Reviews 2015

Potjehovi hologrami. Studije, eseji i kritike iz književnosti za djecu i mladež. [Holograms of Quest: articles, essays and reviews of children’s and young adult literature]

Potjehovi hologrami. Studije, eseji i kritike iz književnosti za djecu i mladež. [Holograms of Quest: articles, essays and reviews of children’s and young adult literature]. Diana Zalar. Zagreb: Alfa, 2014. 654 pages. 150 HRK (hardback).

Diana Zalar is one of Croatia’s leading researchers of children’s and YA literature and one of the most eminent experts on Croatian children’s and YA poetry and fantasy. Potjehovi hologrami (Holograms of Quest),1 the latest publication from this prolific and versatile scholar, is a compendium of thematically and generically diverse texts produced during the author’s 25-year-long academic career. Providing an extensive and insightful overview of a distinguished career in Croatian academia as well as presenting the many faces of Zalar – the researcher, the educator, the lecturer, the literary critic, the translator, the writer, the parent, the "common reader," the bibliophile – this eclectic collection covers a wide range of topics dealing with various aspects of Croatian and global children’s and YA literature, as well as children’s/YA culture in general. The book includes more than 100 articles; essays; reviews; transcripts of speeches given at book launches, round tables and similar occasions; and translations of children’s and YA poetry and fiction, all of which are organized into 10 thematic sections.

The first and most extensive section in the collection is dedicated to Croatian children’s writers; this discussion is continued in the second section, which further expands it by introducing an international dimension. Two texts within this section warrant special mention: an extensive article on Astrid Lindgren and an overview of translations of Croatian children’s literature and its reception abroad. Sections three, five and six contain translations of children’s poems, short stories and selections from longer prose works, from Slovenian (translated in cooperation with Vladimira Velički and Teodora Kučinac) and English. What is missing from these rather unexpected poetic and prose interludes in an otherwise scholarly compendium is some contextualization (what were the criteria for selecting the texts? what is the principle of their organisation within the sections?) and (in the case of section three) a list of sources for the texts. Section four deals with Croatian children’s poetry, while section seven discusses various issues related to picturebooks. In addition to reviews of Croatian and international picturebooks, this section contains a most welcome overview of the history and current state of picturebooks in Croatia. The final three sections of Zalar’s book move beyond the field of (children’s) literature and discuss radio plays, cultural manifestations (section eight), theatrical productions, animated films (section nine), attitudes of primary-school and university students towards reading in general and required reading in particular, the use of poetry in the classroom, the popularization of reading (section ten), etc. Zalar’s discussions of why children and young adults nowadays prefer the company of gaming consoles and computer screens to that of the printed page are a particularly interesting and thought-provoking part of the final section.

As this brief and inconclusive overview of the content of Zalar’s book demonstrates, Potjehovi hologrami is primarily characterized by an abundance of themes and plurality of approaches. The dense, though occasionally repetitive, volume not only covers some well-trodden ground (analyses of "classics" of children's literature) but also succeeds in creating new venues of research by discussing young authors who have so far received little scholarly attention. For this reason, many of the texts included in the collection are likely to serve as starting points for future research. The author should also be commended for her commitment to an international perspective, her erudition and the ease and clarity with which she presents her arguments.

As is often the case with collections such as this, the content is uneven and there is some fluctuation in the relevance of individual contributions. Though undoubtedly impressive, the wide range can seem overambitious at times and leave the reader with the feeling that the book might have benefited from a stricter editorial policy and more stringent selection criteria (some texts barely merit inclusion in their respective sections, especially in section ten). The organization of the material is also problematic: although the author maintains that thematic sections facilitate navigation among the large number of texts, the only way to find all the texts about a specific author or topic is to go through the entire lengthy list of contents. Unfortunately, the latter – being incomplete (entry 1.19 is missing; the titles of translated texts are not given) and even inaccurate (the subtitles in the list of contents often differ from those found in the actual texts) – is not entirely reliable either. Given the sheer number of topics, titles and authors discussed, as well as occasional thematic overlappings between sections, the collection would greatly benefit from an index of authors and titles.

Zalar’s engaging and fluent prose marked by an unabashed passion for books more than makes up for the volume’s structural problems. Substituting the often dry, jargon-ridden and highly objective academic prose with accessible language, everyday examples and personal reflections and anecdotes (especially prominent in her honest and enthusiastic book reviews), Zalar’s texts are likely to appeal to a broad audience. The wealth of topics discussed in Potjehovi hologrami, coupled with the author’s contagious enthusiasm for her subject matter, makes the collection not only an informative and stimulating read but also a most enjoyable one.

Nada Kujundžić
University of Turku, Finland
University of Zagreb, Croatia

Note

1 Quest is the titular character in “How Quest Sought the Truth”, the opening story in Croatian author Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić’s collection of fairy tales, Croatian Tales of Long Ago (1924, also translated as Tales of Long Ago).

Works Cited

Brlić-Mažuranić, Ivana. Croatian Tales of Long Ago. Trans. Fanny S. Copeland. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1924.