THE NOVEL ONLINE
The Days of Unleavened Bread
Translated by Sanja Matešić
Consultant for English Translation:
William E. Yuill
The English version , " The Days of Unleavened Bread", was published in Germany as printed copies in 1995. The book is not on sale.
The Königs have been engaged in translation for a long time, and have been active in publishing since the middle seventies. When their first novel, "The Days of Unleavened Bread", came out in 1991, the Croatian and German literary public had good reason to be interested in the work of these fascinating and original narrators.
They were both born in Croatia, in families of German origin... As Children, they witnessed the wartime and post-war atrocities and the fate of the German ethnic community. Alois graduated in English Language and Literature and in Croatian Language at the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Zagreb, and Georgine graduated in Croatian Language and Literature at the same university. They were both briefly employed as high school teachers. After three years, Alois was appointed to the post of a university lecturer, and Georgine became a language adviser in a publishing house. They tried their luck together in bookselling, starting the first privately owned bookshop in Croatia. In the meantime, they tried to set up their own printing and publishing firm, but were hindered by the social (political) circumstances and the laws and regulations then in force. Since circumstances did not permit them full freedom of enterprise, they emigrated to Germany in 1986. Due to their German origin, they obtained German citizenship...
The main protagonist of the novel is Elisabeth Müller, whose fate, told in the first person, comprises scenes from her childhood, girlhood and maturity, describing her hopes and sufferings, joys and disappointments. Lisa remembers retrospectively many seemingly trivial, but highly illustrative events, scenes from her own life that function as paradigms of the life of her people. The events follow one another in succession, illustrating the experiences of these people, who were cut off from their motherland through several centuries, in their moments of succes and in the tragic strugle to survive. The events are not always told in chronological order, but make up a kind of mosaic. This, however, does not mean that the story loses its continuity. On the contrary, it helps make the chief protagonists more convincing, introducing notes about the history of their people.
Lisa Müller grows up in a small town not far from Zagreb, radiant with the freshness and innocence of youth. The people around her respect her for her honesty, sincerity, and human kindness, not knowing that a time was coming when these virtues would no longer be appreciated.
Her first feelings are directed towards Boris, her schoolmate, with whom she grows up, studies, and gains her first experiences of life in general, watching in apprehension for the arivel of war and its consequences.
War arrived in their town on 6th April 1941, leaving devastation and death behind. The deportation of the Jews and Gypses, the persecution of Serbs and Communists, and the constant clashes of the German soldiers and the Ustasha with the Partisans, who were local people, their fellow countrymen, affect Lisa deeply.
Boris sees the war as occupation and terror which will not last long. Lisa tries to understand what is all about, because she sees her fellow-Germans, the Wehrmacht troops, as saviours and liberators, not as occupiers. But she also witnesses the persecution of innocent people. Boris tells Lisa he loves her, but she cannot accept his proposal, because she considers him to be just a friend. Lisa's life changes with arrival of a young German lieutenant, Alfred, who lodges in her parents' house. They fall in love, and their love mitigates the images of war, holding out a promise of their better and brighter future. There is a New Year's Eve party in the officer's club to see in the year 1943. The band plays the melody of "Lily Marleen" and the celebration and best wishes help people to forget for a moment the wartime horrors. Soon Lisa ist left alone. Alfred leaves for the Eastern front, but promisses her eternal love and holds out a hope that the war will end soon.
Boris had left to join the partisans, hoping to win Lisa sooner or later and marry her. There is poverty and want, people's movements are restricted, and the fighting comes closer and closer.
Lisa reveals to her mother the secret of her love. She is pregnant, and soon little Robert is born. The war is drawing to a close. Columns of ethnic Germans move westwards, terrified of the approaching Partisans and the Red Army. There are rumours of persecution of all ethnic Germans. Some do not want to flee and decide to stay, since they do not feel guilty. The Müllers trust in the justice of the new government and hope for help by their neighbour Boris, who grew up with Lisa. Unlike to their Germans in the town, they, luckily, have no major problems. Boris returns, married to Stana, a female Partisan. But after the Tito - Stalin clash (1948), Boris is imprisoned on Goli Otok for two years. Lisa hopes to be reunited with Alfred soon, but years pass and there are no news of him. She hopes that he has survived the war and that he is a prisoner of war somewhere in Russia. Boris and Stana get divorced. After he is released from prison, Boris courts Lisa again. He is prepared to wait, hoping that Alfred will not come back...
These are the outlines of an interesting and moving story from the life of Elisabeth Müller, which is, in fact, the story of thousands of people who were lucky enough to survive the horrors of World War II and the genocide perpetrated by the East European and Communist regimes. The genocide was perpetrated against the Germans who had inhabited the Panonian plain for over two centuries. Alois and Georgine König have succeeded in encompassing thousands of true human destinies and to recount precisely historical circumstances in which the man in the street suffered, swept by the maelstrom of the times, always hoping for better times and for greater justice. And then, when there is nothing left for him to do, he masters up the courage to set off for a distant, unknown dream world, where he has to start all over again...
The novel "The Days of Unleavened Bread" is written in a beautiful and fluent style that is original and able to express repressed emotions, thus opening up new vistas for literature. It represents a big challenge, which is sure to find a response in the film industry. Because, to put it simply, the story of Elisabeth Müller is told in such a way that, of all dimensions, the only one that is lacking is the one that would be provided by film. We hope that someone will accept the challenge and that we shall soon have opportunity of seeing Lisa on the silver screen...
(G. Beus-Richemberg, "Geschichte, Gegenwart und Kultur der Donauschwaben", Sindelfingen, Germany, 1993)
THE NOVEL ONLINE