Drago Jancar

Katharina, the Peacock and the Jesuit
Katarina, pav in jezuit
Slovenska matica, Ljubljana (2000, 2002)

Drago Jancar,
Velika colnarska 8,
Ljubljana, Slovenia.

While sitting happily in the category of historical novel, Katharina, the Peacock and the Jesuit is a modern epic that can be understood only from a contemporary viewpoint. Its emotions are something we cannot bottle up in the past from which the heros emerge to cast off their tragedy. In order to restore the immense Baroque canvas of our modern world, Drago Jancar steps back into the eighteenth century with its striking images and obsolete words, and into the Slovenia and Europe of old, with their wars, pilgrimages, and beliefs. It seems that Jancar revisits here the aesthetic of his mature classics: now Katharina, the Peacock and the Jesuit may be placed next to the great literary works Galeot and Northern Lights.

In this novel, the poetic fatalism of earlier Jancarian heroes shines through the banality of the latter day Baroque setting. We see them almost as a huge cosmos defined by a single movement which only now we are able to comprehend. The writer's poetics come to the fore in the narration of the past as though he were observing a fate already known.

The novel Katharina, the Peacock and the Jesuit is set in the age of the great pilgrimages, a time of doubt in which truth lies, perhaps, at the end of the road home, like the great golden shrine in Cologne on the Rhine, which holds irrefutable proof of the presence of God and his mercy. This is a time of proof found in dubious relics, a time in which a sign from heaven is no more than a reply to a holy text written long ago, a time in which a missionary God, the conqueror of foreign and pagan peoples, finds His way back to the tiny yet infinite cosmos of the abandoned human soul, but only with difficulty, a time in which pure faith turns out to reside only in the heart, a time in which faith's immense ecclesiastical power no longer suffices.

The novel opens with the threesome mentioned in the title, set in an apocryphal pilgrim's purgatory in the midst of the clash of people and elements. At the road's end, in a strange place, the promise of moral strength and of revelation is waiting. Perhaps the warrior will win the war and satisfy his pride, perhaps the Jesuit will win back his shaken simple devoutness, perhaps Katharina will win the heart of her true love. But no, they don't. They lose everything they seek, so that a third element can reveal itself, something of greater importance, something momentous.

Katharina, the Peacock and the Jesuit is one of the great Slovenian novels of the last decade. In it, everything of consequence that Drago Jancar has written to date is combined to present us with a view of history more shattering, more gripping, more momentous and innovative than ever. Great arsenals of language are liberated to establish a literary world from old lexicons by way of a modern narrative process which belongs to the world of modern humanity.

English version by Transcript from Klaus Detlef Olof's German translation of an article in Slovenian by Aleksander Zorn, Professor of Comparative Literature, critic and essayist, and editor at Mladinska Knjiga in Ljubljana, Slovenia's largest publishing house.

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