As far as I know, LitLink festival is unique. Each year it takes a group of writers and publishers to three Croatian cities – Pula, Rijeka, and Zagreb – for a series of evening readings. Along the way there are coach journeys on winding roads, stunning vistas of deep green fields and icy mountains, excellent Croatian wine and food, sea swimming, plenty of book chat, and of course – plenty of drinking.
Each year a different country is invited – one year Italian writers and publishers, one year Americans, and so on. So we were a group of British writers and editors travelling with our generous hosts – Robert Perišić and Ivan Sršen – under the embarrassing cloud of Brexit and all it suggests. But for me this made it an even more fascinating experience in some ways. It felt like a precious opportunity to consider questions of identity, and ideas about the way people define themselves in relation to their country’s politics.
As little Croatian literature is translated into English, a highlight of the trip was the opportunity to discover something of what Croatian authors are writing about. Many of them read fiction with a humorous, existential, slightly ironic tone. A standout example was a gloriously Beckettian story by Robert Perišic, about two men in New York looking for danger, devastated by their failure to find any. Žjelkja Horvat Čeč, in contrast, read from her YA novel 4 Locks, inspired by her memories of the war. In one scene, set after the fall of Socialism, a Catholic priest comes to the house, and while the mother talks with him, the teenage protagonist has to slip out of the house to borrow a crucifix to put on the wall. I was also particularly struck by one of the few non-fiction readings we heard, by Katarina Luketić, about the way ideas about the Balkans throughout history and historiography have been romanticised and simplified, or else the opposite: portrayed as ‘complicated, even monstrously so’.
This was an eye-opening and inspiring opportunity to travel to Croatia, meet some fantastic writers and make new friends. Thank you to Robert and Ivan and the Croatian Writers Society for the opportunity.
By Anna Kelly
Anna Kelly studied French and German at university then began her publishing career at Penguin imprint Hamish Hamilton, where she worked with authors including Ali Smith, Zadie Smith, Alain de Botton and Mohsin Hamid. She is now a Commissioning Editor at 4th Estate, and her authors include Joyce Carol Oates, Valeria Luiselli, Alexandra Kleeman, Luke Kennard, Zinzi Clemmons and Jonas Jonasson.