Sasa Stanisic's book is a layered tale of war-ravaged Yugoslavia
Once you get past the many squiggles and the many Ss, his name is not that difficult to pronounce.
Sasa Stanisic, pronounced Sa-sha Sta-nish-ich (‘ch' as in China) makes up for the tremendous unfamiliarity of his name with great affability. He smiles easily, uses big words and appears very intelligent as he discusses his book, which is also strangely titled. Born in 1978, Stanisic seems young to be such a perceptive observer of humanity and its strife.
His book, How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone, has a drunken soldier who points his gun at a non-compliant gramophone and compels it to play a ditty so that he can dance. No, this is not magic realism but the imagination of a boy, Stanisic's protagonist Alexander, who is narrating his gory and layered tale in war-ravaged Yugoslavia. He does not want more violence.
The Balkans have had a bloody history of violence from the middle ages when the Ottomans governed it as part of their Empire. Yugoslavia's 20th Century affair with Communism and the eruption of ethnic, religious and nationalist violence after its fall has torn the country asunder, leaving gaping wounds yet to be healed.
The region has little connection with India — academically, intellectually or culturally. Bangalore got a bittersweet taste of this wondrous land when Stanisic presented a photo essay, ‘You Like it Here', and held a wide-ranging discussion on themes thrown up in his book.
The audience seemed to be quite taken in by the author whose distinct German accent was softened by his first language, a Balkan one called Serbo Croatian.
“When I was a child I was more scared of my history book than of Dracula because there was so much blood in our history,” remarked Stanisic. This darkly morbid comment perhaps should ready us for his book which is an autobiographical rendition of the ethnic civil war in Yugoslavia that followed the fall of Communism. Using a child's perspective to narrate the pluralities of experiences was consciously done so as to use someone who would not rely on political, social and historical facts to explain events.
“You have a naive commentator in this child,” said Stanisic while revealing that the child in the book is him. Stanisic had to leave Yugoslavia once the fighting began in 1992. Making Germany his home, he has trawled his life's intense moments and his tryst with his heritage, to write a book which has won several awards in Germany and has been translated into 30 languages.
Stanisic read out extracts of his book, offering titbits to the receptive audience. This is Stanisic's first visit to India, Bangalore being his first stop.
The book will be discussed in Chennai and Delhi over the next week.