Sure, you can travel to Croatia and just wander around once you get there. But wouldn't it be more interesting if you knew a bit about the history of Croatia and its culture, or recognized some of the places?
Of course it would! Read one (or all!) of these books about Croatia to prepare you for your trip, ignite your wanderlust or learn more about the things you came across while traveling through the country.
5 books about Croatia you have to read when traveling to the country
1.”Croatia: A Nation Forged in War”
An independent Croatian state has risen after the violent collapse of Yugoslavia. In this non-fiction book, Marcus Tanner reaches further back in history, following Croatia’s rise and fall from the medieval period until the beginning of the 21st century. What results is a lucid narrative of the long history of military and political conflict in Croatia, being at the crossroads of powerful giants like the Russians, Turks, Italians, and Austrians.
It’s rare to find Croatian history books like this written in English, so it’s a must-read for those who want a concise overview of the country’s troubled yet powerful history. For history newbies, it’s an honest, refreshing take on chronicling Croatia’s past.
2. “The Hired Man”
Not a huge fan of historical books? Try Aminatta Forna's fictional tale of a handyman in a small Croatian town who befriends a neighboring family of foreigners, and by doing so exposes the town’s dark, war-ridden past.
Duro Kolak, a hunter and handyman, lives in the fictional town of Gost. One summer in 2007, Duro’s hunting is interrupted as an English family arrives at the long-abandoned house nearby. Laura, a British lady, purchased the old property and was looking for someone to help with the repairs. Duro offers her his services and eventually befriends the foreigner’s family. Locals, however, are not pleased with the new residents.
As the house restoration progresses, we see bits of Duro’s memories of the town’s past and the house’s previous occupants. Gradually, Forna reveals to us the volatile secrets of a town scarred by war and haunted by its aftermath. “The Hired Man” is a compelling exploration of what war does to people who’ve lived it, and one of the best modern novels set in Croatia.
3. “Chasing a Croatian Girl: A Survivor's Tale”
“Chasing a Croatian Girl: A Survivor's Tale” is a must-read for anyone planning a long-term stay in Croatia, or marrying someone from there. American author Cody Brown married a Croatian girl and in this non-fiction he shares insights into the Croatian way of life, the importance of family, the rule of his mother-in-law and the always-present scent of coffee.
Brown shares his observations in a warm, humaine and sometimes hilarious way, which makes this book the perfect introduction to Croatian culture.
4. “Girl at War”
Sara Nović’s debut novel set in Croatia, “Girl at War”, is important for many reasons. It’s the story of Ana – a carefree 10-year-old living in Zagreb. Her childhood ended abruptly as civil war breaks out in Croatia, forcing her to endure a world of warfare and child soldiers. Her last resort is an escape plan to America.
Ten years later, Ana is living in Manhattan with her foster family. She’s in college, has a boyfriend, and seems to have a decent life. However, Ana is found to be constantly wrestling with the lingering memories of her traumatic past. She returns alone to her home country, hoping to see it in a new light and confront the ghosts of its history.
As the story evolves, Ana must make the choice of staying in the shell of her old self, a girl at war, or coming to terms with her difficult childhood. The novel is heartbreakingly beautiful, showing us a glimpse of the unimaginable effect of war on young, naïve children. It’s not a light story, but if you enjoy a bittersweet yet powerful read, this one is for you.
5. “Café Europa: Life After Communism”
Café Europa is a collection of short essays by Croatian author Slavenka Drakulić. The 25 essays all have a recurrent theme which is how Eastern European countries adopted Western values after the fall of communism.
Coffee shops known as “Café Europa” increased in number in Croatia and other parts of Eastern Europe. These cafés were imitations of similar establishments in Rome and Paris, but with noticeably lackluster coffee and pastries. In Zagreb, a cinema formerly known as “The Balkan” changed its name to “Cinema Europa”.
Using everyday language, Drakulić gives an amusing social critique of the consumerism of post-communist Eastern Europe. She paints us a vivid picture of how Eastern European countries attempted to break away from a culture of war and non-Western ideals, and how the shift to democracy lead to odd changes in the people’s lives.
As engaging as it is relevant, Drakulić’s writing will make you want to finish all 25 short stories in one sitting. She's considered one of the best Croatian authors, and rightfully so.
Do you know any good books set in Croatia? Let me know in the comments!
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