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A Castle in Romagna [Paperback]

Igor Stiks , Russell Scott Valentino , Tomislav Kuzmanovic

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Book Description

June 1 2005
Alternating between Renaissance Italy and Yugoslavia during the time of Tito, this novel tells two tales of love, intrigue, and betrayal. It is the summer of 1995, the war in Bosnia is raging, and the young Bosnian narrator is taking a tour of an Italian Renaissance castle. He soon finds himself caught up in the two tales of passion and intrigue that his Franciscan guide, a refugee like himself, relates. One is the story of Enzo Strecci, a Renaissance poet from Lombardy who has the ill fortune of falling in love with the wife of Francesco Mardi, his host and protector during a time of Hapsburg incursions and espionage. The other is the story of the Franciscan's own ill-fated passion for the local Communist police commander's daughter during Tito's rupture with Stalinism. Between Rimini, Italy, in 1535 and the Croatian island of Rab in 1948, lives and fates become intertwined, history repeats itself, and nostalgia for home proves itself to be bittersweet.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 103 pages
  • Publisher: Autumn Hill Books; Tra edition (June 1 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0975444409
  • ISBN-13: 978-0975444405
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 14 x 1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 181 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,786,071 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"An elegant, haunting work...a marvelous hall of mirrors...a first book at its most mystical and tantalizing."  —Vue Weekly

"A Castle in Romagna tells two stories, separated by centuries...romantic tragedies...with a good bit of suspense."  —TheCompleteReview.com

About the Author

Igor Stiks is the editor of anthologies of new Croatian prose fiction and international short fiction in English. His fiction, literary criticism, and essays have appeared widely in journals and reviews in the former Yugoslavia. Russell Scott Valentino is the translator of Between Exile and Asylum, Materada, and Persuasion and Rhetoric, and the author of Vicissitudes of Genre in the Russian Novel. He lives in Iowa City, Iowa. Tomislav Kuzmanovic is an MFA student in translation at the University of Iowa. He lives in Iowa City, Iowa.

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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a rare treasure of a tale Nov. 19 2005
By Rebecca Brown - Published on Amazon.com
Rebeccasreads highly recommends A CASTLE IN ROMAGNA as a lean & exhilarating tale of two loves, set centuries apart, amid war & peace.

A Bosnian refugee from Tito's war-torn efforts to separate from the USSR, is touring an Italian Renaissance castle when he discovers his Franciscan guide is a fellow ex-patriot who left decades before.

As the monk takes the young narrator through the castle & the story of a hopeless love from hundreds of years ago, he also tells of his own tragic love for a Communist policeman's daughter in his homeland.

A rare treasure that will wrench your heart & linger in your soul. Outstanding!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tale richly steeped in passion, and the burning desires that drive humans beyond their limits Aug. 7 2005
By Midwest Book Review - Published on Amazon.com
Collaboratively translated from Croatian by Tomislav Kuzmanovic and Russell Scott Valentino, A Castle In Romagna by Igor Stiks is a novel that shifts in scene between Renaissance Italy and Tito's Yugoslavia, telling parallel yet intertwined stories of love, deceit, and betrayal. History repeats itself, and the enduring nostalgia for the comforts of home pervade this emotional work of literature. A tale richly steeped in passion, and the burning desires that drive humans beyond their limits.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Compact Tale of Love and War April 25 2009
By E. L. Fay - Published on Amazon.com
Igor Štiks's 2000 novella "A Castle in Romagna" (originally titled "Dvorac u Romagni" and translated from Croatian by Tomislav Kuzmanovic and Scott Valentino) gives me hope for "An American Tragedy," which I have been trudging through for two months now. Štiks initially has the same drawback as Dreiser: a verbose style that force the reader to go over the same sentence twice. The introduction to my edition of "An American Tragedy" promises that the emotional power of the story will eventually make up for the sluggish beginning. Luckily, such was the case with "A Castle in Romagna," in which the recklessness of love only leads to personal destruction.

There are two narrators and three narratives in three separate time periods: Romagna, Italy in 1535, Romagna in 1995, and the Croatian island of Rab in 1948. The first speaker, an exiled Croat from war-torn Bosnia, has arrived at the ancient Castello Mardi for a tour with two female friends. The resident friar, Niccolò Darsa, makes a crude joke about the young man's homeland, and then apologizes, speaking perfect Croatian and offering to tell his own story and that of Renaissance literary giant Enzo Strecci, a guest of Francesco Mardi who was later imprisoned and executed. I feel like natural sympathy with Enzo, Niccolò says, "You won't believe it if I tell you that he was like you and me. No, you won't believe it. Just like you and me." It turns out that the old cleric is an ethnic Italian who lived on Rab until Yugolsav President Josip Broz Tito's split with Stalin shortly after World War II, which precipitated a period of repression and paranoia that saw innocent people turned in and executed for being Cominformist agents. So too did Enzo live in a tumultuous era, as the threat of invasion led to a fear of Habsburg spies lurking among Mardi's household and villages.

