Trieste

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Overview

Haya Tedeschi sits alone in Gorizia, in northeastern Italy, surrounded by a basket of photographs and newspaper clippings. Now an old woman, she waits to be reunited after sixty-two years with her son, fathered by an SS officer and stolen from her by the German authorities as part of Himmler’s clandestine Lebensborn project.

Haya reflects on her Catholicized Jewish family’s experiences, dealing unsparingly with the massacre of Italian Jews in the concentration camps of ...

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Trieste

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Overview

Haya Tedeschi sits alone in Gorizia, in northeastern Italy, surrounded by a basket of photographs and newspaper clippings. Now an old woman, she waits to be reunited after sixty-two years with her son, fathered by an SS officer and stolen from her by the German authorities as part of Himmler’s clandestine Lebensborn project.

Haya reflects on her Catholicized Jewish family’s experiences, dealing unsparingly with the massacre of Italian Jews in the concentration camps of Trieste. Her obsessive search for her son leads her to photographs, maps, and fragments of verse, to testimonies from the Nuremberg trials and interviews with second-generation Jews, and to eyewitness accounts of atrocities that took place on her doorstep. From this broad collage of material and memory arises the staggering chronicle of Nazi occupation in northern Italy.

Written in immensely powerful language and employing a range of astonishing conceptual devices, Trieste is a novel like no other. Daša Drndić has produced a shattering contribution to the literature of twentieth-century history.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Craig Seligman
…a work of European high culture. Drndic is writing neither to entertain (her novel is splendid and absorbing nevertheless) nor to instruct (its subject, the Holocaust, is too intractable to yield lessons). She is writing to witness, and to make the pain stick…even at their most lurid, Drndic's sentences remain coldly dignified. And so does Ellen Elias-Bursac's imperturbably elegant translation: There isn't a sentence that you would guess had been born in another language.
Publishers Weekly
09/16/2013
This moving novel of WWII and its aftermath is acclaimed Croatian author Drndic's American debut. In 2006, elderly Haya Tedeschi is awaiting a reunion with her son, who disappeared as an infant during WWII. Haya's memory ranges over her family's past, their experiences in the war, and its effect on their lives. The Tedeschi family lived in Gorizia and nearby Trieste, northern Italian cities caught between the major powers of Europe in cycles of war. But little could have prepared the family for the extremes of German occupation. Haya's richly textured reminisces include biographies of the Reich's film stars, scathing exposés of the complicity of the Swiss government and the Red Cross in the transport of Jews to concentration camps, and harrowing details of sadistic acts committed in the camps. Interspersed with Haya's account are photographs, interviews, and personal testimonies, and, in one case, pages listing the names of all 9,000 Jews deported from or murdered in northern Italy during the war. There is simply too much pain and guilt in this novel for Haya's reunion with her son to offer catharsis, and readers who become more interested in the characters than the history may be disappointed. However, Drndic's themes, use of history, and narrative technique invite favorable comparisons to W.G. Sebald, and the novel's relentlessly uncomfortable mood might be Drndic's point: the historical crimes were great, and complicity of almost everyone was enormous. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
"Trieste by the Croatian novelist, playwright and critic Dasa Drndic, is a work of European high culture...even at their most lurid, Drndic’s sentences remain coldly dignified. And so does Ellen Elias-Bursac’s imperturbably elegant translation." - The New York Times Book Review

"Trieste evolves as a novel in the documentary style of the German writer W.G. Sebald, but also as a memorial of names, and as a novel about one woman's attempt to find order in her life. And as a book of events that have made the last century infamous for the ages, a book that, if it moves you as it moved me, you will have to set down now and then, to breathe, to blink and blink and say to yourself and whatever gods you might believe in, please, oh, please please please, never again." – Alan Cheuse, NPR

"Trieste…explores the 20th century’s darkest chapter in an original way, both thematically and stylistically, without ever diluting the disaster...So unflinchingly does Drndic present her detail that after certain passages concerning freight-train journeys, gas chambers and euthanasia centers, it pays to put the book down and take a break and gulps of fresh air. Potent, candid writing, while deserving of praise, is not always the easiest to digest...Trieste is an exceptional reading experience and an early contender for book of the year." - Minneapolis Star Tribune

