Sunday, 6 January 2019

'The Light of Adria'

The collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire and the fairly arbitrary frontiers that carved up its carcass is central to this Inner Europe story by John Howard. Zadria/Zadrograd is a Dalmatian port that was originally part of the Venetian republic, then flourished as part of the Habsburg's multi-ethnic system. It was once noted for its lighthouse. But after 1919 Zadria ends up as part of Italy, not Yugoslavia, and is thus cut off from old trade links, and culturally isolated.

In this backwater a young man struggles with history on a more personal level as a student at the small university. Kasun's family owns a winery, but now their vineyards are on the other side of the Yugoslav border. He dreams of restoring the Kasun fortunes, but how? Must newly-fascist Italy expand, or should Zadria be ceded to Yugoslavia? Students activists bicker over these options.

Running parallel to this familiar theme is Kasun's interest in the old lighthouse, which his professor, Giunta, is convinced has an esoteric history long predating Venice. The Fascist authorities want to light a beacon on the structure so it will shine out as a symbol of Italian power restored. Giunta seems to collaborate, to Kasun's surprise. But the special offering made by Giunta calls down powers that existed long before the nations we know.

The story ends with an implicit plea for tolerance, for the cosmopolitan 'citizen of nowhere' condemned by narrow nationalists to be considered truly civilised. Our duty is to 'maintain the light'. That is a welcome thought in dark times.

No comments: