Josip Novakovich, reading with introduction by Victoria N. Alexander

Friday Oct. 25, 2002

Croatian-born Novakovich has published numerous works of fiction, including, Yolk and Salvation and Other Disasters. He received the Whiting Writer’s Award (1997), Guggenheim Fellowship (1999), two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships (1991 and 2002), and a fellowship at The New York Public Library’s Center for Scholars and Writers in 2001/02. Novakovich also teaches in the English Department at Penn State University.

Introduction by Victoria N. Alexander

Despite the fact that Novakovich may write about what he knows, immigrant life or life in Croatia, I consider what he writes, “stories” (not fantasy) but not so-called slice of life fiction. I think his stories are concerned with an artfulness in a way that much of contemporary fiction is not. They may remind you myths. I want to make a comparison to one myth in particular, Oedipus Rex, not in terms of content but in terms of plot structure.
It has to do with the way he uses chance and coincidence. It’s something he does in many stories, but I want to focus on one called, “Crimson.” In that story, a man named Milan is forced to join the Serbian army. He takes part in a siege of a Croatian town. Finally, they take the town, and his captain makes him shoot an unarmed man to prove his loyalty to Serbia. He pulls the trigger for reasons that have more to do with lack of courage than anything else. Later that day, Milan sees his captain raping a Croatian woman, whom he mistakes for his first love, Svetlana because of some slight resemblance. He had been recalling her earlier that day, remembering painful unrequited love, and his lack of courage then too.

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