‘God can come up with some funny tricks,’ said Zoran, ‘particularly after he’s had a good bottle of wine.’
Under the Croatian Sun by Anthony Stancomb is an expatriate’s experience in a place far from home and totally different from his hometown.
Leaving behind a cosmopolitan life, successful career, and grown-up kids, Anthony, with his wife, Ivana, leaves off for the island of Vis amid the Adriatic islands in the country of Croatia.
Reading the first couple of pages where Anthony describes the couple’s arrival to the island, the intricate details kind of put me off, and I was wondering if that’s the whole book going to be like. But another few pages into the book, it got more and more interesting.
The plot of the story is simple; a couple trying their best to fit in their new, adopted home. The book is written in the first-person narrative with an authoritative male voice.
Anthony’s way of writing is engaging and interesting, with humor weaved into the story. The author has a witty way of describing the couple’s efforts, repeated failures, and hard-earned achievements in winning the hearts of the locals.
The beauty of the island, its vineyards, green mountains, the heavenly smell of flowers, the clear water and the novelty of swimming in it under the glistening sun right in your backyard, all painted a vivid picture of Vis for the reader.
One of the great strengths of this book is that the author has painted the landscape of Vis acutely. The descriptions show his delight in the beauty of his new home, but dedicating a whole chapter to the flowers again later on, and describing the swimming experience again had me skip a few pages.
The pace of the story is fast. We walk through the couple’s first year in Vis as they make new friends, fare with new neighbors, and go at lengths to win their trust.
The story has many subplots that are not only interesting but informative and insightful. The village hierarchy and the influence of elders seep into the narrative like:
We’ll get to the village through the grannies.
Karmela, their maid, advises them to use granny power to infuse into the villagers’ hearts. The incidents that ensue are funny and delightful.
True to English culture, the history of Cricket in Croatia and the formation of the Vis Island Cricket Club occupies a significant portion of their experience and process of acceptance.
As a Pakistani, it was satisfying for me to see my country’s name listed with the prominent few. The first team of the islanders reminded me of the cricket team of villagers in an Indian movie, Lagaan.
Though the detailed commentary of the matches had me skip pages again, perhaps that was only me or me being a ‘woman’ as Anthony might put it.
The story, in an interesting and light way, gives a firsthand description of the politics of a former communist country. Belonging to a country with unjust and corrupt authorities, I could relate very well to the natives’ reluctance to be in the bad books of the authorities by teaming up with the couple in their protests.
The book underlines the sharp differences in perspective and behavior of people, their struggle to survive, and their emotional capacities that become their instinct after living in a certain political setup.
The couple’s frustration and active protest as compared to native’s silent acceptance of encroachment on their rights clearly show how profound an effect a stable or unstable political setup has on people over the decades.
As grandma Klakic puts it,
Our kittens have to grow up fierce and strong. They must learn how to kill rats and fight off dogs. If they were just sweet and cuddly, they would never survive, and you wouldn’t want that, would you? And that’s the way it is with our people. We’ve been trodden down for so long that this is how we’ve become. Hard and difficult to deal with, some might say, but, if we weren’t like this, we would never have survived.
The book has a lot of references… and by a lot, I do literally mean “A Lot,” and though they might show the author’s zeal to write about his breadth of knowledge, sometimes I found it difficult or distracting to put things into perspective.
Not that it made the story less interesting, but I constantly felt at a loss for understanding. The book will perhaps be more entertaining for Englishmen, but for a more diverse audience, it might not catch up to that end.
All in all, an interesting and easy read. In the end, both the author and his wife get accustomed to the ways of the village and get accepted by the community. A change in their personality is also discreetly described by the author when he says,
“The way I dress makes me feel at home with the guys at Zoran’s who have a similar taste to mine in practical attire and manly footwear.” With a snort she’d learned from Karmela, Ivana left the room.
Sonia Ahmed is a short story writer and critic. She writes fiction that stays true to the non-fictitious unvoiced sections of the society. She enjoys writing opinion articles close to her heart. Health and fitness writer by day, she looks for positivity in this increasingly chaotic world.
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