Cultural Memory in the Novel Unterstadt by Ivana Šojat-Kuči

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Unterstadt (2009) by Ivana Šojat-Kuči can serve as an example of a literary and artistic intervention in the process of cultural oblivion. It is a novel that has won numerous literary awards in Croatia for its innovativeness. For the first time, it tells a story in which minority culture members themselves narrate about their ideologically suppressed family memory in order to imaginatively (re)construct the past, considering the needs of re-examining the destiny of a bourgeois family of German ancestry in the town of Osijek. Themes such as reminiscence, remembering and raising awareness of the town space are a textual polygon for telling the story as a family saga about the destiny of women in four generations – great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, and daughter. Remembering and reminiscence are considered as social and cultural constructs that arise out of mutual interaction between the members of a specific family and community. Thereunto, the role of remembering and forgetting in the process of establishing historical events, female identity and the town’s toponymy as cultural/material objects should be determined, and vice versa, the role of culture-moulded objects in memory formation should be defined. There are three methodological approaches or perspectives to the reading of the novel. First, the historiographic layer of the novel is analysed, followed by the analysis of the town as a physical givenness and a cultural construct – a point of intersection of different identities, but also as an area of trauma. The issue of oblivion and reminiscence of the German national minority in the context of specifically female history is tackled as the third perspective. The novel Unterstadt is an example of a text presenting the mechanism of official remembering and forgetting and re-creation of the past by using the discursive act of narrating human fates conditioned by great historical events.

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