"An extraordinarily rewarding novel...Rich."—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"A darkly hypnotic kaleidoscope of a book...Drndić has in her own way composed an astonishment that extracts light from darkness."—The Jewish Daily Forward

"Trieste is a brilliant, original conceptualized novel consisting of fragmented memories and a series of concentrated history lessons that will challenge a reader with its irregular construction and seeming lack of continuity. It may not be easy but it is well worth reading and will assuredly linger in memory." - BookBrowse

"Powerful, disturbing, original...Author Dasa Drndic uses her technique with painful effectiveness." - New York Journal of Books

"Richly textured reminisces...Drndic's themes, use of history, and narrative technique invite favorable comparisons to W.G. Sebald." – Publishers Weekly

"Outrage, horror, and grief simmer beneath the surface of this gripping novel...An unbearable, unusual, and unforgettable tribute to a very dark period of history...Highly recommended, this story’s gripping historical approach calls to mind the work of Norman Mailer and Don DeLillo."—Library Journal, starred

"Trieste’s originality lies not just in its structure and forceful, unflinching imagery—translator Elias-Bursa deserves acclaim as well—but also in how it brings the lingering effects of the Nazis’ merciless racial policies forward into the present."  – Booklist

"An epic, heart-rending saga from the Croatian novelist about a forgotten corner of the Nazi Holocaust...A brilliant artistic and moral achievement worth reading." – Kirkus, starred

"Although this is fiction, it is also a deeply researched historical documentary. Haya's life story is woven artfully into a broader tale of the twentieth century's atrocities. The book begins gently, introducing us to the archiepiscopal see of Gorizia in a manner reminiscent of WG Sebald . . . It is a masterpiece."—A.N. Wilson, Financial Times

"Trieste achieves a factographical poetry, superbly rendered by Ellen Elias-Bursać, implying that no one in Axis-occupied Europe stood more than two degrees from atrocity."—Times Literary Supplement

"Trieste is more than just a novel, it's a document that should be compulsory reading in secondary schools ... Books like this are necessary whilst there's still a glimmer of hope that eloquently reminding us of the past may prevent its repetition."—Bookbag

"Trieste is a massive undertaking. It swings from stomach-churning but compelling testimonials from former concentration camp workers to fluid fictional prose."—Irish Independent on Sunday

"In this documentary fiction, the private and public happen at once, large and small scale, imagined with just the same biographical precision. Haya sits dazzled in the cinema, lost in the unbelievable glamour on the screen; meanwhile, neighbors are disappearing. . . . The picture Trieste offers is cumulative—so is its effect. For a reader with a taste for tidy narrative, its wilfulness can be maddening, and yet the multifarious elements that comprise Haya's story and its grand context are an incredibly dense and potent mixture, too."—The Independent

"Drndic’s monumental work about a hitherto rarely discussed aspect of the Holocaust, and about the ongoing consequences of fascism, is not for the fainthearted, but its seamless combination of beautifully told story and relentless harsh documentation makes for a deeply engaging and unforgettable read."—Jewish Renaissance

"A powerful and original testimony, moving and hypnotic."—Historical Novel Review

From the Publisher

"Undeniably raw and mythical...Trieste evolves as a novel in the documentary style of the German writer W.G. Sebald, but also as a memorial of names, and as a novel about one woman's attempt to find order in her life. And as a book of events that have made the last century infamous for the ages, a book that, if it moves you as it moved me, you will have to set down now and then, to breathe, to blink and blink and say to yourself and whatever gods you might believe in, please, oh, please please please, never again." Alan Cheuse, NPR's All Things Considered
 
"Ingenious...Trieste is an exceptional reading experience and an early contender for book of the year." Minneapolis Star Tribune
 
"A masterpiece." Financial Times (UK)
 

"In this documentary fiction, the private and public happen at once, large and small scale, imagined with just the same biographical precision...The picture Trieste offers is cumulativeso is its effect...The multifarious elements that comprise Haya's story and its grand context are an incredibly dense and potent mixture, too." The Independent (UK)
 
