We’re glad September has come around so we can write about a much-anticipated Book of the Month: The Hotel Tito by Ivana Bodrožic. A powerful autobiographical novel about the Balkan War, the book is being published simultaneously in the US and the UK by Seven Stories Press – it’s the publisher’s first UK title under their new British imprint. We first heard about the novel in 2015; it was presented to us as one of the most exciting works of translated fiction to have come out of the Balkans in decades, and it hasn’t disappointed. With many in the UK holding a strong interest in the region, and translated fiction being an ongoing trend (August marked Women in Translation month in the UK) we can expect much from The Hotel Tito.
The book begins in 1991, in the small Croatian town of Vukovar, where the 9-year old protagonist is being sent away to the coast to escape the approaching hostilities. When she returns at the end of summer, everything changes. In the autumn, Vukovar is besieged by the Yugoslav’s People’s Army for 87 days. When the army breaks the siege, people come out from basements where they’ve been sheltering from the bombardment; women and children are allowed to leave the town, but 400 men are taken to a farm on the outskirts and murdered. The narrator’s father is among those men, although she doesn’t know this.
After fleeing the warzone the town has become, the family is housed at a former communist school in the village of Kumrovec – the birthplace of Josip Tito – along with many other refugees. For 6 years they share a single room barely big enough to house three beds. While they wait for news of their father, life continues quite as normal. We see the central character grow from a child to a teenage girl; typical in many ways, complicated in others. First loves come and go; new friendships are discovered and lost. Her insightful voice and self-deprecating sense of humour make The Hotel Tito at once heartbreaking, moving and funny; the protagonist’s voice is one that gets inside your head and stays there.
This protagonist is, of course, read as Ivana Bodrožic the whole way through. The Hotel Tito is described as an autobiographical novel – from Bodrožic’s biography we know that she was indeed a displaced person during the war, and she did live in the hotel in Kumrovec. But the book doesn’t read strictly like memoir; Bodrožic’s sparse, lively prose, translated by award-winning translator Ellen Elias-Bursac, is as striking as that in a work of fiction, although the story is rooted firmly in truth.
Bodrožic is a rising star on the Croatian literary scene. A 2005 poetry collection, The First Step into Darkness, was well-received, and The Hotel Tito, published in 2010 in Croatia as Hotel Zagorie, received high praise from both critics and readers and became a national bestseller, winning a number of awards in Croatia and the Balkan region. When the book was published in France it was awarded the Prix Ulysee for Best Debut novel. The Seven Stories Press edition, published on 21 September in the UK, is the first time the book will be available in English. It has already garnered impressive praise:
“Wonderful, touching, and terrifying writing.” – Sebastian Barry
“Bodrožić has a knack for noticing. Seamlessly, she taps into the perceptiveness of the child’s-eye-view and casts it on the page in crystalline form. To shape these minute details into a smooth and compelling read is a testament to Bodrožić’s talent, a facility mirrored by the capable hands of Elias-Bursac.” – Sara Nović, author of Girl at War (Little Brown, 2015)
“Ivana Bodrožić’s Hotel Tito is powerful tale of human resilience. Dripping with authenticity. Heartbreaking, horrific, but ultimately redemptive. An instant classic. Not just an anti-war novel but a human novel. Wonderful writing and personal insight make Hotel Tito a unique kind masterpiece. A must-read testimony to the human spirit.” – Eoin Colfer, bestselling author of the Artemis Fowl series
“Powerful and moving.” – Jim Sheridan, acclaimed director
We’re expecting this level of interest to continue. The Balkans War is still so recent that it remains of great importance and interest to UK readers; we are living in a time when many of the children of war are becoming grown-ups, offering fresh voices to the literature that already exists. Coming strongly to UK bookshops at a time when women in translation is a loud subject in the book industry, The Hotel Tito couldn’t be better placed for UK publication.
The Hotel Tito is published by Seven Stories Press on 21st September 2017 (£9.99, Paperback, 9780995580701)