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Historical novel set in Split, in the former YUGOSLAVIA

21st May 2024

Split by Alida Bremer, novel set in Split in the former YUGOSLAVIA

TR: Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp

novel set in Split, in the former YUGOSLAVIA

The setting is Split, Yugoslavia in 1936. Europe is on the brink of war, though that eventuality is not yet certain. There is an atmosphere of suspicion, as well as social and political upheaval. It’s summer and the population of the ancient city of Split is swelled by many visitors, from tourists and film makers to political agitators and possibly even spies. Alongside the harbour, the corpse of Darko Barić is found among the fishing nets. Police Superintendent Bulat begins to investigate.

Split by Alida Bremer is a gem of a book and we examine both the crime and the city itself through its facets. It is not a fast-paced book and if that’s what you’re looking for, it might not be to your taste. Instead, slow right down and luxuriate in its prose – beautifully written and expertly translated – taking time to savour the sense of place and of the period in which it is set. You’ll learn much about the politics of the time, ancient history and the traditions of this Adriatic city. Food, in particular, is raised to a religious level of importance, with police investigations and other activities taking second place to the daily rituals of savouring traditional delicacies.

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The pursuit of the guilty party by Superintendent Bulat seems haphazard and proceeds at a pedestrian pace. Suspicions fall by turn on the Communists, Italian nationalists, Freemasons Fascists and Nazis. Or could the motive be not political but a personal grievance or an affair of the heart? There is precious little evidence to start with, so the key police tactic is to wait and see what happens. The minutiae of daily life for the inhabitants of Split makes up the majority of the text, which is what makes this a rich, informative and fascinating novel. Alongside this is a sardonic humour, which made me quite gleeful.

The book has a vast cast of characters and a helpful list at the beginning helps to keep track of them all. As befits such a cosmopolitan city, there is also an abundance of languages, including Latin, Italian and German. I love that the translator retains many key words and phrases in their original languages and also translates them instantly – so there’s no need to go looking for glossaries or skipping to footnotes. Some of the themes, such as refugees fleeing persecution and boat people, are just as relevant to Europe today as they were nearly one hundred years ago.

This book is neither a tome nor a chore, but it is worth taking your time reading it in order to extract every bit of the author’s carefully researched goodness from it – you will be well rewarded.

Sue for the TripFiction Team

Catch our reviewer Sue on TwitterX @SueKelsoRyan and on IG @SueKelosRyan

Catch the author on TwitterX @alida_bremer

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