"Trieste achieves a factographical poetry, superbly rendered by Ellen Elias-Bursać, implying that no one in Axis-occupied Europe stood more than two degrees from atrocity" Times Literary Supplement (UK)
 

"Gripping…Highly recommended, this story’s gripping historical approach calls to mind the work of Norman Mailer and Don DeLillo." Library Journal (starred review)
 
"An epic, heart-rending saga...A brilliant artistic and moral achievement worth reading." Kirkus (starred review)
 
"Moving…Drndić's themes, use of history, and narrative technique invite favorable comparisons to W.G. Sebald." Publishers Weekly
 
"Trieste’s originality lies not just in its structure and forceful, unflinching imagery—translator Elias-Bursa deserves acclaim as well—but also in how it brings the lingering effects of the Nazis’ merciless racial policies forward into the present."  Booklist

Kirkus Reviews
★ 2013-10-21
An epic, heart-rending saga from the Croatian novelist about a forgotten corner of the Nazi Holocaust. The author offers no traditional novel. Its heart is the fictional story of Haya Tedeschi, daughter in a near-assimilated Jewish family from Gorizia, Italy, near Trieste. Interwoven with Haya's tale are brutal historical facts of bloodletting during World War II. One chapter, "Behind Every Name There is a Story," is simply "[t]he names of 9,000 Jews who were deported from Italy, or killed in Italy or the countries Italy occupied between 1943 and 1945." There are photographs. There are war crime trial transcripts and poetry excerpts, from Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Jorge Luis Borges and others crying out against "the deafness that presses upon the earth." Haya's story begins as the family moves from their home in Italy to Albania and finally back to Gorizia as refugees. There, young Haya begins work as a store clerk. Haya's seduced and becomes pregnant by Kurt Franz, an SS officer and death camp participant who ultimately reveals he knows Haya's ethnicity, whispering "[m]y little Jewess, we can't go on like this....Besides, my fianceé is waiting at home." Their child, Antonio, is soon kidnapped and spirited away to Germany to be raised as an ideal Aryan by a German couple. Antonio reappears at narrative's end as Hans Traube, a photographer, a metaphor for all consumed in the conflagration of the Holocaust. Offering "no mercy for the pathological debris of humanity," the author rains bitter condemnation on the International Red Cross, the Swiss, the Roman Catholic Church and the passive complicity of the German people. A brilliant artistic and moral achievement worth reading.
Library Journal
★ 10/15/2013
Outrage, horror, and grief simmer beneath the surface of this gripping novel by Croatian novelist/critic Drndićc(English, Univ. of Rijeka) about the experiences of Italian Jews in the concentration camps of Trieste, in northeastern Italy and under the occupation of Nazi Germany. A blend of fiction and nonfiction, this novel brings in testimony from the 1945–46 Nuremberg Trials and eyewitness accounts by camp survivors as part of the research done by main character Haya Tedeschi in her quest to find her son, who was kidnapped by the Nazis as part of the SS-founded Lebensborn program. Drndić's narrative is matter-of-fact, and the format is unusual, including photographs, lists of victims, court transcripts, interviews, and very short biographies of Nazis—mirroring the material collected over six decades by Haya. The effect is to immerse the reader deep into the wartime atrocities, and the result is an unbearable, unusual, and unforgettable tribute to a very dark period of history. VERDICT Highly recommended, this story's gripping historical approach calls to mind the work of Norman Mailer and Don DeLillo. [See Prepub Alert, 7/22/13.]—Evelyn Beck, Piedmont Technical Coll., Greenwood, SC
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547725147
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 1/14/2014
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 73,441
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

DASA DRNDIC is a distinguished Croatian novelist, playwright, and literary critic. She spent some years teaching in Canada and gained an MA in Theatre and Communications as part of the Fulbright Program. She is an associate professor in the English Department at the University of Rijeka.

