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Works of Radical Imagination

Book cover for We Trade Our Night for Someone Else's Day
Book cover for We Trade Our Night for Someone Else's Day

Translated by Ellen Elias-Bursać

Winner of the Balkan Noir Prize for Best Crime Novel

A thriller of the ex-Yugoslavia Wars.

The city of Vukovar, situated on Croatia's easternmost periphery, across the Danube River from Serbia, was the site of some of the worst violence in the wars that rocked ex-Yugoslavia in the early '90s. It is referred to only as "the city" throughout this taut political thriller from one of Europe's most celebrated young writers. In this city without a name, fences in schoolyards separate the children of Serbs from those of Croats, and city leaders still fight to free themselves from violent crimes they committed––or permitted––during the war a generation ago. Now, it is left to a new generation––the children, now grown up––to extricate themselves from this tragic place, innocents who are nonetheless connected in different ways to the crimes of the past.

Nora is a journalist assigned to do a puff piece on the perpetrator of a crime of passion––a Croatian high school teacher who fell in love with one of her students, a Serb, and is now in prison for having murdered her husband. But Nora herself is the daughter of a man who was murdered years earlier under mysterious circumstances. And she wants, if not to avenge her father, at least to bring to justice whoever committed the crime. There's a hothouse intensity to this extraordinary noir page-turner because of how closely the author sets the novel within the historical record. This city is unnamed, the story is fictional, so it can show us what actually happened there.

Book cover for We Trade Our Night for Someone Else's Day
Book cover for We Trade Our Night for Someone Else's Day

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“Murders are motivated by feelings of shame and humiliation provoked in the murderer by the victim; all other motives far below these,” the Croatian author Ivana Bodrozic writes in We Trade Our Night for Someone Else's Day, and the entirety of this political thriller, set two decades after the Balkan wars of the early 1990s, seems haunted by this statement. Nora Kirin, a journalist working in Vukovar (or “the city,” as the text always refers to it), cannot move past her own intermingled feelings of shame and revenge, bent as she is on discovering who murdered her father years before. These feelings inform her approach to the story she’s working on about Brigita Arsovka, a schoolteacher who seduced a student and then murdered her husband. Reluctance gives way to a darker give-and-take; Nora emerges from the cocoon of unprocessed trauma in a state that will lead to an act of violence still able to shock the seemingly unshockable. Bodrozic, mediated by Ellen Elias-Bursac’s assured translation, chronicles what a country chooses to remember, and what it consciously forgets, with confidence and grace.

“In an unnamed Croatian city in 2010, reporter Nora Kirin, the heroine of this searing political thriller from Bodrozic (The Hotel Tito), hopes to expose the city’s sleazy government. Instead, she’s assigned to write a lurid piece about a Croatian high school teacher who murdered her brutal husband, a Croatian war veteran, while having an affair with a student, an ethnic Serb. Nora’s own troubled past distracts her from this task. Her father disappeared in 1991, just before a horrifying massacre of Croats by Serbs. As Nora seeks the truth about his fate, she uncovers heinous instances of immorality throughout a city supposedly promoting “peaceful reintegration” between Croats and Serbs. In her effort to get justice for her father, Nora dooms her own love affair. Bodrozic smoothly integrates Nora’s gripping personal story with, as revealed in a translator’s note, the recent history of Vukovar, the author’s native city. Noir fans won’t want to miss this one.

“The effect of the war on the divided city runs through the novel like a half-healed wound — the conflict recent enough to have touched the lives of everyone the journalist encounters, yet sufficiently distant to mean people are desperate to forget it. The dichotomy is perfectly captured by the description of death pits, containing the corpses of countless victims, that are now covered by tarmac laid down to make a parking lot for a new shopping mall. The writing is elliptical, poetic and shimmering — at least in the excellent translation by Ellen Elias-Bursac.”

“In We Trade Our Night for Someone Else’s Day, Ivana Bodrožić takes our most taboo subjects and puts them in a familiar setting, to damning effect.”

“Ivana Bodrožić’s newly translated novel of trauma, vengeance, and despair is as noir as they come... Bleak, devastating, and lyrical in equal measures.”

“A novel that, as translated, is plainly written but immensely powerful in its portrayal of a damaged society.”