As Niccolò, a natural storyteller, recounts his own tale and dramatizes Enzo's, a stronger bond between the two Italians becomes evident: that of forbidden romance and its inevitable follies. The rash and stubborn behavior of senseless youths in love is made all the more foolhardy by a hostile political environment that threatens to crush everyone, victims and perpetrators alike, in its relentless crusade against "subversives." Leaders, acting emotionally, use their authority to carry out personal vendettas. Lives, time and again, are destroyed by love and war. The moral of the story is, conclusively, that humanity remains the same even as the perpetual march of history alters the superficial appearance of things.

Despite its weighty subject matter, "A Castle in Romagna" is a very short book of only 102 pages. It is nevertheless a slow start, due to Štiks's fondness for rambling sentences that can easily make the reader lose track of the original topic. (Sample: "Maria thought quickly, clearly, and correctly, but, unfortunately, on an unsound foundation, that love needed to be fought for, and she took firm hold of the tail of Enzo's horse, which, it seemed, willingly allowed her to take it as it made its way toward Catarina.") Of course, the trouble with critiquing prose in a translation is that, no matter how skilled the translator, you are still not reading the original work. Nabokov once griped about reviewers who praise translated books for "reading smoothly," contending that one who does so is a mere "hack who has never read the original, and does not know its language, [and who] praises an imitation as readable because easy platitudes have replaced in it the intricacies of which he is unaware." That being said, however, another Croatian novel translated by Tomislav Kuzmanovic that I have also read, Zoran Feric's "The Death of the Little Match Girl," did not have this same issue of long-windedness, so I would assume it is indeed reflective of Štiks's authentic voice. Which brings up yet another question: can one properly review a translated book if they are not familiar with the other work the translator has done? Food for thought. But as I said, as the suspense and emotional intensity of "A Castle in Romagna" increase, so does its readability until it finally starts to sail - dare I say it - smoothly.

Additional thought: "The Death of the Little Match Girl" is also set on Rab and deals with war and paranoia. Recurring themes in contemporary Croatian literature or is that too broad an assertion to make from two books? Hmmm.

* Review copy *
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't miss this unique title! June 11 2010
By Amy Henry - Published on Amazon.com
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away....

This could easily have been the introductory sentence for Igor Stiks' A Castle in Romagna, an amazing novel that explores parallel stories from two different time periods. Both stories feature the theme of betrayal, by close companions, from the least expected sources.

It begins in Northern Italy in 1995 where three friends go to visit an ancient castle in Romagna. They are there to visit the castle because of the internment there, centuries before, of the poet Enzo Strecci. Before they can explore the ruins, one of them is delayed by a caretaker, who is fascinated that he comes from Bosnia, at the time a scene of frequent violence. As the other two go to explore, the Bosnian tries to politely escape from the talkative caretaker. But soon, the man reveals that he, too, is from Bosnia, and begins telling his own life story as well as the story of Enzo Strecci.

His story takes place when the schism occurred between General Tito and Josef Stalin. This led to Yugoslavia trying to become autonomous, with the result that eventually it divided into the complicated political region where Bosnia is located. The caretaker recounts how he barely escaped with his life from those convinced he was a Communist informer. He ends up, scarred and mutilated, in Italy. He describes his own connection with the castle while explaining how Strecci ended up at the same location during the Renaissance, and how it ended in Strecci's execution.

It's clear that at first the listener feels like he's missing out on exploring the ruins, but the story revealed soon becomes far more fascinating. The voice of the caretaker is witty and nostalgic, but he's not wasting anyone's time. He reveals only the relevant details in both accounts, which makes the novel move very quickly. The style is unusual but the essential meaning has almost a fairy-tale quality to it. While it's easy to predict what's going to happen, watching it unfold is thought- provoking because of the corelation of both accounts. The concepts of trust, vengeance, and betrayal are all classic story lines, but explored here in a way to remind the reader that often the danger lies closer to us than we may wish to realize. The fate of Strecci may be appropriate, but it's a poignant moment when all his former friends are called to testify against him to save their master. He realizes then the "logic of power."

I was fascinated by this book, as it's the first Croatian translation that I've read, and because the author is relatively young. He says a great deal about human nature with very few words, and he points at the blind spots most people have when it comes to reason. Historically, I never really understood the divide between Tito and Stalin and what it meant for the residents of Yugoslavia. This book may be difficult to find but worth the search, as it's a fascinating look at little-known time and place.

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