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Book cover for The Hotel Tito
Book cover for The Hotel Tito

Translated by Ellen Elias-Bursać

Winner of the Prix Ulysse for best debut novel in France

Winner in Croatia and the Balkan region of the Kočićevo Pero Award, the Josip and Ivan Kozarac Award, and the Kiklop Award for the best work of fiction

When the Croatian War of Independence breaks out in her hometown of Vukovar in the summer of 1991 the narrator of The Hotel Tito is nine years old, nestled within the embrace of family with her father, her mother, and older brother. She is sent to a seaside vacation to be far from the hostilities. Meanwhile, her father has disappeared while fighting with the Croatian forces. By the time she returns at summer’s end everything has changed. Against the backdrop of genocide (the Vukovar hospital massacre) and the devastation of middle class society within the Yugoslav Federation, our young narrator, now with her mother and brother refugees among a sea of refugees, spends the next six years experiencing her own self-discovery and transformation amid unfamiliar surroundings as a displaced person. As she grows from a nine-year old into a sparkling and wonderfully complicated fifteen-year-old, it is as a stranger in her own land.

Applauded as the finest work of fiction to appear about the Yugoslav Wars, Ivana Bodrožić’s The Hotel Tito is at its heart a story of a young girl’s coming of age, a reminder that even during times of war—especially during such times—the future rests with those who are the innocent victims and peaceful survivors.

Book cover for The Hotel Tito
Book cover for The Hotel Tito

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“When something important happens in the literary arena, when a really great book is written, it is well worth pausing for a moment to celebrate it and contemplate the arrival of a magnificent new talent.”

“The story of a child’s survival in inconceivable circumstances. This novel touched me to the core”

“Bodrožić has a knack for noticing. Seamlessly, she taps into the perceptiveness of the child’s-eye-view and casts it on the page in crystalline form. To shape these minute details into a smooth and compelling read is a testament to Bodrožić’s talent, a facility mirrored by the capable hands of Elias-Bursac.”

“Wonderful, touching, and terrifying writing.”

“Ivana Bodrožić’s Hotel Tito is powerful tale of human resilience. Dripping with authenticity. Heartbreaking, horrific, but ultimately redemptive. An instant classic. Not just an anti-war novel but a human novel. Wonderful writing and personal insight make Hotel Tito a unique kind masterpiece. A must-read testimony to the human spirit.”

“Powerful and moving.”

“Drawing on personal experience, Bodrožić is remarkably adept at blending a coming-of-age story about a girl who both knows and doesn’t know what’s happening with a starkly, almost matter-of-factly delivered picture of suffering we should not forget.”

“A young girl is caught in the turmoil of adolescence and war.Drawing on her own family's experiences during Yugoslavia's struggle for independence in the 1990s, poet and fiction writer Bodrožić’(The Hole, 2016, etc.) creates a captivating tale that earned acclaim and literary awards when it was published in Europe. Translated by Elias-Bursa?, the story begins when the slyly observant narrator is 9 and suddenly is sent, with her older brother, from their home in Vukovar, on the Croatian-Serbian border, to the seashore. Although her parents do not explain why, she has "a sneaking feeling it has to do with politics because everybody talks about politics all the time." A few weeks later, the children's mother arrives, but their father remains in Vukovar to defend Croatia against the Serbs, a long siege that ends in the imprisonment—and, the family later learns, the murder—of 400 men, her father among them. The remaining family members become refugees, housed in one shabby room at the former Political School in Kumrovec, which they sardonically dub the Hotel Tito, after longtime Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito, a native of that city. Living on a meager displaced family's allowance, they find a community consisting only of other refugees. Repeatedly, they petition the government for an apartment. "Believe me," the mother writes, "it is much harder for the families of the missing because there are things we can never accept, and the uncertainty is crushing us." Equally crushing is widespread disdain toward refugees. Against the backdrop of political news and rumors, the narrator grows up, setting aside Barbie dolls for disco clubs, dealing with jealousy, hurt feelings, her brother's volatile anger, her mother's depression, and her own mysterious emotions. "How cool it was to be all melancholy and sighs," she reflects. Desperate to leave the Hotel Tito, she is elated when her excellent grades make her eligible for a fine secondary school in the capital city of Zagreb. In the new setting, though beset by grief and fear, she is buoyed by hope.Tragic history conveyed with honesty and candor.”

