Obituary: Antun Soljan

Antun Soljan, writer: born 1932; died 9 July 1993.

WITH THE death of Antun Soljan, Croatian literature has lost one of its brightest stars. A sophisticated, cosmopolitan figure, he brought a particular kind of sparkle to the cultural scene in Croatia from the moment he began to write in the early Fifties. This was a time of pervasive drabness and Soljan's wit, uncompromisingly independent stance and insistence on the widest contemporary cultural frame of reference were a tonic.

He began his career as a poet and continued to publish poetry all his life, the last volume appearing this year. His poems express the essential quality of all his writing: a remarkable blend of intellect, irony and passionate commitment to basic human values. Their language mixes modern colloquial speech with archaic references to older literary texts. If it is possible to identify a central theme to his poetry it would be the search of the contemporary urban intellectual for his lost identity. Soljan's prose is preoccupied with the problems of the Cold War generation.

His first important novel, Izdajice ('Traitors', 1961), introduced a new, analytical, controlled style. Soljan's 'traitors' are outsiders incapable of inclusion in the world around them. Kratki izlet ('Brief Excursion', 1965) describes an allegorical quest for medieval frescoes in the myth-filled landscape of Istria, in which the main character is finally left alone to contemplate the meaninglessness of existence. Luka ('The Harbour', 1974) is a satirical description of the building of a harbour, an enterprise doomed to failure from the outset. Drugi ljudi na mjesecu ('The Second Man on the Moon', 1978) returns to the subject matter and artistic procedure of Soljan's first novel.

In addition to poetry and fiction, Soljan wrote short stories, plays - for stage and radio - criticism, and essays. He was also a painstaking compiler of anthologies, a task which bears eloquent witness to his deep commitment to and wide knowledge of the world's literature and that of his Croatian homeland. As if this activity were not enough for one lifetime, he was also a remarkable translator of English and American prose and verse: he knew the English language with a thoroughness, sophistication and ease which many native speakers would have envied.

With his friend and colleague Ivan Slamnig he introduced TS Eliot to Yugoslavia. Among his acclaimed translations are those of Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer, made in 1984, and recently Alice in Wonderland. It was from these firm roots in Anglo-Saxon culture that he spoke out with such assurance in the gloomy days of political conformism. This knowledge helped form the demanding artistic criteria he strove to meet, at the same time setting standards for others. His voice was strong, unwavering, salutary, sharp.

A close friend and fellow writer refers in his valedictory note to the 'crystal' clarity of Soljan's tone and the analogy with cut glass seems apt, conveying as it does both the incisive quality of his intellect and the transparent lightness of his wit.

Soljan's work will remain and with time acquire increasing definition as one of the outstanding achievements of 20th-century Croatian literature, and Soljan the man will be remembered with love and gratitude by all who knew him for his unfailing energy throughout his career and his 13- year struggle with cancer, which was never allowed for long to curb his infectious humour and irrepressible zest for life.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Management Trainer

£30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Exciting career opportunity to join East...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Scientist / Research Assistant

£18000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious start-up company b...

Reach Volunteering: Chair of Trustees

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Do you love the Engl...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin