Vedrana Rudan

translated from the Serbo-Croatian by Celia Hawkesworth
Dalkey Archive Press 2004
A book review by Danny Yee © 2005
Tonka, a fifty-something woman living in Zagreb, spends the night in bed, unable to sleep, watching television with the sound off. In the morning she plans to leave her husband for a younger lover, but meanwhile she engages in an extended soliloquy — or rather a non-stop rant.

Tonka is vulgar, rude and crude, cynical, irreverent, and utterly unwilling to put up with pretense or hypocrisy. She is unsparing of her friends, unsentimental about herself, contemptuous of the government, scathing about well-meaning foreigners, and generally abrasive. She even spends some time abusing and badgering the reader directly.

Her monologue is largely domestic in scope. She describes her friend Ela's attempt to save her husband Boris from conscription by sleeping with an official, smuggling trips with her husband, relations with her mother (who as a Party loyalist slept with a Chetnik Party official from Belgrade, giving Tonka a parentage that is now unfashionable in Croatia), and other events among her friends and family. But this is set against a backdrop of aggressive nationalism, state propaganda, and ethnic cleansing during the breakup of Yugoslavia — on which Tonka speaks out without sophistication but also without inhibition.

This is all mixed up, comedy with tragedy, horror with farce. Within two pages, without pausing, Tonka can segue from crocheting egg holders out of bright yellow mohair wool to a little girl being killed and thrown into a pit just because she's a Serb. There's no single story line, but the strands of many stories run through her rant. And her self-confidence, resilience and irrepressible vitality make upbeat a life story which might otherwise be dismal.

Night (Uho, grlo, noz, 2002) is cleverly worked; Tonka's monologue always seems natural and coherent and sweeps irresistibly along. And in Tonka's ordinary but extraordinary character Vedrana Rudan has created a razor-sharp tool for the dissection of Croatian society.

March 2005

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%T Night
%A Rudan, Vedrana
%M Serbo-Croatian
%F Hawkesworth, Celia
%I Dalkey Archive Press
%D 2004
%O paperback
%G ISBN 1564783472
%P 211pp