home     authors     titles     dates     links     about

zagreb noir

9 july 2022

I continue to be drawn to fiction set in places I've never been and have little hope of getting to. I have never been within 200 kilometers of Zagreb and chances are dwindling I'll ever get there, so I was eager to read Akashic's well-reviewed 2015 collection Zagreb Noir.

The collection turned out to be uneven, though many in the Akashic Noir series are like that. There is little crime in Zagreb Noir; the stories share with Helsinki Noir a tendency toward gruesome antisocial behavior, but fewer of these than in the Finnish entry are about standard criminal activities. As with others, I will comment on a few of the stories that I found both get-throughable and well-done.

Darko Macan's "A Girl in the Garage" is an appropriately sordid opening story. Rumors of sex trafficking in the garage level of an enormous Zagreb apartment tower, based largely on vivid imagination, spawn new realities when various strangers start taking them seriously and even making them come true.

In "The Gates of Hell," by Ružica Gašperov, a woman returns, decades later, to a fateful scene from her youth. As a student, she had gotten involved with her landlady in a sort of lesbian take on The Postman Always Rings Twice, the two women swept up in a sordid passion and the older one's husband – had the narrator really killed him in a fit of rage? She returns to Zagreb, in her last days, to try to find the old apartment, but the whole building has burned down and been rebuilt. Nothing in the story is remotely plausible till you tip to the situation: the narrator's dying imagination has constructed this feverish and impossible story around regrets and loathings she has carried around her entire life; the actual past, whatever it was, is inaccessible now.

An apartment building and a shifting identity are also central to "Numbers 1-3" by Nada Gašić, which has many debts to Kafka. In Ellen Elias-Bursac's translation, the story begins:

There is only one building in Zagreb more fear-inspiring than the one where I live … The other building is the more interesting of the two because it is known for an urban legend purporting that the movie The Trial was shot there … and it was said that Alain Delon ran through those very corridors. (146)
Except that Alain Delon wasn't in The Trial; as the narrator intermittently remembers, it was Anthony Perkins, but in Kafkaesque fashion she keeps thinking it was Delon, even as her own building turns into a blend of Rear Window and The Trial, and a police inspector arrives to assure her that she is not herself at all, no matter how sure she is of her own identity.

Robert Perisic's "It All Happened So Fast" is a war story with no real crime involved; the noirishness is in the desperation that the civil war of the early 1990s casts on Zagreb. The narrator, a young student, picks his way through the night-life of the city, which persists fatalistically despite the violence, and ends his evening in a nightmarish sexual situation with a Croat man and a Serbian woman.

In "Wraiths," Zoran Pilić evokes a narrator who – years before COVID – starts working exclusively from home and soon finds that his most meaningful relationship is with a sex doll he orders online. Pero Kvesić's "Night Vision" has a literally noirish premise: the narrator can see exceptionally well in the dark. But the story lacks much narrative drive.

One of the best entries in the volume is "Slices of Night," by Andrea Žigić-Dolenec, which surfs from one story to another in the course of a Zagreb evening: a soccer hooligan addicted to violence, a politician looking for a way out of a love-nest scandal, and a third roamer in the night that it would be a shame to spoil by identifying. It's an inventive story that could serve as the kernel of a novel.

Sršen, Ivan, editor. Zagreb Noir. Brooklyn: Akashic, 2015.