Reviews 2015

Gospođi Alisinoj desnoj nozi. [Alice’s right foot]

Gospođi Alisinoj desnoj nozi. [Alice’s right foot]. Ljiljana Pešikan Ljuštanović. Novi Sad: Zmajeve dečje igre, 2012. 151 pages. 1,300 RSD (paperback).

Ljiljana Pešikan Ljuštanović is one of Serbia's most prominent literary scholars. Her expertise lies in folklore, children's and young adult literature. Pešikan Ljuštanović's latest publication in the field of children’s literature, Gospođi Alisinoj desnoj nozi, is part of the project The aspects of identity and their formation in Serbian literature at the Faculty of Philosophy in Novi Sad (Serbia), and it was published as the twenty-sixth title within the publishing activities of the International Centre of Literature for Children Zmajeve dečje igre [Zmaj’s children’s games] (Novi Sad, Serbia). This is a collection of eleven thematically diverse essays, and although none of them deals with Carroll's Alice`s Adventures in Wonderland, the reference is clearly justified by the author’s note that the spirit of Alice has pervaded her entire commitment to children’s literature. Alice is thus established as a kind of a common denominator, an intimate interior rhythm continuously repeated in the chapters in this volume.

The book begins with two studies of Serbian oral lullabies. Looking at the oral lullaby as a unique discourse, a kind of lyric distinctive in content, rhythm and meaning, Pešikan Ljuštanović notes that the opinions of the researchers of folk literature usually differ when it comes to its definition and classification. What is common for all these poems is that the child portrayed in them experiences unusual tenderness and warmth, which brings them closer to the spirit of modern poetry for children. As an expression of unconditional maternal love and blessing, the function of the lullaby is to protect a child falling asleep, as well as to enable it a quick process of integration into the community. It is precisely this formula of blessing and the elements of magical protection that, as Pešikan Ljuštanović argues, provide a deeper understanding of the entire traditional ritual of putting children to sleep, as well as of the complexity of the child as a concept in oral tradition and traditional culture.

In the next two studies the relationship between Serbian oral and literary tales is explored. The Serbian literary fairy tale as a genre developed its own distinctive characteristics but certain elements of oral tradition and oral literature remained part of the tales. Therefore, the aforementioned relation is considered within the domain of space and time, character building and the connection to the potential initiation story. Such an approach sheds light on the oral storytelling tradition as a suggestive, dynamic and a highly productive narrative form.

The author also elucidates the elements of oral tradition in the novel by Vladimir Stojšin, Bioskop u kutiji šibica [Cinema in a Box of Matches, 1978]. Highlighting childlike storytelling and talking about life in this novel as a kind of traditional textuality, she discusses how storytelling helped children process their social experiences in the war-torn city of Pančevo and introduces us to a possibility of a cross-generational appeal of stories about events that happened during the Second World War.

Tackling the subject of crossover fiction from a similar angle as thematically ageless Pešikan Ljuštanović then explores some of the early stories of Momo Kapor, an established Serbian painter and writer, published in the magazine Nin in the early 1970s. Arguing that Kapor’s stories can encourage literary sensibility and curiosity of the reading group transitioning from a children's world to the world of adults, she highlights their particular potential for appealing to an audience of both adults and children.

The focus of the seventh study is the unusual novel Vladimir iz čudne priče [Vladimir from the Strange Story, 2001] by Gordana Timotijević. Pešikan Ljuštanović uncovers complex cultural ties and intertextual dialogue that Timotijević has established with well-known literary characters (Little Red Riding Hood, Anselmus from Hoffmann’s The Golden Pot, Gretel, and one of the dwarves from the Grimm fairy tale), as well as with the Slovenian, German and European literary traditions as inexhaustible sources of inspiration.

In the following two essays the author deals with fantasy in contemporary Serbian children's literature, in the wider context of contemporary Western fantastic children's literature. Particular attention is devoted to parallel trends in Serbian and Croatian children's literature. She starts from a premise that a fantasy novel for children can be distinguished from the wide area of fiction due to the specificity of the leading characters: in most fantasy novels for children, the focal characters are children or young, non-adult heroes. Aware of the gendered narrative, the author demonstrates the fact that this role of a child/adolescent is more frequently assigned to a boy/young man than to a girl/young woman, which she exemplifies with the following Serbian and Croatian fantasy novels for children: Aven i jazopas u Zemlji Vauka [Aven and Badgerdog in the Land of Wook, 2003] and Peti leptir [The Fifth Butterfly, 2007] by Uroš Petrović andProzor zelenog bljeska Window of the Green Flare, 2004] and Mrlja [Oil Slick, 2005] by Zvonko Todorovski.

The practical application of theoretical considerations of fantastic novels for children can be found in the last two chapters representing a homage to the so-called hybrid fiction in the works for children written by Uroš Petrović and Neil Gaiman. Pešikan Ljuštanović pays particular attention to how Petrović establishes a complex intertextual dialogue with the world of popular culture and mass media (film, comics, music), as well as with Serbian oral tradition. This is particularly evident in his second novel, Peti leptir, which interweaves the elements of horror, ghost stories and detective stories with distinctive children's folklore. Calling it the first Serbian horror for children, the author compares it to Gaiman's Coraline and The Graveyard Book due to its typological similarities, shared motives and elements of horror and humour.

In sum, Gospođi Alisinoj desnoj nozi presents good points for further research into Serbian children’s literature and is a notable addition to studies published within the last ten years, primarily Jovan Ljuštanović’s Crvenkapa gricka vuka [Little Red Riding Hood is Biting the Wolf, 2004] and Brisanje lava [Deleting the Lion, 2009], Tijana Tropin’s Motiv Arkadije u dečjoj književnosti [The Arcadian Motif in Children’s Literature, 2006], Snežana Šarančić Čutura’s Novi život stare priče [New Life for an Old Story, 2006], and Zorana Opačić’s Naivna svest i fikcija [Naive Consciousness and Fiction, 2011] and Poetika bajke Grozdane Olujić [Grozdana Olujić’s Fairy Tale Poetics, 2011]. Exploring children`s literature with enthusiasm and a clear fascination with her subject matter, Pešikan Ljuštanović justifies her conclusions with lucid argumentation based on solid theoretical knowledge and exceptional insight into the fields she deals with. Written in a clear and intelligible style, the essays of this heterogeneous volume aspire to address very specific and particular topics within the field of children’s and YA literature, calling for further discussions and new research ventures.

Ivana Mijić Nemet
Preschool Teacher Training College in Novi Sad, Serbia