2023 is the year of several big anniversaries of Croatian writers. One of them happens these days, as Miroslav Krleža was born on 07/07/1893. In honor of his birth date, let’s stick to the number 7 and remember 7 anniversaries. You might stumble upon some of their statues or memorial plaques on the streets of Zagreb, too.
Our birthday boy, Miroslav Krleža, was born 130 years ago! His plays have been a must-see even when he was alive. This year, in honor of the big anniversary, theaters all over Croatia are putting up his plays. The most special experience might be the hypnotic play Legenda (Legend) by theater Gavella, as it takes place inside tunnel Grič.
It is hard to fit Krleža in just a few sentences. Unless I used something that we still call a Krležian sentence - a very wordy, elaborated sentence that goes on and on, a baroque sentence. He is considered the best modern Croatian author. In fact, many consider him the best Croatian writer ever! He set (high) standards for Croatian culture and his character still resonates in cultural society, especially in Zagreb.
Did anyone mention the writers of Zagreb? The oldest on this list was born 185 years ago, but his spirit is still alive. It breeds and resonates with this city. His love and immense inspiration that he found in Zagreb have been forever captured on his pages. And his pages magically poured back onto the streets of Zagreb, keeping its old soul preserved despite all the changes the modern city is going through. The locals are already guessing - it’s August Šenoa. His book - Goldsmith’s Treasure - is translated into English and available as a unique souvenir from Zagreb. His family heritage is treasured, too, in a memorial center Kuća Šenoa (House Šenoa).
Here’s a fun dare: come by the August Šenoa statue in Vlaška Street and read some of his poems from the pillar out loud.
Photo by J. Duval / Zagreb Tourist Board
One of my personal favorite poets is one of the oldest members of the 27 Club. It’s Antun Branko Šimić, a poetic genius who wrote some of the best Croatian poetry by the age of 27 when he died. He was 5 years younger than Krleža, yet Krleža outlived him by half a century! Everyone in Croatia still gets goosebumps when we remember his warning: be careful not to walk so small under the stars. He lived in a small house near the Zagreb cathedral, on Opatovina Street.
We’re concluding our magnificent seven with four of the same age - they were all born in the same year - 150 years ago. The first one is another poet - Antun Gustav Matoš. The feeling of melancholia in his poems will captivate the reader. The goth souls among you will fall in love with his poetry, for its perfect form and esthetics of the unpleasant - death, old age, dark dreams, and night. I am calling him a poet as his poetry is known to be the best part of his opus. In fact, some of his poems are so well known, that a lot of Croats will be able to recite a few verses. He actually thought his prose was better.
This sculpture of A.G.Matoš is placed in the part of the town that he loved (to hate).
Photo: M. Vrdoljak/Zagreb Tourism Board
Then, there’s Dinko Šimunović. His work has been shocking for quite a while, but these days... if cancel culture ever moves to Croatia, he’s the first one to go. One thing is for sure - if art is made to provoke, he was one of the best artists. Still, we really hope his own beliefs are not reflected in his characters, as it’s hard to relate to any of them. His writing left us upset, in disbelief, and outraged.... and those feelings make some of his work the most memorable read.
An honourable mention goes to a person who is not a writer, but a composer. However, Vlaho Paljetak gave another dimension to some Croatian poems, by turning them into musical evergreens. The statue of this bohemian person is hidden in the passage of the black skyscraper at the main square.
This is Vlaho’s composition of a poem written by Dragutin Domjanić.
The song is so famous in Croatia, that people generally believe it’s a folk song.
By now, some might get a bit upset as I haven’t mentioned their favorite writer yet. So, don’t worry, as I was saving the best for last.
Even if they didn’t hear about other big anniversaries, everyone in Croatia knows that 2023 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of the one and only... Marija Jurić Zagorka.
If August Šenoa captured and preserved the spirit of the city, Marija Jurić Zagorka recreated it. She uplifted Zagreb by covering it with a thin mystical veil, so skillfully crafted, that it is now impossible to remove it. We can’t even think of Zagreb without the prism of her atmospheric novels. The woman is an absolute icon who changed the rules of society by setting up an example of an independent and ethical person, that is still hard to follow, and by encouraging others to think and act differently. At times, she was supported by no one else but her very own timeless lead heroines. And what a powerful army it is.
Could Zagorka be the most inspiring person that has ever lived in Zagreb?
For such a small country, it is incredible how many great writers are there in Croatia. Not all of their works are translated, but try to find some and give them a chance. This year, I like to occasionally turn a page of the ones with a big anniversary. I don’t want the kind of writing that built personalities and changed the world to be just a thing of the past.
Header image & Author: Iva Silla