On the Docket: The Survival League by Gordan Nuhanovic (Translated by Julienne Eden Busic)

Genre: Short Fiction

Source: Ooligan Press

Publisher’s Plot Blurb:

In the wake of war and political strife, where can normalcy be found? Croatian author Gordan Nuhanovic delves past the politics and into the people with the stories that make up The Survival League. English lawns, caffeinated punks, male pattern baldness – all parts of the everyday life that Nuhanovic’s characters observe or reclaim. These are tales of survivors, not only of war, but of life and its spectrum from the mundane to the insane.

First Impressions: I feel rather sheepish admitting that I started reading this book, a cinch at 125 pages, in September of 2010. However, in my defense, I’m easily distracted. Nuhanovic is a fabulous and funny writer but, for whatever reason, I got sidetracked by other reading projects. We all know how overloaded my TBR pile has become… so it was easily lost in the literary noise.

Regardless, all is well with the world once again because I have finally found the time to finish reading Nuhanovic’s wonderful collection of unique short stories. Now, if you decide to pick up a copy of The Survival League, you’ll notice that there is one slight difference between this and other collections of short fiction. It’s a very slight difference, you might not even notice: the author has introduced each story with a brief paragraph explaining, in rather witty and comedic language, his inspiration for what you are about to read. Most notable is Nuhanovic’s explanation preceding “The Barefoot Temptation:”

The people running the country I live in often emphasize the fact that Croatia, along with Poland, the late Pope John Paul II’s country of birth, is the most Catholic country in Europe. They are probably right about that. Forty-five years of official atheism left scarcely a trace on our nation; the large population of former atheists has almost completely died out. Wherever you turn, there are new churches, religious processions, and, in the media, priests with the status of pop stars. I admit this all caught me a bit unprepared. In 1999, a skinny guy in a white shirt and narrow, old-fashioned black tie suddenly appeared and laid siege to my house. I listened courteously to him as he warned me, in a private session, that the sins of mankind were leading us to a final Judgment Day. He misconstrued my courtesy for a desire to join the Jehova’s Witnesses. Although he had wasted his time with me, I hadn’t wasted mine with him. Our session resulted in the story “The Barefoot Temptation.”

This sardonic, witty introduction is only a taste of Nuhanovic’s sarcastic sense of observation. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with his characters, his quirky imagination, and unusual folklore. I also learned a great deal about the blossoming Croatian culture, which is still enjoying the expansion of urban sprawl. Rock music, odd obsessions with pristine, well manicured English lawns, and (don’t ask) gallstones become interesting symbols of normalcy. Although war and paranoia are still present within the stories, the reader is left with the impression that this violent consciousness is slowly evaporating.

Final Verdict: If you only had fifteen minutes to spend on this book, which I hope isn’t the case because it’s totally worth your time, but one of the best stories in this collection is “Something about Daisies.” It follows Beba, a woman who is totally preoccupied with having a perfectly green, air raided front lawn. I laughed out loud when she ventures past the Hungarian boarder in an attempt to purchase a special machine that could get rid of the weed-like daisies that keep cropping up on her lawn. The hijinks continue when she can’t understand or communicate a word of Hungarian, and is then confronted by her husband, who suspects she’s having an affair. Endlessly funny. Give it a go!

A Note on Accents: After consulting a list of Alt codes, I simply could not get the proper accents to function. My apologies to those who recognize that both the author’s name and translator’s name (Nuhanovic and Busic, respectively) are missing a few important linguistic accessories.