blog — May 07

New Books in Translation from Croatia and Poland

Hailing from Croatia and Poland, our two latest literary fiction releases, in their own ways, explore isolation and captivity, memory and legacy. The first of the two, Sons, Daughters by Ivana Bodrožić, deftly translated into English by Ellen Elias-Bursać, is a novel about being locked in: socially, domestically, and intimately, told through three different perspectives, all affected by the patriarchy in their own way. In the second, Antona Lloyd-Jones' stunning translation of Dr. Josef’s Little Beauty by Zyta Rudzka, twin sisters, Leokadia and Helena, living together in a retirement home not far from Warsaw, reflect on their childhoods spent in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany.

Ivana Bodrožić’s latest award-winning novel tells a story of being locked in: socially, domestically and intimately, told through three different perspectives, all deeply marked and wounded by the patriarchy in their own way.

Here the Croatian poet and writer depicts a wrenching love between a trans man and a cis woman, as well as a demanding love between a mother and a daughter, in a narrative about breaking through and liberation of the mind, family, and society.
 
This is a story of hidden gay and trans relationships, the effects of a near-fatal accident, and an oppressed childhood, where Ivana Bodrožić tackles the issues addressed in her previous works—issues of otherness, identity and gender, pain and guilt, injustice and violence.

A daughter is paralyzed after a car crash, left without the ability to speak, trapped in a hospital bed, unable to move anything but her eyes. Although she is immobilized, her mind reels, moving through time, her memories a salve and a burden. A son is stuck in a body that he doesn’t feel is his own. He endures misperceptions and abuse on the way to becoming who he truly is. A mother who grew up being told she was never good enough, in a world with no place for the desires and choices of women. She carries with her the burden of generations.

These three stories run parallel and intertwine. Three voices deepen and give perspective to one another’s truth, pain, and struggle to survive.

A Holocaust story as fascinating and compelling as it is terrifying and puzzling — a book about aging and war crimes, pain, and pride.

In the middle of summer, omnipresent heat radiates as a group of elderly people are remembering their youth. The story focuses on two twin sisters, Leokadia and Helena, who live together in a retirement home not far from Warsaw. These are not ordinary stories they are sharing, because both of them spent time as children in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. At the center is Helena, who at the age of 12 was saved from extermination by the notorious doctor Josef Mengele, the real-life Nazi officer and physician who was known as the “angel of death” for the experiments he conducted on prisoners, including twins and siblings.

This is a story both provocative and disturbing about the fear that lingers in victims. Was the sisters’ relationship with the executioner a desperate attempt to save their lives, or perhaps they harbor a hideous pride and sense of superiority over other prisoners? Rudzka’s extraordinary writing turns unsettling questions about memory and survival into art.

Ivana Bodrožić

Ivana Bodrožić was born in Vukovar in 1982 where she lived until the Yugoslav wars started in 1991 when she then moved to Kumrovec where she stayed with her family at a hotel for displaced persons. She studied at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb. In 2005, she published her first poetry collection, entitled Prvi korak u tamu (The First Step into Darkness). Her first novel Hotel Zagorje (Hotel Tito) was published in 2010, receiving high praise from both critics and audiences and becoming a Croatian bestseller. She has since published her second poetry collection Prijelaz za divlje životinje (A Crossing for Wild Animals) and a short story collection 100% pamuk (100% Cotton), which has also won a regional award. Her most recent novel, the political thriller We Trade Our Night For Someone Else's Day, has sparked controversy and curiosity among Croatian readers. 

Ellen Elias-Bursać

ELLEN ELIAS-BURSAĆ translates fiction and nonfiction from Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian. She has taught in the Harvard University Slavic Department and is a contributing editor to Asymptote. She has translated both of Ivana Bodrožić’s previous books for Seven Stories along with Robert Perisic’s novel No-Signal Area. She lives in Boston.