- Memory and Loss: The Novels of Vladimir Tasić
According to the critic George Steiner, a whole genre of the 20th century Western literature is extraterritorial, a literature by and about exile, symbolizing the age of refugees. In all likelihood, this genre will only continue to flourish in the 21th century and beyond.1
Literature-in-exile and about exile has existed for a long time. What is different between the earlier and the exiles of our times is the scale: since the beginning of the twentieth century, our world has seen mass migrations and population shifts unseen before. As a result, many societies and cultures today are intermixed and literary theorists encounter issues they did not face before.
The civil wars and the dissolution of federal Yugoslavia in the 1990s caused a mass exodus from the area. Among the expatriates were not only unskilled laborers, as was usually the case earlier, but an overwhelming proportion of high skilled professionals, including a number of writers who now live and work abroad. As a result, Serbian literature became de-centered. Some of the best literary works written in Serbian are produced today extraterritorially, outside of the borders of Serbia. This paper addresses this phenomenon and focuses on the prose of Vladimir Tasićwho lives and works in Canada.
Born in 1965 in Novi Sad, Tasić graduated from the University of Novi Sad in 1988. The same year, when the clouds of pending political storm were already approaching, Tasić left Yugoslavia and moved to Canada, where he received a Ph.D. in mathematics. Since 1995, he has been a professor of mathematics at the University of New Brunswick.
Tasić started to write in 1995. His two collections of short stories Pseudologia fantastica (Pseudologija fantastika) and Joys of Shipwrecks (Radost brodolomnika) were published, respectively in 1995 and 1997. In 1998, the second collection was translated into English and published in Canada under the title of Herbarium of Souls. Tasić wrote a monograph, Mathematics and [End Page 247] the Roots of Postmodernist Theory, which was published by Oxford University Press in 2001. His latest work is a collection of essays Apples-Sniffers (NjŲkači jabuka), published in 2005.
Tasić’s first novel Opro Ųtajni dar (Farewell Gift), published in 2001 in Novi Sad, was met with high critical acclaim and received three literary honors: awards from the Association of Voyvodina Writers, the Foundation of Prince Paul Literary Award, and recognition as the best book of the year by Radio Belgrade Second Program.
The publication of the second novel KiŲa i hartija (Rain and Paper), 2004, established Tasić as one of the most important Serbian writers. It received the prestigious NIN award for best novel of the year (chosen from the 123 novels published in Serbian in 2004) as well as Vital’s “Golden Sunflower” Award which carries a substantial monetary award. The jury bestowing these awards stated that Tasić’s works introduced a new sensibility into Serbian literature.
When asked whether the physical distance from one’s native town presents an advantage or a hindrance for an author-in-exile, the author answered that in theory, it is irrelevant whether he is in Canada or in Serbia. In practice, however, the separation is always felt, as is the need to bridge the distance: “Every morning I wake up to CBC radio, I make coffee and read Radio B92 news before I read The Guardian.”2
Like other émigré narratives, Farewell Gift and Rain and Paper are moving novels of exile and of loss and memory, stories about a whole generation of young Yugoslav intellectuals who left the chaotic events of the region in the 1990s to seek refuge elsewhere. Canada and Australia were their most frequent destinations. All the protagonists of these novels feel a profound sense of loss and powerlessness to change the world in which they must live. Scattered around the globe, they are tired of searching, feeling that their lives have ended before they truly began.
The protagonist of Farewell Gift is a young doctor from Novi Sad, a town on the Danube, who now lives in a small, unnamed Canadian town also situated on a river. He...