Farewell, Cowboy – by Olja Savičević

Olja Savičević
Olja Savičević

51HetThBbWL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Olja Savičević is a well-regarded poet in her native Croatia, so I was thrilled to get a look at her first novel, Farewell, Cowboy.

Set in a dreary town on the Adriatic coast, the book follows the heroine Dada as she tries to find out why her younger and much-loved brother Daniel threw himself under a train a few years earlier.

The tone of disillusionment and decay shrouds the book like a fog hanging over a sea: the country is recovering from the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, Dada is listless after a relationship breakdown, and her family is struggling to live with the trauma of Daniel’s death.

The “plot”, though, comes a distant second to the picaresque cast of characters and the language. Savičević’s background as a poet is evident. Take this passage:

“The day is waning and the storm subsiding. Now the light is already softer and the plants are turning their stalks towards the west, while a swift, invisible animal bends the burned grass.” (p. 149)

As for the characters, they range from an angelic war orphan-turned gigolo (called Angelo, of course) to a sleazy professor who keeps salamanders in formalin jars to Dada’s mother, who spends her days servicing her addictions to soap operas and sleeping pills.

The author is well-served by Celia Hawkesworth’s translation. Savičević’s wild lyricism comes through beautifully, although this reader regretted the preponderance of run-on sentences (what is it with this trend to use a comma instead of a full-stop?).

Overall, while the plot was too diffuse for the novel to be called truly gripping, Savičević’s is definitely a writer to be reckoned with. Kudos to Istros Books for bringing her work to English-speaking readers.

 

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