Dasa Drndic’s Belladonna ends with the writer, Andreas Ban’s, attempted suicide. A final chapter, in the voice of his son, Leo, tells of fruitless attempts to contact his father, but concludes;

“Andreas Ban must appear somewhere, he cannot leave me with such a burden. This burden oppresses me, Andreas knows that, he will come back because of me, to make it easier for me. It’s hard to completely erase history and memory, history and memory like to come back.”

Now, in her final book, E.E.G. (that is, electroencephalogram, a recording of brain wave patterns) Ban returns, declaring, “Of course I didn’t kill myself.” It is, naturally, tempting to read Ban as a version of Drndic, but Ban himself soon dismisses the idea of autobiography, “as though my life could be pressed between the covers of a book,”

“Autobiographical books don’t exist, autobiographies don’t exist, there are multigraphies, biographical mixes, biographical cocktails, the whole melange of a life through which we dig, which we clear out, from which we select fragments, remnants, little pieces that we stuff into our pockets, little mouthfuls that we swallow as though they were our own.”

Drndic (or Ban) is dismissive of narrative writing in general – “I’m not offering ‘a story’, because I write about people who don’t have ‘a story’, not about those or for those who are looking for other people’s stories in order to find their own in them.” She is scornful of critics who “randomly dish out threadbare platitudes, worn-out assertions that a writer should create ‘rounded, living, complex and convincing characters’.” Instead her books consist of “fragments, remnants, little pieces”, an urgency of digression in which the detours become the journey. In this, Drndic argues, she is simply reflecting reality:

“What kind of continuity? What continuity? Everything around us, including ourselves, it’s all in patches, in spasms, in ebbing and flowing, our whole envelope, this whole earthly covering, it’s criss-crossed with loose stitches, which keep coming undone, and which we keep persistently trying to tighten.”

As we know from Belladonna, Ban has an uneasy relationship with his homeland – “an illiterate, haughty, puffed-up nation” – part of a larger distrust of nationalism and its selective relationship with history. The novel begins with his return to his parents’ house, and his sister, Ada:

“I found her in a bad way. Buried in the cellar of the family house we had sold for peanuts in the early 1990s to some Italians.”

It is difficult not to feel that the basement is where the past has been placed; while the building above is freshly painted and plastered – “in fact, the whole street has become well-mannered” – it remains dark and neglected even in summer. It is also from there that the past resurfaces: a game of chess with his sister leads Ban to recollect the many chess players reduced to madness and suicide, and then the story of chess throughout the Second World War, those who played ion for the Nazis and those who were murdered by them:

“Why have I strayed so far? The paths of human thought really are mysterious.”

The main focus of E.E.G. however is Latvia, to which Ban is linked by a ballerina he once knew, Leila who was born there, and also a family secret;

“For me Latvia became a riddle only some ten years later, when a half-truth, long unspoken in my family, acquired outlines when, like wormholes, those penetrations into space and time, into new spaces and a new time, it began to create shortcuts towards a journey, that often dangerous and destructive journey, the end of which cannot be seen.”

He pieces together a story of his uncle, Karlo Osterman, who fails to convince a young Jewish violinist, Frida Landsberg, to leave Riga with him after the Nazi invasion:

“The situation was clear to Karlo Osterman, for Karlo Osterman it was a reprise, racial laws in Croatia had been in force for two months…”

Landsberg’s story begins the story of Latvia under German occupation, which is the story of another country which has forgotten or rewritten its past.

As with any summary of Drndic’s work, however, this imposes a neatness absent in the original, which also takes Ban to other European countries (much as he visited Holland in Belladonna), and tells us of the last days of his father in a care home. Typically there are lists, most extensively this time a list of confiscated libraries (the focus on chess, music, and libraries suggest Drndic is particularly concerned with the destruction of culture or intellect – a theme that runs parallel to that of madness). Drndic’s novels are simply unlike that of any other writer being both kaleidoscopic and monomanic at the same time. Occasionally overwhelming, a tidal wave which does not cleanse but retreats to reveal the forgotten debris of the past. Though her best known work has been written in the twenty-first century, she is in many ways the vital voice of the twentieth.


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3 Responses to “E.E.G.”

  1. winstonsdad Says:

    It is a tour of the places she saw and her world in a novel isn’t it I loved the chess deaths an interesting digression

  2. Canzone di Guerra | 1streading's Blog Says:

    […] by Tea Radan, a writer, partly a surrogate for Drndic in the way Andreas Ban is in Belladonna and E.E.G. But the novel is not a straight-forward first-person narrative; instead, it is a patch work of […]

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