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Read an Excerpt

   For sixty-two years she has been waiting.
She sits and rocks by a tall window in a room on the third floor of an Austro-Hungarian building in the old part of Old Gorizia. The rocking chair is old and, as she rocks, it whimpers.
   Is that the chair whimpering or is it me? she asks the deep emptiness, which, like every emptiness, spreads its putrid cloak in all directions to draw her in, her, the woman rocking, to swallow her, blanket her, swamp her, envelop her, ready her for the rubbish heap where the emptiness, her emptiness, is piling the corpses, already stiffened, of the past. She sits in front of her old-fashioned darkened window, her breathing shallow, halting (as if she were sobbing, but she isn’t) and at first she tries to get rid of the stench of stale air around her, waving her hand as if shooing away flies, then to her face, as if splashing it or brushing cobwebs from her lashes. Foul breath (whose? whose?) fills the room, rising to a raging torrent and she knows she must arrange the pebbles around her gravestone, now, just in case, in case he doesn’t come, in case he does, after she has been expecting him for sixty-two years.
   He will come.
                                I will come.
   She hears voices where there are none. Her voices are dead. All the same, she converses with the voices of the dead, she quibbles with them, sometimes she slumps limply into their arms and they whisper to her and guide her through landscapes she has forgotten. There are times when events boil over in her mind and then her thoughts become an avenue of statues, granite, marble, stone statues, plaster figures that do nothing but move their lips and tremble. This must be borne. Without the voices she is alone, trapped in her own skull that grows softer and more vulnerable by the day, like the skull of a newborn, in which her brain, already somewhat mummified, pulses wearily in the murky liquid, slowly, like her heart; after all, everything is diminishing. Her eyes are small and fill readily with tears. She summons non-existent voices, the voices that have left her, summons them to replenish her abandonment.
   By her feet there is a big red basket, reaching to her knees. From the basket she takes out her life and hangs it on the imaginary clothes line of reality. She takes out letters, some of them more than a hundred years old, photographs, postcards, newspaper clippings, magazines, and leafs through them, she thumbs through the pile of lifeless paper and then sorts it yet again, this time on the floor, or on the desk by the window. She arranges her existence. She is the embodiment of her ancestors, her kin, her faith, the cities and towns where she has lived, her time, fat sweeping time like one of those gigantic cakes which master chefs of the little towns of Mitteleuropa bake for popular festivities on squares, and then she takes it and she swallows it and hoards it, walls herself in, and all of that now rots and decomposes inside her.
   She is wildly calm. She listens to a sermon for dirty ears and drapes herself in the histories of others, here in the spacious room in the old building at Via Aprica 47, in Gorica, known as Gorizia in Italian, Görz in German, and Gurize in the Friulian dialect, in a miniature cosmos at the foot of the Alps, where the River Isonzo, or Soča, joins the River Vipava, at the borders of fallen empires.
   Her story is a small one, one of innumerable stories about encounters, about the traces preserved of human contact. She knows this, just as she knows that Earth can slumber until all these stories of the world are arranged in a vast cosmic patchwork which will wrap around it. And until then history, reality’s phantom, will continue to unravel, chop, take to pieces, snatch patches of the universe and sew them into its own death shroud. She knows that without her story the job will be incomplete, just as she knows that there is no end, that the end reaches on to eternity, beyond existence. She knows that the end is madness, as Umberto Saba once told her while he was in hospital here, in Gorizia, in Dr Basaglia’s ward perhaps, or maybe it was in Trieste with Dr Weiss. She knows that the end is a dream from which there is no waking. And the shortcuts she takes, the quickest ways to get from one place to the next, are often nearly impassable, truly goats’ paths. These shortcuts may stir her nostalgia for those long, straight, rectilinear, provincial roads, also something Umberto Saba told her then, so she sweeps away the underbrush of her memory now, memories for which she cannot say whether they even sank to the threshold of memory, or are still in the present, set aside, stored, tucked away. It is along these overgrown shortcuts that she walks. She knows there is no such thing as coincidence; there is no such thing as the famous brick which falls on a person’s head; there are links – and resolve – of which we seem to be unaware, for which we search.
   She sits and rocks, her silence is unbearable.
   It is Monday, 3 July, 2006.
   HURRY UP PLEASE IT ’S TIME

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