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The deer wedding - Penny Simpson

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The deer wedding
Penny Simpson
Paperback / softback
UK Publication Date

Set in Split, Zagreb and Hvar in the Forties and the Nineties, sculptor Antun and student Dagmar are separately seeking truths about their parents. The novel explores how a country like Croatia could implode into violence; how history is still a living (and unspent) force for many, and how, when so much has been destroyed, may a future re-emerge.

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"Compelling, humane... a novel of remarkable delicacy and power.... Its central subject - how personal and collective histories mesh - has never been more vital."
Michael Symmons Roberts

The Deer Wedding is a novel set in Croatia, spanning two generations, two brutal wars and the controversial histories of two very special works of art, as a sculptor and a student both seek truths about their parents. Antun belongs to 1941, the time of the first Independent State of Croatia, and Dagmar, 1998, when a second attempt at independence was forged, following the Balkan War of 1992 - 1995. Can a country torn apart by civil war ever know peace? Was the price paid for independence really worth it?

In 1941, artist Antun
Fiskovic experiences a sea-change in his fortunes following the revelation of the identity of his real parents, just as occupying forces take over the government of his country. Fifty years later, a young woman called Dagmar Petric begins a search for answers to the suicide of her father, a disgraced journalist in Tito's Jugoslavia. Antun and Dagmar's stories come together in 1998, in a newly independent Croatia, three years after civil war has torn apart the countries of the former Yugoslavia.

The citizens of the newly-independent Croatia are asking questions about its future; most urgently: can a country ravaged by war ever move beyond the dogma of vengeance? Dagmar learns that Antun met with her father just weeks before the latter died, a chance discovery that sets her on a collision course with what she thought she knew of her family.

But what happens when the dead come to life? This is the question that haunts both protagonists, a question that is only answered when Antun breaks his silence over the bitter legacy of a wartime killing by Branko Ostojic, a childhood friend and partizani hero, as the sculptor prepares for his retrospective.

Set in Zagreb and late Nineties Hvar - a former tourist paradise now home to war refugees - this novel interweaves public and private history to explore violence, family secrets and personal as well as national reconciliation.
Publisher: Alcemi

Penny Simpson's spellbinding debut novel, The Banquet of Esther Rosenbaum, was published to widespread acclaim, receiving excellent reviews in the most prestigious of literary journals, including the TLS. It's a hard act to follow but, if anything, The Deer Wedding surpasses its predecessor, confirming Simpson as a fine literary storyteller with political edge.

Once again, Simpson's narrative unfolds within the context of the ravages of war and ethnic hatred, this time in Croatia and the former Yugoslavia, with the two intertwined tales taking place in Split in the 1930s and Zagreb in 1998. These are relatively peaceful interstices that provide an opportunity for people to come to terms with past horrors and lay ghosts to rest before they are engulfed by yet more violence and turmoil. In Zagreb in 1998, Dagmar hears a tape-recording of her dead journalist father's interview with reclusive artist, Antun Fiskovic, whose iconic painting of a Croatian fisherwoman is about to take centre stage in a major retrospective. It is clear from the outset that all is swathed in mystery and that long-held secrets and distortions of the truth are about to be revealed.

The novel is initially challenging as the narrative shifts from one voice to another and between periods, embracing a fairly large cast of characters and a range of historical and fictional events, but it quickly gathers impetus as the connections are made. There are soft echoes of the magic realism that infused parts of The Banquet of Esther Rosenbaum, and Antun Fiskovic has some of Esther's mythic proportions, but the overall tone here is more muted, and more effective for it. Personal and universal themes are skilfully interwoven and embodied in the symbolic wedding of the title: "It's all about the need for reconciliation, for the lost to be found, and for that story and meaning to be passed on."

The Deer Wedding is certainly a story to be passed on and one that would bear any number of re-readings to mine its many layers of meaning.
Suzy Ceulan Hughes @

Keyword Index
Artists - Croatia - Fiction.|Family secrets - Fiction.|Croatia - History - Fiction.
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