With chickens running around the house – “they had to be killed the same day you ate them because there was no fridge” – Lana Bastašic (Zagreb, 1986) was a 5-year-old girl and lived in Bosnia when the war in the Balkans broke out. Her second book, the tales of milk teeth (Sexto Piso/Periscopi) show us disturbing, lucid, battered and intense children, in various situations in the midst of the war. Some of the stories can depress the reader and others infect the joy of living. As a common feature, a negative image of families and father figures. “Literature is not for feeling good,” she replies, in perfect Catalan, at the headquarters of her Barcelona publishing house. What does a childhood in a war mean? How does it affect that, also language? They stole our childhood, and what happens to these men and women later? Didn’t he have a happy childhood then? “I was 5 years old when the war started, it’s the only thing you know, there were moments of everything, good and bad. It was very hard for the parents to get it right, they had bigger problems, like what we would eat or live without electricity”.
In her literary debut in 2018, the novel catch the hare, Bastašic opted for a unique Thelma & Louise from Mostar to Vienna. Now, this Serbo-Croatian author who lives in Belgrade opts for anguishing tales filled with naive looks. By the way, what do we have to call him? Croatian, Serbian author? “My family is Serbian, I was born in Croatia and I lived twenty years in Bosnia, in Yugoslavia these things did not matter, I am an author from a country that no longer exists”.
“By losing our milk teeth we grow older but we are more vulnerable than ever, toothless”
In one of the stories, which takes place in the forest, the Freudian murder of the father is consummated, with the theme common to others of the shame that children feel because of their parents. “I deal with the great importance of what the people of the town say, the social image of the group, the gaze of the community is like an authority without a body. And I ask: can the patriarchy kill a man?
In another, more poetic story, we see the arrival of man on the moon. “It is the story of my mother, who was seven years old when it happened, in 1969, everyone looked at the moon, it is a very beautiful thing, a whole proud town looking up at the sky… but they do not look at what is happening inside their House”. Domestic violence is very present, which “can be physical but also language, things that are said and things that are not said. I wanted to turn a child’s story into a little monster’s story, to show how that change happens.”
Lunar reveries, Spider-Man, a fairy… we find elements beyond reality. “The world of children is that of the imagination, and that of seeking an authority. But what if the authority at home is unhealthy? Can a superhero replace your father?
The children of Bastašic know how to see “the crazy things that we adults do much better than anyone”. And they have different words than the older ones. “I didn’t want to write a book about children but about human beings. We underestimate the way they see the world, they realize things more than we think. But they can’t express themselves because they lack complex language, even though they feel discomfort in their bodies”. In fact, it is a very physical book, with pain, periods, diarrhea, blows… They can also be perverse children because “I didn’t want to romanticize them, they are human beings with fears, emotions and perversions that are not as systematized as ours. They’re not angels at all.”
In one of the stories the disturbing tooth fairy appears. “I do not invent anything: fairy tales are very violent. My protagonist is a very little girl –she explains-, who has a connection with a dead woman, the grandmother, who wore false teeth, in a way that she connects with Alicia’s cat and her false smile. When we lose our milk teeth we get older but at that moment we are more vulnerable than ever, toothless, we cannot even bite”.
The very definition of psychological torture is a conversation between a very demanding father and his son in the swimming pool. “Everything we say to children stays with them, that parent will forget it… but not the child.”
There are more realistic stories and some with a fantastic touch because “I like fiction to do those things that only fiction can do. The more fiction, the more truth”.
And what they say that war can make us better? “I don’t see it at all, I don’t see how to justify it in any way, at most you see how far a person can go but, honestly, I would rather not have known.”