Book Review: 'Trieste,' by Dasa Drndic

Alan Cheuse reviews Trieste, a novel by Croatian writer Dasa Drndic.

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It's been nearly 70 years since the end of World War II, but Croatian writer Dasa Drndic makes the war and its countless horrors feel fresh and urgent in her latest novel "Trieste." Ellen Elias-Bursac translated the book into English.

Alan Cheuse with our review.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: I guess we can call this an experimental novel. What else can you say about a book of which nearly 45 pages are nothing but a list of names, nearly 9,000 names? These 9,000 names list the Jews murdered in Italy by the occupying German army or deported by the Nazis from Italy most of them to the death camps. Nine thousand names. And as the main character, a Jewish Italian woman named Haya Tedeschi, from the town of Gorizia, in the environs of "Trieste," announces: Behind every name is a story.

Behind every name a story, that's the recurring motif in this harrowing, hallucinatory novel about Haya's quest to discover the identity of the love-child born to her and a German officer named Kurt Franz, a child taken from her by the Nazis even as the father rises to power as one of the most vicious torturers and murderers among the internment camp command. Haya's story, her search for her lost child, grows out of a palimpsest of personal quest and public record.

Employing photographs, Nuremberg trial testimony, poetry, and newsreel style scenes of rape, incarceration, torture, murder and assassination, Drndic has created a terrifying book, both personal and objective; a book of names about one woman's story, and a book of places and events that have made the last century infamous for the ages. A book you may now and then will have to set down, to breathe, to blink and blink again. And say to yourself and whatever gods you might believe in: Please, oh, please, please, please, never again.

BLOCK: The novel is "Trieste" by Dasa Drndic. It was reviewed for us by Alan Cheuse.

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