“I write occasionally and I often repeat myself when I point out that to someone who has something to say, to write, the smallest problem is to find enough time to write. With that I have never had a problem, regardless of the job that takes up a lot of time. I write, actually, when I have something to say (or think I have).”

Josip Mlakić about writing

Short synopsis:

Unanimously praised, The Living and the Dead shows two parallel war stories with a time gap of half a century but which are connected by the war in the same Bosnian region, as well as with the family ties among the main characters. The first story takes place during the Croatian-Bosnian conflict, during which a group of HVO soldiers retreat towards the majority of their troops through the mountains’ wasteland. In the second story a group of about ten domobrans (the Croatian Home Guardsmen), led by two Croatian ustašas, are moving in a truck towards the same mountain area so as to destroy a group of partisans who had made a retreat there after a battle. Destiny will decide that a domobran Martin and his grandson, a HVO soldier should take the same road. In both cases they must cross Grobno polje, a place which connects the living and the dead.

In this novel Mlakić challenges the mere essence of war much more ambitiously, so this novel is infused with an even darker, more hopeless and depressing atmosphere, completely dedicated to the metaphysical dimension of war. Mlakić here looks up to modernist role models (firstly at Bulgakov, Kundera and Lenz), ambitiously combining genres of war novel and horror and developing what soon became his own well known, original and homogenous style.

Praise for The Living and the Dead :

Josip Mlakić’s manuscript is a powerful manuscript which has completely justified the sole idea of the award.

Miljenko Jergović on the occasion of presenting the award

A very well constructed prose which confirms extraordinary literary talent.

Strahimir Primorac, Večernji list

There are no descriptions of direct combat in the novel. Readers get drawn into the story in which they feel the fear of prosecution themselves, the fear from the fact that they might not manage to withdraw, together with the characters

Julijana Matanović, Vjesnik

The Living and the Dead is a significant novel for Croatian literature, one of those works you keep reading while mumbling something to yourself, but it does not leave you alone even after you are done reading it.

Jasen Boko, Slobodna Dalmacija

As a jury memeber I voted for the great war novel The Living and the Dead by Josip Mlakić to win V.B.Z.’s Prize fo the Best Unpublished Novel of the Year, and the critical reception that followed proved The Living and the Dead to be an extraordinary novel that raises serious questions in an extremely interesting and surprising way. As such, this novel, I believe, certainly deserved that Prize.

Zoran Ferić, a jury member

About the author:

Josip Mlakić was born in Bugojno in 1964, received a degree in mechanical engineering in Sarajevo and currently lives in Gornji Vakuf – Uskoplje (Bosnia and Herzegovina). In 2002 he won the V.B.Z. Literary Prize for the Best Unpublished Novel for his The Living and the Dead. The same novel was later awarded literary prizes Ksaver Šandor Gjalski and Petar Zrinski as well. A film, directed by Kristijan Milić, was made after the script of the novel, and was the absolute winner of the Pula Film Festival in 2007, alongside many other international film awards. Mlakić is also an author of film scripts. A few short and feature films have been made after his novels.

Other works: A Snail’s House / Puževa kućica, 1997; When Fogs Stop / Kad magle stanu, 2000; A Reflection in the Water / Odraz u vodi, 2002; A Family Picture / Obiteljska slika, 2002; Triangulation: Three Stories on the Same Topic / Triangulacija: tri priče o jednome, 2003; Android’s Eyes / Oči androida, 2004; Midnight Grey / Ponoćno sivo, 2004; The Dogs and the Clowns / Psi i klaunovi, 2006; Guardians of the Bridges / Čuvari mostova, 2007; Following the Trace of a Snake’s / Tragom zmijske košuljice, 2007; The People Who Planted Trees / Ljudi koji su sadili drveće, 2010; Dead Fish Float on Their Backs / Mrtve ribe plivaju na leđima, 2011; Planet Friedman / Planet Friedman, 2012; Freshly Painted / Svježe obojeno, 2014; Wrath of God / Božji gnjev, 2015

Awards, selection: The Faust Vrančić Award for When the Fogs Lift, 2000; The Ksaver Šandor Gjalski Award for The Living and the Dead, 2003; The Zrinski Award for The Living and the Dead, 2003;  The Kočićevo Pero Award for Following the Trace of a Snake’s, 2007; The Ivan Goran Kovačić Award for Following the Trace of a Snake’s, 2007; The Vladimir Nazor Award, Best Novel for Freshly Painted, 2014

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