Drago Jančar Wins French Literature Prize

Drago Jančar, one of Slovenia's most celebrated novelists, has joined the ranks of Salman Rushdie and Orhan Pamuk as the winner of the Prix du meilleur livre etranger for the best foreign book, an accolade awarded by the association of French critics and publishers.

Drago Jančar. Photo: Tamino Petelinšek/STA

The Slovenian writer Drago Jančar was one of 14 candidates for the prestigious Femina French literary prize, in the foreign novel category. Jančar was awarded for the novel, To noč sem jo videl (That Night I Saw Her).

In his novel, That Night I Saw Her, Drago Jančar, one of the most translated, award-winning and respected contemporary Slovenian writers, goes back as he has many times in his rich literary oeuvre into history, into the cruel and relentless periodof World War II. Jančar’s novel, which was published in France under the title Cette nuit je l'ai vue by the French publishing house Phebus, unveils the story of the main heroine, Veronika Zarnik, who the reader gets to know in five chapters through direct participants in the events. Five narrators – her lover, mother, doctor, husband and worker at the Strmol Castle – draw the image of the protagonist, and of the wartime and post-war eras in Slovenia.

Drago Jančar: “This is a novel about a few years in the life and mysterious disappearance of Veronika Zarnik, a young bourgeois woman from Ljubljana, sucked into the whirlwind of a turbulent period in history. Five different characters, who also talk about themselves and the troubled times in Slovenia before and during World War II, tell the story of Veronika.  They tell about the times that swallowed like Moloch, not only the people of various beliefs involved in historical events, but also those who lived on the fringes of tumultuous events that they did not even fully comprehend; those who only wanted to live. But “only” to live was an illusion; it was a time, when, even under the seemingly safe and idyllic shelter of some manor house in Upper Carniola, it was impossible to avoid the rushing train of violence.

Veronica’s story is told by her former lover, an officer in the Royal Yugoslav Army, who, in 1945, ended up in a prison camp in Palmanova. The second part is recounted by her mother, who, in that same year, is awaiting her daughter’s return in an apartment on the outskirts of Ljubljana, lost in her memories and frantic from uncertain hope. Narrators also include a doctor from the occupying German army, the family housekeeper and, finally, a former partisan, who, on an unclear personal impulse, full of misunderstandings, sets off a train that speeds off into the night over the country and its people.

For this novel, Jančar received the Kresnik Award for the best novel of the year in 2010.