Lana Bastašić for WIT Month 2021 & September Reading Plans

My literature in translation statistics for 2021 have been abysmal so far, but here’s my token contribution to Women in Translation Month: Catch the Rabbit by Lana Bastašić, originally published in 2018 and translated from the Serbo-Croatian by the author herself.

Sara has made a new life for herself in Dublin, with a boyfriend and an avocado tree. She rarely thinks about her past in Bosnia or hears her mother tongue. It’s a rude awakening, then, when she gets a phone call from her childhood best friend, Lejla Begić. Her bold, brassy pal says she needs Sara to pick her up in Mostar and drive her to Vienna to find her brother, Armin. No matter that Sara and Lejla haven’t been in contact in 12 years. But Lejla still has such a hold over Sara that she books a plane ticket right away.

Alternating chapters, with the text enclosed in brackets, dive into the friends’ past: school days, losing their virginity, and burying Lejla’s pet white rabbit, Bunny. Sara often writes as if to Lejla: “I can’t beautify those days, I can’t give them some special, big meaning. You would despise me for it. Besides, I don’t know how to write those two kids: you keep shrinking and growing in my memory, like illusive land to desperate sailors.”

In the road trip scenes, we have to shake our heads at how outrageous Lejla is: peeing in a cornfield, throwing her used tampons out the window, and orchestrating a farcical situation when she lies and tells their host that Sara only speaks English. A lovable rogue, she drives the book’s action. Indeed, Sara realizes, “both the car and I were nothing but an extension of Lejla’s will, she moved us with her words, and we followed obediently.”

This offbeat novel struck me, bizarrely, as a cross between Asylum Road and When God Was a Rabbit. I sometimes find that work in translation, particularly Eastern European, has too much quirkiness for the sake of it. That’s probably true here, and although the nostalgia element was appealing the emotional payoff wasn’t enough to satisfy me. However, I did love a late scene where Sara gazes at Albrecht Dürer’s famous Young Hare painting, and keep an eye out for how the ending connects back to the beginning.

(Simon appreciated this European Union Prize for Literature winner more than I did: his review compares the picture of asymmetrical female friendship favourably to that in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels.)

With thanks to Picador for the free copy for review.

Did you do any special reading for Women in Translation month this year?

 

September Reading Plans

Each September I make a bit more of an effort to read short stories, which otherwise tend to sit on my shelves and Kindle unread. Last year I managed to read eight collections for this challenge. How many will I get to this year?! Here’s my shelf of potential reads:

I’ll reread selections from the Byatt anthology (I’ve read all of her published short story collections before and own two of them, one of which I reread last year) and will otherwise focus on books by women. I’ve had good success with Amy Bloom and Helen Simpson stories in previous years, so I’ll definitely plan to read those plus Bloodchild by Octavia E. Butler (from the university library).

Since I own THREE unread collections by Alice Munro, it’s time to tackle one, probably Dear Life since I’ve owned it the longest – it’s a review copy that arrived before her Nobel Prize win and I’ve (oops) never reviewed it. The World Does Not Require You is also a long-languishing review copy, so might be my one male-penned title.

What are your September reading plans? Any short story collections you’ve read recently and would recommend to me?

18 responses

  1. My September reading plans are wholly based around my review copies pile – so many for this month. Also I’ll be starting to sort out my shelves for my Nordic FINDS project.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha, I’ve only just worked out that FINDS stands for the countries! That’s a great goal, getting through review copies. I have a Goodreads shelf entitled “review catchup summer priority” … I haven’t made much progress in it and before long it won’t be summer anymore.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I missed most of WIT this year too, but managed to read a couple from the shelf Loop by Brenda Lozano which I loved and Love, Anger, Madness by Marie Vieux-Chauvet which felt like an important Haitian trilogy to have read and become aware of.

    For September I think I’ll be mood reading, so no idea yet what that will elicit, but definitely from the shelf or the kindle.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I only had one other suitable title on my shelves, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, but didn’t get to it this year.

      Enjoy reading by whim 🙂 That’s a lovely thing to do. Too often my reading schedule is dictated by paid review deadlines, library due dates, and obligations in the form of review copies.

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  3. LOVE Amy Bloom, but it’s been a while–thanks for the reminder to pick up something of hers. For translation, I’ll probably keep on my Tove Jansson kick!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I read her collection Come to Me a few Septembers ago while in Edinburgh and still remember the experience fondly.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There are few collections I’ve read all the way through–Come to Me is one.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. The Lana Bastašić intrigues, even if you weren’t 100% impressed, but I enjoyed your review. I haven’t picked up as many short story collections this year as I’d intended for my tag Library of Brief Narratives, but I have a number of female authors waiting, such as Naomi Isiguro, Katherine Mansfield, Joan Aiken, and Joanne Harris. This year I’ve got through mostly established writers like Carson McCullers, P D James, Edith Nesbit, Ursula Le Guin, and some Italian writers in translation (Dacia Marini, Susanna Tamaro, and Sandra Petrignani).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I DNFed Naomi Ishiguro’s collection but liked a couple of stories from it. I’ve read a few by Mansfield from The Garden Party so might go back to that. Le Guin’s longform fiction has not worked out for me, so maybe I should try her short stories.

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      1. I still think Le Guin’s Orsinian Tales a wonderful collection, one I think you might appreciate if not enjoy.

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  5. Your review put me in mind of Ferrante too. I couldn’t get into When God Was a Rabbit at all though, so I probably won’t try this one! I’ve completely failed at WITmonth, though I did read a few short stories from Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung (rabbits again!) and will finish it, but not in August. In September I am going to try and read from my pile of extremely overdue ARCs!

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    1. When God Was a Rabbit was dreadful! It’s really just the dead pet rabbit that put me in mind of it. I felt pretty ashamed to realize that this was one of only two translated books by women on my shelves. An area to improve! Good luck with your ARCs.

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  6. For the first time ever I’ve recently decided to make more of an effort to read translated works. So I’ve added a bunch to my Goodreads TBR. My only plan for September is to try and read more of my own books (as opposed to library books.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A worthy goal! It’s lucky that I own so many short story collections — if I read a number of them I’ll feel like I’ve made a dent on that shelf.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I just finished Olive Kitteridge and Olive, again from Elizabeth Strout (audiobooks) Beautiful short stories that weave the life of Olive for a span I would say 40/50 years. Highly recommend them.
    For September I am planning to finish Midwives, by Chris Bohjalian and The Dutch House (audio) by Ann Patchet, read A thousand pieces of gold, a memoir of China’s past through its proverbs, by Adeline Yen Mah, which I got from the library, and The Irish Cottage: finding Elizabeth, by Juliete Gauvin, which I got free for my kindle. And most likely two or three more but no idea what yet.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Olive, Again was my favorite novel of 2019! I’ve enjoyed everything else I’ve read by Strout, too.

      Midwives and The Dutch House are terrific. Enjoy!

      Like

  8. Boyfriend, check. Avocado tree, check. That’s a curious way to approach adulting! Heheh

    You know I’m always up for short story collections, but I don’t see much overlap between your current shelves and mine (although I did reread some Lorrie Moore over the summer). If you’re looking for company on the Alice Munro stories though, I’ve posted on all her collections and I think the posts on Dear Life are fairly detailed because that was well into the project. She’s a fave.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was pretty sure I’d seen an avocado tree somewhere else, too, but couldn’t locate it to add to the Book Serendipity post!

      I plan to start Dear Life pretty soon. I’ll look up your posts once I’ve read it.

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