Eight years after her debut literary work Eleven Women, for which she won the “Novel of the Year” award in 2011, Snezana Mladenovska Andjelkov (1977) published her second novel Keep Silent With Your Mouth Open (Ili-ili, 2019). Both books are similar in volume (short novels of a hundred pages), and to some extent in structure, because they are short, almost documentary pieces of the great film material of reality, cut and edited into one whole. In fact, film editing is the profession that the author deals with in her “other” creative life, while for this novel she herself, in a recent interview, says that it is a “psycho (mono) drama” (A novel inspired by the silent family history). But let’s put aside the similarities and see what is special about this novel, about this book we are talking about tonight.
Keep Silent With Your Mouth Open is divided into three units which with their titles hint at a subjectively defined chronology: Long Ago, Not So Long Ago and Recently. The story that covers a period of about hundred years in the first part is told in the third person, with an abundance of data that seem to thrown in with a distance, from the aspect of an impersonal, undefined narrator. The author out of this pool of characters, events, locations and times emerges in the last sentence. “Mladen Mladenovski is my father” (Mladenovska Andjelkov, 33) she says before starting, now in the first person, to tell about the period that was “not so long ago” – especially about the 1980s and 1990s, the last decades of the existence of the Yugoslav federation, the decades of our youth. I say the author (and not the narrator) on purpose, because the personal, intimate narrative in this second part already resembles a literary (perhaps somewhat romanticized, novelized, fictional, literary intervened, but convincingly documentary) autobiography. Of course, all this is due to the contribution of the family archive included in it, the quoted correspondence of the members of her closest family, but also the titles of the movies and songs, the names of the bands, the cultural events that took place in that period. The documentary sound of the novel is further intensified in the third part, which, now visually as well, with a different (official!) font, includes documents from the Goli Otok file of the author’s grandfather, Kiro Simonov Mladenovski – Kazan. That file is in fact the central point around which, at different angles, all the other stories, all the other characters, all the other narratives in this novel revolve.
Goli Otok has long been part of a (and here it is again, this word that keeps coming back!) silent history. It was, and in many respects still is, a taboo, particularly unpleasant and inappropriate in relation to the widely accepted understanding of the liberal nature of Yugoslav socialism as opposed to that of the so-called Eastern bloc, or in relation to what we now often call Yugo-nostalgia. Exactly six years ago, the Croatian portal Novi plamen (www.noviplamen.net) published an article entitled “16,101 Goli Otok inmates according to the list”, which is followed by the lists with the names of all those sixteen thousand political prisoners who had spent part of their life on the island. Next to the names of about a thousand of them, under the column “nationality” is the code 93 – Macedonian. There are the names of Brashnarov Todor Panko (died on Goli Otok), Markovski Milan Venko (poet), Tochko Klime Ivan (writer), Kljusev Mane Nikola (later the first Prime Minister of the independent Republic of Macedonia). There is his name, as well – Mladenovski Simon Kiro, born on January 15, 1907, arrested on November 16, 1950, and released on January 3, 1953. “The clash between the Communist Information Bureau and the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, i.e. the clash between the USSR and the FNRY, which began in 1948, was an event – as it would later turn out – crucial for the Yugoslav state and society,” Jelena Vujic said in the article above the list (Vujić). “For those who declared themselves in support of Stalin, the time that followed was marked by suffering and personal tragedy, for others – the Resolution sparked prospects for a better life… Goli Otok as a camp – such as it was – was a crusher of human souls” (Ibid ). This is the broader context in which the experienced revolutionary, communist, prisoner with past labor, Kiro Mladenovski, the author’s grandfather, the character around whom this novel is built, chooses to be faithful to what he understood as his essential ideology. With this decision of his, he found himself on the wrong side of the historic moment. His imprisonment, in addition to the social exclusion and the permanent damage to his health, has consequences for his loved ones. It, as Snezana says, “will erase the carelessness and joy in the family”, and will be crucial “for further developments” in the lives of the other members.
In the same interview mentioned above, the author says that this is a novel about “silent history, both family and personal, and about the fear that memories might fade with age, while they should never be forgotten” („Novel inspired by a silent family history“). Perhaps the need to document family memories, especially those that place the personal, “small”, intimate story in the big, official history, is also due to the fear that “what has been forgotten can never be fully restored” (Benjamin, 210). Or, perhaps, at some point in each author’s life (somewhere between ancestors and descendants), the personal (and family personal) becomes the all-encompassing, single story from which he (in this case she) cannot (or does not want to) escape (in fact, Snezana, too, dedicated this book both to her son and her father). Or, perhaps, the one who has undertaken to write, to write down, to take note, does it primarily because he/she feels obligated to give some voice, some way out of the silence to the other, to the one whose stories are so traumatic that he/she simply can not tell them alone. Like the story of Kiro Simonov Mladenovski-Kazan, who “will bury his voice deep inside himself and build a wall of silence greater than the Great Wall of China” (Mladenovska Andjelkov, 20).