Jukuta Alikavazovic is well known in France for fascinating intrigues and her intense language. Her latest novel Avancée de la nuit /The Night’s Advance is about love, war, poetry, remembrance and transmission against the backdrop of the Yugoslav war. Although the 38-year-old Franco-Bosnian writer experienced this at a distance, she still felt closely involved with things.
“One can be infected by what one knows, yet also by what one doesn’t know. Silence is a living organism; it is alive and invades you,” remarks Jakuta Alikavazovic. However, at first her protagonists want to know nothing of this. Amélia and Paul disappear under the cover of night and let themselves drift in the darkness of a soulless hotel. This is where Paul works alongside his studies as a night porter, and where Amelia lives for a short while although she is only 18. “A place that doesn’t kill you because of excessive beauty or ugliness, but because of its indifference.” But for Paul and Amélia, room no. 313 becomes a paradise. They meet here, make love, spend days and nights here, although in reality everything keeps them apart: Amélia is rich, educated and mysterious. “She had an instinct for disasters.” Paul, an immigrant’s son from a miserable French suburban background, is shy, though he fights his way through. While he ambitiously pursues his architecture studies, Amélia becomes more and more reserved. “She wants neither a degree, nor recognition nor stability.”
So, one night she disappears in search of traces of her mother. Nadia Dehr, a poet from Sarajevo, who went mad and took her own life because she lost her battle against the war. She tried in vain with “documentary poems” to describe the horror of the Bosnian war so visually that it moves everyone. The indifference with which the world allowed the siege of Sarajevo by the Bosnian Serbs to be prolonged for four years also worries Amélia. But at first, she decides to sell the box with her mother’s poems to get rid of the past.
When she finally arrives in Sarajevo she greedily devours all the war stories and falls in love with a boy, who experienced the conflict personally, while Amélia – just like Jucuta Alikavazovic, born in 1979 in Paris – followed this war from a distance. “I stood in-between, part of my family lives in Sarajevo; I know the city well, although I never lived there myself and I wasn’t there during the war. For years, I asked myself to what extent I am still affected by it, and ultimately everyone asks this very intimate question.” In her novel, which is “not intended as a novel about war in ex-Yugoslavia”, she writes: “Sarajevo was the capital city of international helplessness and the black market. Like a large stage, but the spectators who regarded themselves as spectators, also became actors, albeit without knowing. Because passivity is also a choice; staying away is an action, permitting is a crime and in this way the whole world made itself guilty.”
A dull, diffuse feeling of guilt makes it impossible for Amélia to have a normal life. At night-time, it is slightly easier to endure, but as soon as day breaks, Jakuta Alikavazovic’s characters are groping again in the dark. They go in one direction only to end up going in an entirely different one. However, just as the night advances ceaselessly, in this story everything is set in motion and ultimately the cycle of suppressing, remembering and searching is continued by the child that Amélia and Paul are to have despite their estrangement. Jakuta Alikavazovic’s novel The Night’s Advance, published in 2017 by Editions de L’Olivier, examines many themes simultaneously in a narrative that is permanently on a knife’s edge. It throws sparks; it is experimental, bold and full of secrets that captivate the reader.
By Katja Petrovic
Translated by Suzanne Kirkbright
This blog was originally published on ELit Literature House Europe website on 19 March 2018.