“Kudos to Dalkey Archive Press” – Transit Comet Eclipse by Muharem Bazdulj

Transit Comet Eclipse by Bosnian writer Muharem Bazdulj consists of three linked novellas which explore the desire of the protagonists to leave eastern Europe for the west.

‘Transit’, the first novella, is set in 1762 and relates the journey undertaken by Jesuit scholar Ruder Boskovic. Boskovic is travelling from Constantinople to St.Petersburg in order to observe the transit of Venus. For part of the journey he is accompanied by James Porter who has held the post as English ambassador to the Ottoman Empire for fifteen years. Boskovic as well as being a scholar, has a keen eye for observation and is remarkably sympathetic to the various characters they encounter along the way. Their ramblings take them through the then vassal state of Moldova, which immediately captivates Ruder Boskovic. In the town of Jasay the local prince invites him to his court while ambassador Porter is left clicking his heels. Boskovic has mixed feeling on Moldova. At one point he says there is nothing there but beauty and fear.

Moldova is also the main setting of the second novella, ‘Comet’. Set in the early 21st century where Moldova is in the middle of post-communist reality. The promises of freedom have failed to materialise, while the old certainties have vanished. What’s left is a country coming to terms with its new existence. The main protagonist is an unnamed teenager who, according to her father, was born in 1986, the year Halley’s Comet passed by the Earth. After her father’s death the young woman moves in with her grandmother. An excellent scholar, she changes school resulting in her becoming very unhappy. She begins skipping classes and meets a Bosnian man in a local bar. The Bosnian beguiles her with tales of life in the west and persuades her to meet him in Italy when she goes there on her school graduation tour. Things do not turn out as she anticipates and the young woman ends up being trafficked to Dubrovnik.

The final novella, ‘Eclipse’, arguably the most important story of the three, involves a character known simply as the Writer. Like the other character, the Writer is searching and his journey involves seeking out material he can use in his writing. He was born in Dubrovnik which is also the home of Jesuit Ruder Boskovic. He engages on his own journeys and in the summer of 1999 is in America attending a journalist workshop. In the meantime he reads of the eclipse taking place in Europe. On returning he is asked to accompany a journalist and photographer to Dubrovnik to investigate sex trafficking. In particular the journalist is investigating the story of Maria Alexandra a young Moldovan woman who worked in the Queen nightclub.

It is a testament to Muharem Bazdulj that each part of Transit Comet Eclipse can stand on its own merits. Each can be read in a single sitting and is in itself a complete tale. However when taken together all three contribute to a more complete, rounded story. A subtle well written novel, one which draws the reader in and leaves them with wonder.

Kudos to Dalkey Archive Press for continuing to highlight to the English speaking public the work of central and eastern European writers.

Any Cop?: The third section is undoubtedly the most important part of Transit Comet Eclipse. It serves as the bridge between the other parts. The Moldovan woman from ‘Comet’ is named and given an identity. She is no longer just a victim but a distinct individual. The Writer may be the author who involves himself directly in the story. He brings it all together, pulling it off with style and magic.

 

Joe Phelan

 

 

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