Sead Begović, review of “Mirror” by Ksenija Premur

The ambiguity of the symbolism of the mirror is found in many treasures of knowledge of different civilizations, but it is above all receptive as an inexhaustible material for literary reflections. By presenting us the masculine and feminine principles of the mirror, as a reflection of mutual consciousness, the contemporary Croatian writer Ksenija Premur, in her sixth book entitled The Mirror, engages in the game of reflection between the personal soul and reality. However, both (mirrors) question the possibility of passage, in order to reach a new reality, that is, a passage to the wonders of an even more wondrous life. These are short stories, but determining the type in this case will be a special literary critical chapter. The chronic connects the author with the said stories, the inclination towards the poetic, the thing above the established understanding, then the complex fabulative interventions, with the narrative. The mesh interweaving instead of the ascending and abruptly descending curve of events will bring it closer to a short story (especially the first part of the book), while the linearity of the plot, which characterizes the novella, will be less represented in this book.

The book is thus structurally divided into two parts: “Female Mirror” with three prose parts and “Male Mirror” also with three represented prose parts. The principle of the inverted image (illustrated by the cover) seeks to penetrate into a world full of lyric relief (the first part of the book), which in places relies on associative vibrations in the meaning of the word and a tangible world that is openly presented in the second part of the book. In the two mirrors, the author deftly transforms invisible forces into tangible images, that is, different streams of thought oppose the collected narrative that rushes to its climax. The first cycle of stories “Female Mirror” starts from their own, singular and isolated experience and are the subject of aesthetic pleasure, namely, they do not require rational criteria for judging and interpreting the world. In them, fickle and beautiful images (reflections in the mirror) of a desperately anxious life (writer Olga, then scientist Lidija Sučić) speak of the “I” of life and therefore of the “I” of storytelling. The moments of remembrance are also an act of writing. It is a multiple exposition of the main actors, the narrator and their common timelessness and omnipresence. The stories from the cycle “Male Mirror” emphasize the authenticity of the material that is processed in an everyday non artificial way, while retaining literary fiction. And hence their charm. This cycle runs away from decorations and personal makeup and perfumes to preserve credibility. If the prose from the first part of the book is elitist, since it also respects the poetic dictates of the unconscious, the content of the second part of the book is directly verifiable and refers to current political and religious events. By imposing a female mirror, the male mirror will show that the author does not withdraw from everyday life, and certainly not from history. This two-dimensional mirror game, in which conflict is resolved in a crisis and in which stories are created, does not give up ambiguous depth (even when it comes to exact descriptions) and is more than religious and secular problems as well as those about politically repressive activities (stories: “The Prophet from the Black Sea” and “Stalin is dead, long live Stalin”).

It should be noted that Ksenija Premur is one of those literary leaders whose biobibliography, literary, and especially scientific, exceeds a lifetime. There is no need to doubt her general cultural artistic and intertextual horizon. She is no stranger to the theoretical and conceptual determinants she drew from Far Eastern philosophical knowledge. She has published her scientific research in books and many original papers, congress reports, original and expert articles, as well as in radio shows, reviews and reports. The question is how much did this conceptual (philosophical-phenomenological) conception of the literary word contribute to her narration? It is to be said that the axiological basis of Asian and Western philosophy in these short stories is welcome, but it is not crucial and in an exact way fully visible. She owes a high level of literacy to a talent she knows how to thematize and those places where conventional laws of literary expression falter, therefore, almost none of her thematic motive curiosity will contribute to the banality and bizarreness of life, so popular in our time.

The first story of the “Female Mirror” entitled “The Writer” is shrouded in a sweet haze of dreams of the writer Olga, who finally thought about her life in anticipation of her dear person Milan. Love as life is preferred, not an escape from reality – that is, not life. The text is impregnated with poetic prose that is highlighted in italics and in which mythical and everyday references collide, and is designed as a conversation, or self-talk. Especially interesting will be a look at Pablo Neruda and his muse Matilda Urruti, whom the author seems to bring into symmetry with her life. It is a short impressionist essay in which the author freely associates the real and the fictional, and with her associative-meditative efforts in one segment of Neruda’s poetic work she will in her own way reform his confession that his verses from the book 100 Sonnets about Love are made of wood, of this “harsh and pure substance.” Furthermore, we will come across, as a sentence, Miller’s explication that girls can be recognized early on as future submissive and zealous housewives and faithful wives, or as unbridled mistresses by their clumsy gait, first crooked steps and swinging thighs. And not a word about the spirit – the author will comment.

