No, the 1990s must not return, we agree on that. While most of us mean a final end to Buffalo Towers sneakers, Eurodance and moonwashed jeans, for Vanja, her brother Marko and her friend Kasandra it is about more. The three are the heroes in Barbi Marković’s novel The fucking timethat sends you on a brilliant trip through Belgrade in the 1990s. A city where the buildings are gray and the people are blue. A time when Vanja was given yellow pajamas instead of toys for New Year’s Eve. A time when the mother tells her daughter when she goes out that she shouldn’t allow herself to be raped.
The parents are hopeless, depressed, either sedated by drugs and alcohol or aggressive. Vanja is starving, she wants to eat, consume, the signs of the times that could show that you belong: the right shoes, the right shirts, the right accessories. Vanja, Marko and Kasandra have none of this. Their life consists of falling victim to bigger and stronger bullies, and as if all of that wasn’t enough, they also become time travelers. One day, the malfunction of an exploding time machine catapults it four years into the future.
Like a wild LSD trip
Sounds crazy? It is. The children wake up in unfamiliar bodies. Vanja can only use her diary to reconstruct what has happened in the meantime. A war. Vanja and the others missed the years of the war in Yugoslavia and yet experienced them. “If we don’t die, we’ll see each other tomorrow, if we die, we’ll see tomorrow,” it says succinctly in the diary. Vanja, the time traveler, may not be the only one who experiences this eerie dissociation in the face of the war. When the children return to the place where they were catapulted from one shitty time to the next, an adventurous hunt for a mysterious relic begins: a gold medallion with a distinctive alligator profile, which the time machine engineer Miomir explains to them could be the life of the Sustainably change the carrier.
What reads like a colorful fantasy trip or a wild LSD trip is much more: a parable of a catastrophic, unprocessed time in the European “periphery”, in which galloping inflation and growing national hatred lead to a catastrophe that cost the lives of countless people. The young people, who jump back and forth in time, are confronted not only with the individual needs of their own growing selves, but also with the European catastrophe of the post-war period: a new war on European soil. Among the fantastic fantasy elements and the grandiose curse tirades of the children, which can extend over entire heels (“I’ll crack your head and break your spine, I’ll waltz on your ribs until you piss breast milk and vomit blood” ), hides a sad story about a stretch of land between post-socialism and predatory capitalism, in which nationalism and religion pretend to make sense. But it is also a sharp criticism of the oblivion of history, the denial of the past and the amazing ability of many people to forget their own recent past: “Basically, people cannot (correctly) remember. Often times they think they remember, but that’s not true. Everyone thinks that they remember, but they don’t remember or they remember wrongly or they remember differently, depending on the point of view (and they do it a little differently every time). “
Until the machine is repaired
Miomir, the time traveler, is allowed to start a lengthy monologue about his presence: “It’s all wrong. Nobody says hello and thanks and please anymore, nobody uses subjunctive. I know this time, which is harrowing and disastrous for me, is your life for all of you. But I wanted to go back to 1990 in order to prevent the 90s as they are now. ”He explains that time jumps could occur again at any time until the machine is repaired if you are in a state that is“ all nineties ” is called. An endless time loop, the return of the same, so to speak. You have to find a way out. “The neglected ruffians would always take everything away from me and you. The war waged in our name and against our will would never really end. “
Marković chooses a narrative trick, she addresses Vanja in the form of a “you”, so the narrator appears like an older, omniscient version of Vanja, who leads her younger self through time. Once again Marković proves to be a fantastic narrator of an oppressive and yet never seemingly hopeless world. She doesn’t grant her heroes a real happy ending. But at least: the children win small wins against crappy bullies.
The fucking time Barbie Markovic Residenz 2021, 304 S., 24 €