Bora Ćosić was born in Zagreb in 1932, and in 1937 he moved to Belgrade, where he lived until 1991. From Belgrade he moved to Rovinj, and today he lives in Berlin. He started his career as a writer in 1962 with the book Vidljiv i nevidljiv čovek (Visible and Invisible Man). He has written around 50 books, published in Serbia, Croatia and Germany; he has won numerous awards, some of which are: the Nin Prize, Albatros Literaturpreis awarded by the Günter Grass Foundation, the Stefan Heym Award. His book My Family’s Role in the World Revolution was successfully adapted both for theatre and film.
He has written the play Rado ide Srbin u vojnike (Gladly Goes a Serb into the Army), translated Mayakovsky, translated and adapted the play Hair, which was staged at the Atelje 212 Theatre only a year after its premiere in New York.
Apart from numerous reviews, there are also important books written about his work (O Tutorima (About the Tutors) by Miloš Stambolić and Podrumi marcipana (The Marzipan Cellars) by Predrag Brebanović).
In his entire prose, there is an aspiration towards the humorous, the satirical and parody. His most important works are Priče o Zanatima (Stories about Crafts, 1966), short novel My Family’s Role in the World Revolution (1969), which gives humorous and touching tragicomic picture of first years after WWII, and the great novel Tutori (The Tutors, 1978), where the procedure of this writer, which he himself called ‘systematicity in constructing chaos’, was brought to the level of technical virtuosity.
About the book My Family’s Role in the World Revolution
The revolution, war and great historical events are described from the perspective of a boy. His talk, brief and simple, reveals all the absurdity and lies of the world ‘away from family’. The novel that wins you over with its simple, easy style, it will make you laugh literally ‘to tears’ – to the reveal of complete absurdity and dehumanisation of a system. During the Balkan Wars, the author of the influential books such as My Family’s Role in the World Revolution and at the end of all illusions of a liberated book Nulta Zemlja (Zero Country), has become one of the most important intellectual voices of South-East Europe.
(Sybille Cramer, Frankfurter Rundschau)
No one has confuted his entire biography and his work in a more desperate way, but no one has written about the absurdity of literary existence in crazy Middle Europe in a more fun way.
(Norbert Wehr, Suddeutsche Zeitung)
About the book Mirni Dani u Rovinju (Peaceful Days in Rovinj)
The magic of this book is complete, Ćosić-like. Just like in his previous novels ‘Priče o Zanatima’, ‘Tutori’, ‘My Family’s Role in the World Revolution’, but at the same time in a completely different way, the author takes readers into his commemorating, half humorous, archive-collector game of rummaging through household trinkets, which suddenly turns into rummaging through memories, epochs and lives. What he consciously wanted to do, and what happened according to inner narration logic, does not really matter. Bora Ćosić can let the story go its own way. It will always arrive where it was supposed to. This story is, of course, very serious. This book tells the story about Serbian nationalism and reasons for departing Belgrade and about extinction and maceration of communist Yugoslavia, as well as about things which people don’t want to hear, about Croatian mediocrity and about tendency of that, otherwise decent people, to sing their Croatian songs: ‘Not one feat passes, after two or three litres of wine, without initiation of that thundering concert, in which, at handsomely set table, even an important philosopher, and renowned surgeon and respected diplomat fall to the level of rustic singers in inns across Zagorje, which reveals how small the difference is between their ancestors, butchers and carpenters on one side and this population packed with PhD diplomas and all advantages of civil civilisations.’
About the trilogy Nulta Zemlja (Zero Country)
By carrying, in himself, the emptiness of his country from the south, while dwelling in the north, Bora Ćosić writes deeply intimate story about what exile is, in his three shorter novels Nulta zemlja, Carinska deklaracija and Izgnanici (Zero Country, Customs Declaration, The Exiles), which are printed in the form of the novelistic trilogy for the first time. Like recent books by Paul Auster and Julian Barnes, the latest Ćosić’s novel examines spaciousness and its illusions on personal, biographic example.
On the cusp of essay and inner monologue, his narrator, completely submerged in nostalgia, in the midst of the chronicle that lasts from a young age, leads readers through silts of an existence in exile in a stylistically nuanced way, precisely reaching crucial questions. Whether he searches his own identity with help of external and past things, in the middle of the fortress or the house, of that personal museum of nothingness (Nulta zemlja), whether he describes drama of moving books from his own library not just across national borders, but across inner, psychological, temporal and spatial borders (Carinska deklaracija), or whether he is in the midst of multiplied drama of exile of different national insights, in the middle of a house for writers, somewhere in Bavaria (Izgnanici), Ćosić’s narrator, in three variation, deeply summarising the experience of a European novel on this subject, shows how new addresses, just like previous ones, do not succeed in determining the exact place of home.
Not knowing entirely what is brought from the old life into the new one, in the brochure for the life in 20th century in which one of the main pictures is a man with a suitcase, narrator of Nulta zemlja shows the symptoms of exile through concrete national forms of his heroes (a Russian woman, a Hungarian man, an Irish man and a Swedish man) already fixed in literary or social knowledge or tradition, as well as through national fluidity of members of his own created state of the South Slavs.
The scopes of anxiety and depth of nostalgia are, it seems, very individual, and the zero university of his zero country researches far and wide the only possible subject the scope of which is hidden behind the name – Void.