We Trade Our Night for Someone Else’s Day caused an uproar when it was published in 2016; in the novel, Bodrožić questions every foundational element of the Croatian postwar rhetoric, politics, and institutions that are rooted in war heroism but are actually driven by corruption, bribery, and self-interest. Even more daringly, she suggests that contemporary Croatian issues are self-generated. Her criticism is sweeping, touching religion, nationalism, education, and gender politics, written in a fast-paced, narration-dominant journal- istic style. . . Ellen Elias-Bursać’s translation is excellent as always, accompanied by an insightful translator’s note that is a short but effective historical contextualization for American readers who might not initially recognize the novel’s significance.”

blog — May 07

New Books in Translation from Croatia and Poland

Hailing from Croatia and Poland, our two latest literary fiction releases, in their own ways, explore isolation and captivity, memory and legacy. The first of the two, Sons, Daughters by Ivana Bodrožić, deftly translated into English by Ellen Elias-Bursać, is a novel about being locked in: socially, domestically, and intimately, told through three different perspectives, all affected by the patriarchy in their own way. In the second, Antona Lloyd-Jones' stunning translation of Dr. Josef’s Little Beauty by Zyta Rudzka, twin sisters, Leokadia and Helena, living together in a retirement home not far from Warsaw, reflect on their childhoods spent in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany.

Ivana Bodrožić’s latest award-winning novel tells a story of being locked in: socially, domestically and intimately, told through three different perspectives, all deeply marked and wounded by the patriarchy in their own way.

Here the Croatian poet and writer depicts a wrenching love between a trans man and a cis woman, as well as a demanding love between a mother and a daughter, in a narrative about breaking through and liberation of the mind, family, and society.
This is a story of hidden gay and trans relationships, the effects of a near-fatal accident, and an oppressed childhood, where Ivana Bodrožić tackles the issues addressed in her previous works—issues of otherness, identity and gender, pain and guilt, injustice and violence.

A daughter is paralyzed after a car crash, left without the ability to speak, trapped in a hospital bed, unable to move anything but her eyes. Although she is immobilized, her mind reels, moving through time, her memories a salve and a burden. A son is stuck in a body that he doesn’t feel is his own. He endures misperceptions and abuse on the way to becoming who he truly is. A mother who grew up being told she was never good enough, in a world with no place for the desires and choices of women. She carries with her the burden of generations.

These three stories run parallel and intertwine. Three voices deepen and give perspective to one another’s truth, pain, and struggle to survive.

A Holocaust story as fascinating and compelling as it is terrifying and puzzling — a book about aging and war crimes, pain, and pride.

In the middle of summer, omnipresent heat radiates as a group of elderly people are remembering their youth. The story focuses on two twin sisters, Leokadia and Helena, who live together in a retirement home not far from Warsaw. These are not ordinary stories they are sharing, because both of them spent time as children in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. At the center is Helena, who at the age of 12 was saved from extermination by the notorious doctor Josef Mengele, the real-life Nazi officer and physician who was known as the “angel of death” for the experiments he conducted on prisoners, including twins and siblings.

This is a story both provocative and disturbing about the fear that lingers in victims. Was the sisters’ relationship with the executioner a desperate attempt to save their lives, or perhaps they harbor a hideous pride and sense of superiority over other prisoners? Rudzka’s extraordinary writing turns unsettling questions about memory and survival into art.

Ivana Bodrožić

Ivana Bodrožić was born in Vukovar in 1982 where she lived until the Yugoslav wars started in 1991 when she then moved to Kumrovec where she stayed with her family at a hotel for displaced persons. She studied at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb. In 2005, she published her first poetry collection, entitled Prvi korak u tamu (The First Step into Darkness). Her first novel Hotel Zagorje (Hotel Tito) was published in 2010, receiving high praise from both critics and audiences and becoming a Croatian bestseller. She has since published her second poetry collection Prijelaz za divlje životinje (A Crossing for Wild Animals) and a short story collection 100% pamuk (100% Cotton), which has also won a regional award. Her most recent novel, the political thriller We Trade Our Night For Someone Else's Day, has sparked controversy and curiosity among Croatian readers. 

Ellen Elias-Bursać

ELLEN ELIAS-BURSAĆ translates fiction and nonfiction from Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian. She has taught in the Harvard University Slavic Department and is a contributing editor to Asymptote. She has translated both of Ivana Bodrožić’s previous books for Seven Stories along with Robert Perisic’s novel No-Signal Area. She lives in Boston.