Miljenko Jergović (born 1966) is a Bosnian-Herzegovinian and Croatian prose writer. Jergović currently lives and works in Zagreb, Croatia, having moved there in 1993.
Born in Sarajevo, SR Bosnia and Herzegovina, SFR Yugoslavia, Jergović is one of the most colorful figures of the public scene, polemicist without mincing words that slowly turns into a star of European literature. He is not shy to discuss about literature, the differences between Zagreb and Sarajevo, Kusturica and Aralica, Ivan Lovrenović and those who attacked him, and about how Sarajevo today, and how it (once) or is not any (now). Miljenko Jergović already set up in the pose of the classics, which do not tolerate human weakness, moral deviation and ideological diversion.
Jergović received his M.A. in literature from the Sarajevo University. While at high-school, he started working as a journalist in printed and electronic media, as a contributor to literary and youth magazines, and was soon recognized as Croatia’s media correspondent from Sarajevo. Jergović is one of the most widely read and translated writers of the younger generation in the South Slav region. Only 3% of translated books are translated into English, while the rest are English to other languages. Out of 134,000 books published every year in the United States, only 300 are literary translations. One New York literary press, Archipelago, selected Miljenko Jergovic’s work in their efforts to locate literary talent worldwide. Critics praise his storytelling skills, his ability to create a compelling atmosphere, his lyricism and his sentimentality, his immersion in history and his ability to incorporate tradition into contemporary prose. Some critics, however, consider his later works to be too lengthy, too insistent on the intertwining of different nations’ destinies, as well as too arbitrary. They believe that the voice of the omniscient narrator is too pronounced. Praised or criticized, Jergovic is doubtlessly one of the most important contemporary writers in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. He has received numerous literary awards, both domestic and foreign.
Jergović has written in his novels and stories about his great grandfather with German roots and his family, about his uncle who was sent by the parents to the enemy army and died as an enemy soldier, and about other important and not so important figures from his childhood. He mixed fact and fiction, brought them to life and extended their lives. He has told their stories many times in many places and forms, because he cannot detach himself from his identity,
of the guilty conscience that is passed on from one generation to the next, just as I add to my own national identity. I am such and such a Croat, but also such and such a person. Often, collective national and even religious identity is not encapsulated in a name. Often to be a Catholic goes against the widely held notion and identity of Catholics.
Miljenko Jergović, a literary phenomenon whose writing must be considered, primarily because he writes with bitter irony, easily avoiding the courts and sentimental nostalgia. In his books Jergovic filters through the consciousness of the social catastrophe that has affected everyone, without exception - in which anyone could become a victim and tormentor. On the other hand, his writing is rare novel style for readers who appreciate a sophisticated art of storytelling. Jergovic is a master of digression, which descends from the mainstream, as it is a pity that the story would remain in dusty corners. So the story of tradesman that things have turned out several dozen toilets Saudi prince overlaid plates, an accountant who is obsessed with breaking the codes for the lottery, an attacker FC fighter who was so lazy to nap while his colleagues are building an action, the decades of silence prisoners with Goli, camp for those who have strayed from Tito's political views. These anecdotes are tempered by a special collection of stories – fiction.
Jergović books is reminiscent of another famous writer from ex Yugoslavia, Danilo Kis, with his passion for mystification, confusion clue, mixing fiction and reality. Some of them recall the political novels and Mario Vargas Llosa, or "The Museum of Innocence" by Orhan Pamuk. In short - it is world class. And when it comes to literature that approaches the truth about the fate of Yugoslavia's dead, there is no other.
Jergović is also a journalist and has published a collection of his articles in the acclaimed Historijska čitanka (A Reader in History, 1996).
Jergović writes a column in the Serbian daily Politika, for Vreme magazine and a regular column in the Croatian daily Jutarnji list entitled Sumnjivo lice (trans. "suspicious character", lit. "suspicious face"). Jergović has espoused various liberal stances in his columns, including a criticism of chauvinism among what is usually considered the liberal left and an unusually open support for a liberal political candidate.
His more acclaimed works include his debut Opservatorija Varšava (Warsaw Observatory), 1988. Everyday topics, lyrical narrativity and simplicity of expression were manifest in the following book of poetry (Uči li noćas netko u ovom gradu japanski?, Sarajevo: NIP Zadruga, 1990), as well as in the bilingual edition of the same collection in the war-ridden Sarajevo (Himmel Comando, translated into English by Mario Suško, Sarajevo: Svjetlost, 1992).
