Literary life and death in Croatia

With 4,5 million inhabitants Croatia is a small market. And it is getting smaller. Over the last few years, Croatia has witnessed an annual natural increase of about -10.000 (minus ten thousand). That's a quarter of Dubrovnik's population. If nothings changes, the Slovenes will outnumber the Croats in the future.
The Croatian population is now about the size of Ireland's. That is probably they only thing the two countries have in common. Ireland is booming, dynamic, thriving. Croatia, on the other hand, is slowly dying. Recent research shows Croats are among the most pessimistic peoples in the world. One out of four well educated young people leaves the country. The Croatian economy takes a bottom spot in European competitiveness and liberty. People take loans to go skiing and use credit cards for daily shopping. Croatia's internal and external debt is staggeringly high. How long can this go on? All ingredients for a major crisis seems present, yet not much has happened. It's a miracle. It's got to go wrong one day.
I got into this pessimistic mood when I saw the (domestic) bestsellers top-20 in Jutarnji list. The bestselling book of 2008, Naš čovjek na terenu, written by Robert Perišić, sold 1904 copies. Only ten books broke the magic number of 1000 copies. Not more than 484 buyers were needed to make Drago Britvić the 20th best selling domestic author of Croatia.
Is it safe to say that the Croatian literary scene is dead? Even a world famous Croatian author as Slavenka Drakulić sold no more than 1601 copies of her Frida ili o boli (translated as Frida's bed) which won her the second place on the ranking. I wonder if the situation in other ex-Yugoslav republics is better or worse.
Foreign non-fiction is much more popular. The best sold book (20203 copies) is Rhonda Byrne's The Secret. As The Secret is new to me, I quote from Wikipedia: "The Secret is a book that presents what is claimed to be a centuries-old technique of the Law of Attraction, which in essence is the power of an individual's positive thinking to change and influence outcomes in their lives. The book claims that by using the "Laws of Attraction", an individual can become wealthier, healthier, and happier. The "Laws of Attraction" are the "secret" that the title of the book suggests to the reader. The book claims that the secrets outlined in the book have been known by famous and influential people for centuries, but that they have conspired to keep these secrets hidden from the general public for their own benefit."
Unbelievable that such crap sells better than the combined top-20 of literary authors in this country. I suddenly understand why Slavenka Drakulić and Dubravka Ugrešić live abroad.

4 reacties:

Ádám said...

Sorry, Boris, I dont share your apocalyptic vision on the future of Croatian literature, because it is everywhere like this, ok, in the USA nad UK not. You should be more careful with such harsh statements.
By the way, S.D. and D.U. left Croatia because of the fall of Yugoslavia, the war madness and the nationalistic attacks from the media and the Tudjman-regime. Regards,
Adam Walko

Boris Levalle said...

@Ádám
True, Drakulić and Ugrešič did not leave Croatia because of bad sales, but I do believe the situation here is worse than in Western-European countries of similar size. And it's not just a matter of book sales, but also of the role of literature in general. Writers in Croatia live a marginal life (many work as journalists to survive). That's not just because Croatia is a small country, but mainly because reading is not considered important. Very little is done to make the world of books attractive. Walk into a Croatian public library and you'll see what I mean.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's unbelievable. Self-help crap is global bestsellers, The Secret: "book achieved high sales after being featured in two episodes of Oprah, whereafter the book reached the top of the New York Times bestseller list and the film based on the book reached #1 on the sales charts on Amazon.com" (Wikipedia)

This is the same as Feng Shui crap, or "Money tree", "Money cat" things.

All-time bestsellers in Croatia are "sanjarice", books that contain supposed explanations of dreams, such as "if one dreams about a tooth falling out, one may get unexpected visitor" and so. Google for "sanjarica", such as http://www.mozaik-knjiga.hr/article.aspx?articleid=473

Daniel N.

bathmate said...

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bathmate