Belladonna: also known as deadly nightshade, devil’s berries, death cherries, beautiful death, devil’s herb, which sounds terrifying and threatening. Belladonna also carried a tamer name, dog’s cherry, and an almost magical one, fairy plant.
Andreas Ban, a psychologist who no longer psychologizes, a a writer who no longer writes, lives alone in a coastal town in Croatia. His body is failing him. He sifts through the remnants of his life—his research, books, medical records, photographs—remembering old lovers and friends, the tragedies of WWII, the breakup of Yugoslavia. Ban’s memories of Belgrade (which he thought he had left behind) and of Amsterdam (a different world and life) alternate with meditations on hole-ridden time (ebbing away through its perforations), on his measly pension, on growing old and fragile, on the intelligence of rats and the agelessness of lobsters, on deadly nightshade. He tries to push the past away, to “land on a little island of time in which tomorrow does not exist, in which yesterday is buried.”
Drndić leafs through the horrors of history with a cold unflinching wit. “The past is riddled with holes,” she writes. “Souvenirs can’t help here.” And they don’t.
My favorite read of 2017 and one of my favorites of this decade. Belladonna bristles with intelligence and defiance in every paragraph, like an exceptionally erudite and alert porcupine.
— Jeff VanderMeer, The Millions
Croatian novelist Dasa Drndic continue[s] her impassioned interrogation of human failing in the obsessive, intense Belladonna.
— The Age
Belladonna forces us to remember. Grotesque imagery abounds—this is a novel that does not turn its gaze away. But then, sometimes the writing surprises us with humor, or beauty. A complicated, moving book which engages with the horrors of the past.
— The Rumpus
One of the strangest and strongest books.
Drndić has in her own way composed an astonishment that extracts light from darkness.
— The Jewish Daily Forward
Drndić is writing to witness and to make the pain stick. Even at their most lurid, her sentences remain coldly dignified.
— New York Times Book Review
Belladonna is arriving in America at exactly the right time. Drndić’s novel rings out like an air raid siren.
— Sara Nović, Music & Literature
Drndić’s depiction of psychologist and writer Andreas Ban is so vivid one starts to look for more writing by him. Ban’s utterly candid, open-eyed, no-holds-barred assessment of his own life, looking back at loves and colleagues, at what happened in Croatia and elsewhere in Europe during hideous, dark turbulent times leaves one in awe.
— Rick Simonson, Elliott Bay Book Company
A very fine novel, wise and brave. Drndić’s fiction is very powerful statement fiction, and yet somehow the quality, the humanity, the playfulness actually counter the polemical intent. This is an extraordinary book.