Schlatenschammes, or Berlin-by-the-Sea) and Ernestine geht (Ernestine Leaves). The writing is like the person, light and all about tremendous commentary and feelings. ‘He was an excellent man and really type to me,’ she advised me. ‘It’s not proper to develop outdated collectively except you might be type to at least one one other.’ This was the lesson she taught me as I left her that day, not a literary one however one about life.

And in these six years after Benno she printed Koračam kroz sobu (I’m Strolling Via a Room), Protokol jednog rastanka and Pjesme, nepjesme (Poems, Unpoems). She, who all the time wished to observe him, wrote and wrote and wouldn’t enable herself to go till she stopped. Her e-book containing poems her contemporaries had written to her ought to be printed very quickly.

The final {photograph} I took of her was at lunch, in Draško’s Restaurant in Frankopanska Road, the place we appreciated to satisfy for the great residence delicacies. She is smiling, but her eyes are already unhappy. And that too is how I left her that final time, on the identical outdated couch in her flat, with a cigarette in her hand. And that’s how she’s going to stay, as a result of now she has lastly adopted Benno. I’ve no want to steadiness the positive factors and the losses. I’m at peace, her writing has left its mark on me, simply as she wrote to me in a letter, or maybe it was a poem, not way back.

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