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Drago Jančar – a European storyteller in the Slovenian language

Writer, playwright and essayist Drago Jančar is the most translated and awarded Slovenian author. Four Kresnik Awards for his novels, the Prešeren Prize for his oeuvre, the Herder Prize and the Austrian State Prize for European Literature are only some of the accolades he has earned. He draws inspiration from history and life in all its nuances. His books remind us of what happens when a national border turns into a frontline overnight.

Drago Jančar

Drago Jančar | Author Anže Malovrh/STA

The central topics of his novels are the individual's existential and moral crisis, the search for meaning and support, the individual's endangerment and hopeless conflict with the social reality, the stifling spiritual atmosphere, fatalism, destructive power games, the chaotic state of the world and ever-present violence, all of which are often allegorically set in the past. For years, Jančar's writing has been fighting against narrow-mindedness and calling attention to the dangers of one-dimensionality. His works discuss the political twists and turns of the 20th century, depicting totalitarianism as something that works against the interests of people. At the same time, the author portrays people in all their complexity and diversity.

He is a four-time winner of the Kresnik Award for the novels Catherine, the Peacock and the Jesuit, Ringing in the Head, That Night I Saw Her and And Love Itself. The French translation of the latter won the award for best foreign book, as chosen by the association of French critics and publishers, and was nominated for the French literary prize Prix Femina. In December 2015, the German translation topped the ORF critics' choice list of best books. That same year, the novel was a candidate for the Polish literary prize Angelus, awarded to Central European authors, for which Jančar had already been nominated with his novel Catherine, the Peacock and the Jesuit.

Drago Jančar with the prize in his hands stands on stage.

Jančar has won a total of four Kresnik Awards for novel of the year, most recently for And Love Itself in 2018. | Author Anže Malovrh/STA

An eternal search for meaning

In his mostly critical or polemical essays and non-fiction writings, Jančar considers the current social reality in Slovenia and the world, laying bare the image of humanity, time and social conflicts, discovering the extended past and its roots, studying the cynical distance, dissecting the state of the mind, cultural politics and literatures, exposing the reality of the post-Communist world, demystifying illusions and considering globalisation, American influences, European perspectives and the essence of Central Europe.

His plays, which include Dissident Arnož and His Band, The Great Brilliant Waltz, Daedalus, Klement's Fall and After Godot, analyse the conflicts of contemplative individuals in the light of individualism, will, ethics, scepticism, totalitarianism, bourgeois society and the revolutionary community.

Jančar is also the author of novellas and short stories, such as Death at Mary-of-the-Snows and The Man Who Looked into a Tarn, recently published in a collection entitled Many Lives.

According to literary historian Aleksander Zorn, Jančar's prose is "a problem" because "it covers more or less everything that comes along". Jančar is "a colossus of many literary genres, aesthetics, poetics and foreign practices, even geographical areas, and he deserves no other classification than a classic of the century [...]". "Drago Jančar is universal. His works have everything that one looks for. And one cannot help but agree."

Drago Jančar has a wreath on his head.

Drago Jančar is a four-time winner of the Kresnik award. | Author Anže Malovrh/STA

Four Kresnik Awards for best novel

Jančar has won a total of four Kresnik Awards for novel of the year, most recently for And Love Itself in 2018. On midsummer night 201,1 when he earned his third Kresnik Award for That Night I Saw Her, the jury wrote that Jančar's novel represents "one of the best literary texts about Slovenians entangled in World War II and interpersonal relationships". The story "about a few years in the life and mysterious disappearance of Veronika Zarnik, a young bourgeois woman from Ljubljana, sucked into the whirlwind of a turbulent period in history", is now considered the best novel of the third decade of the Kresnik Awards, according to both current and previous jury members.

Jančar’s11th novel, And Love Itself (published by Beletrina), was his fourth work to receive the Kresnik Award presented on Rožnik Hill by the newspaper publisher Delo for the best Slovenian novel of the past year. As the laureate stressed in his acceptance speech, the novel had waited some time to be published.

The novel is an intertwinement of stories about three people affected and broken by World War II. The thought that truly captures the essence of the novel is that war conquers all, even love and poetry. "I wrote about the evil that had descended on the town, the land and its people. With each sentence, it was becoming clear to me that I was writing about how to survive in a time like that. Not only that, but how, in a time of hate, the most powerful feeling still remains – and that is love. For love is as powerful as death, hard as the underground is its ardour, its blazes are the blazes of fire," said Jančar upon accepting the award. The novel illustrates what is most difficult to put into words – how people, who are sensitive but not necessarily ethical beings, deal or fail to deal with extreme historical circumstances. To the greatest possible extent, the book speaks to one's empathy, making the reader become the victim of torture in a Gestapo prison, a Partisan in the forests of Pohorje, a person suspected of treason or an internee in a concentration camp. And Love Itself is yet further proof of Jančar's narrative and stylistic mastery.

Author: Vesna Žarkovič