His short-stories, published in various newspapers, were collected to make his first published prose work, Sarajevski Marlboro (Zagreb, Durieux, 1994). The collection has been translated into many languages. Stories about war in Sarajevo along with their author’s private, nostalgic recollections of the past, focus on the evocative atmosphere and sad destinies of urban heroes who are often some kind of tragic doubles of their idols from the West. Stylistically reminiscent of Raymond Carver, who is one of Jergovic’s literary models, these short stories, often with no dialogue in them, told in the first person singular mode, are anticlimatic and muted, especially when it comes to their endings. Individual and group tragedies happening throughout the history of this region, a subject to which the author recurrently returns, are present in his following collection of short-stories entitled Karivani (Zagreb: Durieux, 1995). In the forty stories which cover the period from the 19th century to the present day, in the manner of Bosnian oral tradition and Franciscan friars’ chronicles, but also influenced by Ivo Andrić, Danilo Kiš and Borges, he offers us some kind of legends about “little”, “ordinary” people in Bosnia, who are often unaware of the meaning of their own destinies. A touch of the surreal in these stories is achieved through a mixture of dreams and reality, underlined by some kind of hallucinatory atmosphere.
In 2003 Jergović attracted the attention of readers and literary critics with his long novel (700 pages) entitled Dvori od oraha (Zagreb: Durieux, 2003). In the genre of a slightly modified historical novel (inverted narration and chapter lay-out), this novel is a chronicle of a Dubrovnik family, but it also covers parts of Herzegovina and Bosnia, as well as some other European cities, while in terms of period it starts with the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1878, covers the downfall of the two empires, the two world wars, the rise and fall of socialism and ends just before the war of 1991. In this micro-space and all along its restless history, the lives of heroes of the three religions (Croatian-Catholic, Serbian-Orthodox, Bosnian-Muslim) are constantly intertwined. Ceaseless wars, in which siblings fight on opposing sides, are primarily seen through a number of female characters, women who are safekeepers of their family and their hearth. Pointing out that the nineteen stories of the Inšallah Madona, Inšallah collection (Zagreb: Durieux, 2004) are really a "remix of the Bosnian sevdalinka and the three Dalmatian klapa songs", Jergović has produced a work which combines different traditions: that of the oriental sevdalinka belonging to the category of sentimental and bittersweet Bosnian urban songs and the a cappella singing of male groups (klapa) from Dalmatia, the southern coastal region of Croatia. The real and the fantastic, legends and history are often interwoven in the stories, while the language is full of Turkish words. One of the characteristics of Jergović's style is that he does not use the Croatian literary language, but a mixture of Bosnian street idiom and various other dialectal modes of expression. Jergovic’s novel Gloria (Zagreb: Europapress Holding, 2005), immersed in history as well, consists of three narrative lines. The three stories are told by three narrators: a friar who writes a chronicle of a monastery in the 18th century Bosnia, a RAF pilot who tells his story about the 1945 bombing of Sarajevo by the Allies, and the 1991 war shelter guard who witnesses the telling of the two stories. Key themes of the book are religion, history, ideology and power.
Newspaper articles in which Jergovic polemically analyzed society in general as well as in particular, published in various Croatian newspapers, were collected in the book Naci bonton (Zagreb: Durieux, 1998), while his nostalgic columns – memories of pre-war life from the Sarajevo magazine "Dani" – were collected in two books entitled Historijska čitanka I i II (Zagreb-Sarajevo: Zoro, sv. I 2000, sv. II 2004). The short-story collection Mama Leone (Zagreb: Durieux, 1999) consists mostly of autobiographical childhood memories, told from a child's point of view, and – to a smaller degree – of various life stories of people caught up in the Balkan war tornado.
His novel Buick Riviera was made into a movie in 2008 by filmmaker Goran Rušinović, and the two were in turn awarded the Golden Arena for Best Screenplay. According to the author himself, it is a "novella" set in North American countryside, dealing with the conflict of a Serbian refugee from Bosnia, probably a war criminal, and a Muslim refugee who had spent twenty years in the United States of America. Its heroes, who always carry with them their native lore, their religion and their mentality, though they have numerous reasons for feelings of love and understanding of others, become victims of their own inability to rise above their national background, above their old hatreds and the burden of historical conflicts.
