Reviews 2013

Autobiografski diskurs djetinjstva. [Autobiographical Discourse of Childhood.]

Autobiografski diskurs djetinjstva. [Autobiographical Discourse of Childhood.]. Andrijana Kos Lajtman. Zagreb: Naklada Ljevak, 2011. 351 pages. $28.00 (paperback).

Representations of childhood have featured commonly and increasingly in contemporary autobiographical writing, from the memoires of Virginia Wolf to Anne Frank’s diary and Roald Dahl’s autobiography. The past two decades in particular have seen a proliferation in the publishing of autobiographies both for children and adults. This has been followed by a growing interest in autobiography research. Autobiografski diskurs detinjstva is one such study; it offers a rather inward looking insight into the local particularities of the Croatian literary experience in the field of autobiographical children’s literature. The narrow focus of the book falls into the pit of not being able to attract a wide international audience, and will primarily be of significance to readers with a specific interest in Croatian literature. Having said this, the book does offer its readers valuable methodological tools for examining and for classifying autobiographical texts, as well as providing a very detailed and comprehensive analysis of Croatian children’s autobiographical texts and authors.

Autobiografski diskurs detinjstva is a result of author Andrijana Kos Lajtman’s doctoral thesis. The intention of the book is to classify Croatian children’s literature in terms of the specificity of the autobiographical discourse, its varieties and models, and to develop a taxonomy of models and types of Croatian autobiographical prose. The book is divided into two parts. The first part of the book presents a critical overview and a debate on the relevant theoretical problems related to autobiographical discourse. Lajtman develops a very elaborate classification scheme based on different models and types of Croatian autobiographical prose for children. The second part of the book studies autobiographical texts by 27 Croatian writers, analyzed and interpreted individually. In this part of the book the author presents and analyzes 37 novels with autobiographical elements, covering the period 1918-2004.

Taking an approach based on Bourdieu’s theory of cultural production, Kos Lajtman looks at the habitus of children autobiographical literature and its writers. Some of her findings include: half of the texts have been written after 1981, and more than 90% published in Croatia’s capital capital Zagreb, although most of the authors come from the rural areas of Croatia. Most of the authors or 70% are male, majority are either civil servants in the cultural field or teachers, and the majority have written their autobiographies in the middle of their creative period. This statistical evidence is used than to identify the position of autobiographical children’s literature as a market commodity and its relation to the child as consumer.

The classification of autobiographical prose for children adopted in this book is based on Helena Sablic Tomic’s typology of Croatian autobiographical prose, whose methodological ground lies in Philippe Lejeune’s “autobiographical pact” and Gerard Genette’s Fiction and Diction. Kos Lajtman identifies three types of autobiographical prose in children’s literature: narrative autobiographical prose, journal, and hybrid model/polymodality. There are three different sub-clasifications based on three criteria: 1) the narrator’s participation (autobiography in the strict sense, pseudo-autobiography, possible autobiography, biography and hybrid forms); 2) the relationship between the time of writing and the time recorded in the text (chronologically limited, associational and hybrid); and 3) the discursive form (narrative, fictional autobiography, polydiscursive and travelogue).

Autobiography has always been a popular genre, but recently we have witnessed increasing interest in it. There are many intriguing contemporary aspects in researching the writing of the self which arise from the blurred boundaries between the private and the public with the growing use of the new media, including blogs, social media, etc. Contemporary literary scholars are intensely concerned with memory-related issues, from several vantage points, including the accuracy of autobiographical fiction. As Linda Anderson points out, it is impossible to “decide once and for all about the status of autobiography as either truth or fiction” (Anderson 132). In terms of texts reflecting childhood, questions are raised about the ways in which childhood is constructed and imagined (Douglas). Kos Lajtman demonstrates her awareness and knowledge of all these issues, but does not go into a detailed analysis of these particular points. However, she does fulfill her two-fold goal to “perceive the scope of Croatian children’s autobiographical literature . . . and create models and types of autobiography in children’s literature, defining and describing them” (113, my translation). Thus Authobiografski diskurs detinjstva represents the first step towards defining the basic concepts needed for a more in-depth study of these issues in relation to the Croatian autobiographical discourse in literature written for children.

Marija Todorova
Hong Kong Baptist University, China

Works Cited

Anderson, Linda. Autobiography: New Critical Idiom. New York: Routledge, 2001.

Douglas, Kate. Contesting Childhood. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. 2010