20th Mar 2012
Trieste by Dasa Drndic
This novel should come with a precursor similar to those found on ominous metal signs earmarking high speed rollercoasters.
From front to back the reader is bombarded with a harrowing mishmash of memories from a multitude of minds, a haunting series of recollections and testimonies stemming from a history violated by the criminal atrocities administered by Benito Mussolini, and Adolf Hitler.
The novels main and consistent motif of the fickle and malleable nature of history is beautifully interwoven throughout the books formal and thematic fabric.
From the first few pages, we are presented with a detailed copy of a family tree, which, like a self fulfilling prophecy, unfolds before our eyes as the novel gets underway.
We are lead by the hand down through the generations, as the family clamber their way through the punitive vortex of the Second World War.
The novel in parts could almost pass as a nonfictional history book, giving detailed accounts of the rise of Fascism, its relationship with Nazism, steadily followed by a cacophony of accounts describing the rise and the fall of Hitler’s great vision.
The novels protagonist Haya Tedeschi, is a fascinating woman. Born in 1923, Haya lives through her formative years as an adolescent of Fascism, and a young woman of Nazism.
Living within the occupied territories in Gorzia, Italy, the novel builds itself around this fragile girl, creating a fortress around her character with snippets of history: ‘She takes out letters…photographs, postcards, newspaper clippings, magazines…she arranges her existence.’
Although the content of the novel is often too harrowing to absorb in one session, the beauty of Drndic’s work is found in the stylistic facets which subtly compliment the context.
The phrase, ‘never judge a book by its cover’ is proved redundant in Trieste’s case, as the red vertical channels that drip from the ends of the letters in the title, falling and kink before dropping off of the page, are synonymous with the sentence structure, and reoccurring motifs.
Haya Tedeschi, along with her past and future family members, have their identities firmly fractured by the effects of World War Two. Coming from a Jewish father, Haya lives her life in the shadows of a stationary shop, where she meets and falls in love with an SS official.
Everything she thinks feels and hopes for is forbidden, resulting in the quivering empty shell of her former self that we witness as the story opens.
Like the design on the novels front cover, the ebb and flow of a liberal life is disrupted, punctured, and transforms characters such as the Tedeschis into quivering bystanders, hopelessly trying to ignore the murder of millions of innocent people.
Drndic’s characters regularly make references to chocolate, a luxury item that is renowned to derive from areas that became occupied territories.
The novel acts as a case study, exemplifying how the human race, like chocolate, has the potential to be melted down and re-cast into a different shape.
Recommended for: Adults with an interest in historical fiction