Miljenko Jergovic wrote another novel or “documented diary” - “Volga, Volga”, a book about car and his driver. This is a complicated story about guilt and death, the Yugoslav war and internal conflicts. And as is Jergovic great storyteller, he starts with what the outside: Volga is not only black but glossy black like the piano. Reading the book makes reader realize the main effect of storytelling: war destroys, stories are kept. Focal characteristics of the book are desire and strangeness, sadness and anger. Jergović’ car is a"documentary fantasy" and the story is about the generation living a lie. Jergović’ Yugoslavia lost in dreams of acting, the desire for truth is opposed illusions and dreams, lies and legends. Jergovic the master of melancholy presents driving as a journey into the past, awakens memories of the companions, the times of sadness and loneliness. Central figure in the novel is Jalal Pljevljak, who is the experienced driver and a Muslim believer, whose faith prohibits the consumption of alcohol, drunk, and so risked disaster. Although the reader gets the key to a mysterious accident, second impression prevails much greater issue: the uncertainty about where the boundaries between fact, facts, legends, dreams and lies. The truth about things, it shows the contrasting perspectives of game storytelling, not just a matter of personal integrity and identity. Thus, the author briefly illuminates the history of the former Yugoslavia. As the scene of religious, ethnic and political relations and conflict former multinational federation determines the flow and actions, so, for example, accused Pljevljak, for example, both Croat and Muslim. At the end of the wars in the nineties it was very popular among intellectuals and yellow press to relativize the guilt of the pre-war crime and surrender it to forgetfulness. So, the case Pljevljak for a reader is a metaphor of the fate of the whole country.,
A number of private conflicts in literary circles drew public attention to disagreement among famous writers. Namely, issues in the Croatian Writers' Society created fragmentation and an alleged unjust disqualification of writers on political grounds. Over the course of his career, Jergović was involved in these issues, as were many other noteworthy writers. In October 2002, Jergović was elected to the Croatian Writers' Society board of directors. In 2003, there was criticism that one of CWS founders, Velimir Visković, was judging CWS members on political grounds. This was revealed when Drago Štambuk pointed out Visković's former association with HDZ government. In April 2006, Jergović became involved in a literary dispute with Dražen Katunarić over Jergović's text on Houellebecqu, which Jergović's considered charlatan for being based on the Qur'an. Katunarić said that such texts with a Sarajevan and Islamic basis are not accepted in Zagreb. To which Jergović responded for him to put a gun to his head. This controversy encouraged Zdravko Zima to resign his membership in the Croatian Writers' Society because he felt the leadership wasn't distancing themselves from the attacks on Katunarić. In April 2007, Jergović himself withdrew from CWS. Jergović said that the society contrasted his attitude to Croatian literature and literature in general. A number of other writers cut ties with the association in a similar fashion, including Ivan Lovrenović who resigned because he felt Velimir Visković's disqualification called for the real and symbolic dismissal of Jergović in 2011.
In 2009, Visković made public claims about Jergović reaffirming Chetniks in Serbia and setting out to market books for a Serbian market. Visković made these claims in response to an interview Jergović gave. Some questioned whether the reason for the conflict with Jergović was Visković's life project – the Encyclopedia of Croatian Literature. When CWS members asked Visković to apologize, he refused, citing years of insults to him, his family and other prominent writers.
Began receiving awards early in the age (is not got having reached 22 years of age), Jergovic kept going for bigger challenges and became an important reference when it comes to Croatian and Bosnian questions.
In 1991 he won the prestigious Croatian Veselko Tenžera Journalism Award. His first book of poetry, Opservatorija Varšava (Zagreb: SKUD Ivan Goran Kovačić, 1988), won him the "Goran" award for young poets.
His debut "Opservatorij Varšava" won him the Ivan Goran Kovačić Award (by Vjesnik) and the Mak Dizdar Award. Jergović's 1994 book Sarajevski Marlboro was awarded the Erich-Maria Remarque Peace Prize, and the Ksaver Šandor Gjalski Award.
His short-stories, collected and published as Sarajevski Marlboro won him the "K. Š. Gjalski" Award in 1994. The collection has been translated into many languages and was given the Erich Maria Remarque Peace Award in 1995 and in 2009 the International Award “Literature from the front” in Italy.
Mama Leone was translated into many European languages after the publication of the Italian translation, and received the highly regarded Premio Grinzane Cavour for the best foreign book in Italy in 2003.
In 2003 Jergović’s novel entitled Dvori od oraha got him the "Jutarnji list" Award for the best prose work of the year, as well as the annual award of the Writers' Association of Bosnia and Herzegovina.