Kristian Novak

Gypsy, Yet So Handsome

The protagonists of Novak’s brilliant novel make up an incredible and masterfully fictionalized gallery of characters that we find reflected in contemporary fears. A young Romany man Sandokan, aka Sandi, falls in love with Milena from Međimurje, a white woman from the neighboring village of Sabolščak. Divorced and in her late forties, she has been unfairly fired at work and returns to her childhood home, where she must take care of her stubborn grandfather. Nuzat, a Kurd from Mosul, has left his family and his country that is ravaged by war, and is in search of a better life in Calais. Plančić, the Zagreb Police Department PR, has been sent to the field and instructed to cover up a murder that could explode into great violence and a major political scandal. A Croatian Homeland War veteran keeps a fragile peace in the village, and a policeman in the twilight of his career is obsessed with visions akin to those from the apocalyptic TV show The Leftovers. These unconventional antiheroes are not stereotypical representatives of their ethnic or social group; they are noble outsiders whose behavior defies stereotypes, as they empathetically challenge the prejudices society holds about them. Their stories diverge and finally meet in a gruesome murder. The lavish narration includes precisely recounted biographies from four different cultural circles. Novak’s novel is a detailed social and emotional topography of identities. The first is of the white majority, but from the Pannonian province; the second is of a Romany man, from the same region; the third represents the Croatian state, embodied by the Zagreb authorities; and the fourth identity is that of a Kurdish refugee. The novel’s enormous theatrical potential lies, above all, in the author’s lavish style, composed of elements of crime, melodrama, documentary material, social drama and elements of popular (sub)culture, including Romany songs, the most famous being the one of the novel’s title. The novel was dramatized by Ivor Martinić, one of the most notable Croatian dramatists, whose texts are taking international stages by storm.

KRISTIAN NOVAK was born in Germany in 1979. He studied at the Zagreb Law Faculty, but then moved on to the Zagreb Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, earning a degree in Croatian and German Studies. His first novel, The Hanged / Obješeni, was published in 2005. He then got a teaching position at the Department of German Studies in Zagreb, and, after completing his PhD in 2011, started teaching at the Department of Croatian Studies in Rijeka. In 2013 he published his second novel, Dark Mother Earth / Črna mati zemla, which won the T-portal Best Novel of the Year literary award. It has been adapted for the stage, and is currently being adapted for film.

IVICA BULJAN has built his rich career in theatre not only as a director, but also as a critic, teacher and artistic director. His plays have been performed at many international theaters. He has staged numerous texts by Croatian and regional authors, particularly Miroslav Krleža, Filip Šovagović, Ivana Sajko, Dubravka Ugrešić, Damir Karakaš, Olja Savičević Ivančević, Danilo Kiš, Tena Štivičić et al. He has won many Croatian and international awards, among them the French distinction of Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters.

Dramatization by Ivor Martinić
Directed by Ivica Buljan