Book review: In the room with the wolf

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“When my country collapsed, I was on a swing.
My mother shouted from her window, “Wait, hold on”. (page 1)

With these spare lines, Dinić opens this collection, immediately transporting us to the exact moment her world disintegrates – and foreshadowing the strength and courage she will need to survive.

Torn by war, Yugoslavia split into its constituent republics in the early 1990s and when the smoke cleared, Dinić’s childhood world was gone. After moving to Australia in 1993, she spoke several languages, none of which was English. The shelves she left were filled with works by masters of Serbian, Croatian and Russian literature, names she lists with the familiarity of her friends.

“Don’t you understand the past?
You had a house.
You had friends.

Remember the names:
Dragisa, Ljubisa
Dragoslav, Miroslav
Gustav, Fyodor or Anton. (page 3)

Jelena Dinić.

Dinić writes in a succinct and deceptively simple style, reminiscent of another great name in Serbian literature – Vasko Popa. Like Popa, Dinić’s work is rich in a mixture of allusions to fairy tales from the Balkans and details of the domestic, mythological and everyday realms in constant interaction. Whether writing about his Yugoslav childhood, his memories of lost landscapes and family, or his new family in the Adelaide Hills, Dinić’s distinctive voice evokes a dreamlike world in which grandfathers speak in epigrams, children possess a strange insight and the ordinary contains the mythical in how an acorn contains the oak.

With a clarity that belies its depth, Dinić’s writing can evoke an entire landscape and its traditions with a single stanza, each word being invested with several layers of meaning.

“When I visit my village
only well water
is still alive. “(page 75)

Reading these poems is much more than a glimpse into the heartache, dislocation and struggles of a migrant fleeing war. It is looking through the eyes of a woman for whom language is the key to building a new home from the traditions and memories of her past.

Dinić’s ease with puns and painstakingly observed detail that speaks to grander themes is a hard-earned skill that comes from years spent between languages ​​and cultures, watching, listening and sifting with fierce intelligence. .

Powerful, playful and deep, it’s easy to see why this collection won Dinić the Unpublished Manuscript Award at the Adelaide Festival 2019. Reading these poems is like looking into a still pond, the longer you look, the more depths revealed are great.

In the room with the wolf is published by Wakefield Press.

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.

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