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20 Jan 14

Serbian NIN Winner Finds Peace After Creative Storm

Goran Gocic, this year's winner of Serbia's leading book prize, speaks about his novel Thai, his creative passion and his next book, dealing with the dilemmas of immigrants in the UK.

Nemanja Cabric
BIRN Belgrade

Goran Gocic at the Mekong River | Photo Zlatko Pranjic

After winning the prestigious Crnjanski award in December, Goran Gocic's debut novel, Thai, won the most important literature award in the country, the NIN prize in January.

The novel is the story of a middle-aged man prone to fantasies who, after a decade spent in Belgrade, loses faith in humanity and falls into a emotional, spiritual and professional crisis. During a trip across Indo-China, he meets an Asian woman of his dreams, a friend who will serve as his guide through Thailand.

Speaking to BIRN, Gocic reveals the sensitive autobiographical aspect of the story, the creative forces that helped make it, the success that follows important literature awards, and his hopes of conquering a wider international audience.

"The inspiration for the novel were my travels during the winter 2010–2011. An extensive journey through Thailand and Laos was completed in less than two months. But it was followed by another, bolder adventure – let’s say a journey to the inner self – which took me another two years," he said.

"I spent them struggling to make sense of the whole affair, translate it into a monologue, and transcribe it. My experience from that part of the world was raw, eye-opening and intense: it led me into feverish gathering of courage, stuttering words and building imagery from scratch."

Gocic says his way of assembling the story resembled the creative agony of the Romantic poets, or as he calls it, a "romantic fever".

"By Romantic fever I consider the kind of thing I used to admire in other writers, an approach to creation practiced by the writers of Romanticism – a compulsive urge, a feeling of immediacy and unstoppable rush of blood into the veins, cheeks and fingertips.

"Samuel Coleridge springs to mind, who woke up in the middle of night and wrote Kubla Khan in one breath and was unable to continue it the next morning – or ever again. As the Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard puts it in his novel Woodcutters, ‘I will write immediately something about so-called artistic dinner, no matter what, at this instant, I thought, and again immediately, while I was running through the city centre, immediately and at this instant, immediately and immediately, before it is too late."

He says that, like this, for the two years he spent writing the novel, he "felt and behaved like a schizophrenic on a dangerous new therapy.

"Now the exorcism is completed, and Thai is in the bookshops, I feel relaxed and normal," he says.

Tai, Book cover

Gocic says the novel is autobiographical in the "most literal, first-person, no-prisoners-taken, confessional, brutally honest, even crude and embarrassing sort of sense".

He says that by winning the NIN prize he has obained the same rewards as other Yugoslav and Serbian award winners.

"They got more media attention. They have been taken more seriously, whatever they were doing and no matter how foolish it was. Awarded novels also usually were printed in several editions and had a huge following and sales. What else one can hope for?" he asks.

For him, the main challenge is to break the poor performance of Serbian novels abroad, and to list his work among the exceptions.

"I hope Thai will be one of them [the exceptions]. My articles, books and films have been broadcast or published in 11 languages so far – but there’s no guarantee. One needs a good agent and fingers crossed. So far, I got only fingers," he jokes.

While his novel is studied by a somewhat larger audience than other books published in Serbia this year, Gocic is preparing a new book dealing with immigrants in London, where he used to live.

"My next novel Last stop Britain is a story of a Serbian émigré in London who gets involved in people trafficking. It is told in a form of the subjective testimonies of four persons close to him, also immigrants from poorer parts of Europe and Asia.

"As in Thai, the reader completes this puzzle, gathering information from fragmented and often contradicting sources".

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