Mea Culpa: In Drndic's Defence

on Wednesday, August 29, 2012
When I sit down to write a review, I don't for a second imagine that the authors of those books read or care about what I write. Indeed last weekend, at the Sydney Jewish Writers Festival, I opined the vacuum in which we bloggers exist. We struggle to find readers at all, let alone people at the coal face of making literature. So it was both gratifying and, dare I say, awe inspiring to find among this morning's crop of emails one from Dasa Drndic, author of Trieste. You might recall that in my review I discussed the controversy regarding accusations of plagiarism that have been levelled against her. I tried to grapple with the question of whether (or how much) this lessened the value of what is, undoubtedly, an incredible book. After considerable consternation, I concluded that it didn't matter all that much. Trieste was just as glorious a novel whether or not some of it had been appropriated. Nevertheless, Dasa Drndic wanted to set me straight and I am very glad she did. I was wrong and failed to do her justice.

I won't attempt to paraphrase her. Rather you should read the email for yourself. In a world where online spats between reviewers and writers have become disturbingly commonplace, I think Drndic's email exemplifies the way in which an author who disagrees with a review ought to engage with its writer. I commend Dasa Drndic for her grace and, moreover, thank her for her interest.

Dasa Drndic calling. Thank you for understanding my book.

Before I say something about the supposed plagiarism of "Trieste", here is an excerpt from the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo on Gabriel García Márquez winning the lawsuit for a similar "accusation":

" While Márquez has long admitted his book was inspired by Palencia's family history and the murder of Chimento, the author argued that the names and the rest of the book's plot were the fruits of his own imagination." (Similar case with "Trieste", except that I use historical documents, photographs, parts from trials of accused WW II criminals, none of which have anything to do with THE FAMILY whose story I have allegedly "copied")

"In its ruling on Tuesday, the court agreed. 'Hundreds of literary, artistic, and cinematographic works have had as their central story facts from real life, which have been adapted to the creator's perspective, without this being an impediment to [the author's right] to claim economic rights over them.'(In "my case" no one demanded any economic rights, but rather moral satisfaction, which both pleased and distressed me.)

"The court also dismissed Palencia's demand to be credited as a co-author. 'Mr Miguel Reyes Palencia could never have told the story as the writer Gabriel García Márquez did, and could never have employed the literary language that was actually used. The work is characterised by its originality.'

Speaking to the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, Márquez's lawyer, Alfonso Gómez Méndez, celebrated the verdict.

'This ruling is important, because it helps enhance the central thesis, which is valid for literature and art in general, that what matters is the way it presents an object of reality, not reality itself. It's like a woman who poses for a painter [but] then demands half the copyright. She owns her body but the work itself belongs to the painter,' he said."

Some of the facts on which my 480 page novel is based I found on the web in the form of a 16 page linear presentation of events connected to the experiences of a certain family during WW II. There was no copyright restriction to this material, which, by the way, this whole copyright business, will hopefully one day be transformed into a copyleft strategy. When the book went into print I did not think it necessary to mention this fact, but the following editions will carry an explanatory note which will hopefully make THE FAMILY feel better.

Palimpsests, fragments (remember Walter Benjamin), quotations - are the core of modern and post-modern literature. Or, shall we, perhaps, dive more fervently into the pond of flat, linear, saccharine prose and poetry, into shallow constructions called fiction, into fast and easy reading, so compatible with fast eating and fast sexing. And slower and slower thinking.

à la vôtre!

And so I now recommend Trieste without any reservation. It is, to my mind, the standard bearer for post-survivor Holocaust literature and deserves to be read by anyone who cares about humanity, history or reading.


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