The story “Transformations” introduces an explicit citation with regard to a literal transcript of a Chinese fable that suggests a change of identity. Mirror dream and java are on the scene. As in the example of Neruda, here too someone else’s text appears as an organic part of the story. The author then, through the character of Lydia, discusses a dream and solving the puzzle about the murder of her friend Tamara. She is interested in the inner appearance of elusive, but sharply engraved images. It should also be noted that the time in this work is important only as a subjective duration. The title “The Most Accurate Clock in the World” will offer a rich palette of intertextual “stale luxuries”. The author would like to travel, or has already traveled to Venice, but a number of flashback thoughts and reminiscences arise from that will. Oxymoronically, close distances are connected: Vronsky, Salvador Dali (his stopped hands on the clock), El Greco, Borges, Marques, Buddha himself, Dante, Tolstoy and others. In an inverted mirror projection, that is, reality, Anna Karenina is preoccupied with reading Dante’s Hell in the original language, and even explores the harmony of rhyme… and prepares to write a scholarly paper about it. And not only that, the author enters into a dialogue with Karenina and together they will write a postcard for Neruda’s Matilda Urrutia. Despite the rapid geographical bridging in the narrative (France, Kyiv, Andalusia, China), the story in its exoticism flows smoothly like a murmur with some invisible interlocutor.

The “Male Mirror” begins with the best story “The Prophet from the Black Sea” which really skillfully uses the historical weft – an excerpt from the life of the classic of Persian literature writer Omar Khayyam, whose poetic heritage, although dating back to the eleventh century, has caused more controversy than works of any other Persian poet. It is known that he was constantly in danger from fanatical theologians due to his unbridled and free-spirited behavior. This is exactly what the author, who will take us on a pilgrimage together with Hajjam, will be interested in. We cannot help but get the impression that Ksenija Premur applied some well-known experiences of women to this story. Namely, in Hajjam’s dream appears Allah and asks him whether the great poet and scholar will adhere to him, or whether he will continue to enjoy wine and women, and in everything that desire incites. Biography was used very well in this story, but the author cared about factography until the moment when the imagination flared up. Hajjam soon finds the answer to all the questions that bother him. The prophet from the “Black Sea” helps him in this: “…Let your doubts not take over your heart and live as you wish. If you do not enjoy life like fragrant red wine, and the sumptuous forms of a woman, life will be hell for you for life, and not only after death…”. The story, therefore, problematizes something that is in many ways close to our time.

The last two stories take place behind the Iron Curtain in Europe. The first “Duel in the Moscow State Library” starts from a joke, namely, a joke about Catherine the Great, which turned into an invitation to a duel “which is not remembered since Pushkin’s time”. It is a duel of refuting bad jokes, which should end with scientific and historical facts and evidence that Russian history is an unsurpassed treasure trove of famous and always won battles and that it is not appropriate to tell jokes about it. In the end, one intellectual duel will end in physical conflict. There is really no need to comment on the message that the author sends us. It is almost a paradigm of behavior in today’s cultural and subcultural world. In the short story “Stalin is Dead, Long Live Stalin”, direct communication with the reader is accomplished, and the very title offers us something that resembles a call for polemic. The author has achieved full directness and transparency, she simply wants to tell us something at all costs. The feminine principle of soft silk and ornamentation has finally been replaced by focused semantics: the story of political asylum seekers from Georgia is just an excuse to talk about how slowly this world is changing.

Finally, in both mirrors, the author shows the craft of storytelling, and in places where it is needed, a good emotional expression. Stereotypes (slang phrase, overemphasized sexuality, utter indiscretion, narcissism, and so on) are deftly circumvented at the expense of the primordial values of ​​already verified. Although she skillfully uses some postmodernist experiences, such as intertextuality, she prefers some modernist experiences that point to the best experiences of the Croatian storytelling tradition. And that is enough to read her works and fall in love with her as a writer.

Sead Begović