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„Ladybird, Ladybird“ by Milka Sćulac Sennett

Yoga Holidays With a Book

In the article-series „Yogaholiday with a Book“ we present authors connected to Croatia, regardless of whether they were born there and now live somewhere else or vice versa, by people who live and write in Croatia.

Our June favourite is a debut novel of the Croatian writer Milka Sćulac Sennett, first published in 2012.

If you are looking for a book to read while relaxing on the beach or one that will stimulate your
thoughts, this could be the right book for your next holiday in Croatia. Especially if you are traveling
to the Kvarner Bay, the Opatija Riviera or more precisely to the town of Lovran. „Ladybird, ladybird“
is an emotional, warm-hearted, witty and intelligently composed work.

Milka was born in the heart of the Istrian peninsula and studied Croatian language and literature at the
University of Rijeka, Croatia. Croatia was then on its way to becoming an independent state. During the war in the former Yugoslavia, Milka studied and worked for the newspaper „Novi list“. In 2002 she moved to London.
After many writing courses, countless books read and translated articles, she decided to write in
English, the language she says “adopted” her.

„Ladybird, Ladybird“ is the story of a 58-year-old woman from Lovran, a small town on the Adriatic
coast, who moved to the UK. The plot alternates between memories of her life in Croatia and
events of her new life in London. Chapters do not have titles but indicates time of narration
with simple indicators „now“, „before“ or „then“. This novel can be described as a story about the
realisation that life does not always turn out the way we envisioned it. Milka’s style of writing is
concise, immediately imprints itself in the minds readers and easily transports us between the
streets of London and the local Bus 32 from Rijeka to Lovran:

„In winter months, Lovran and its habitants hibernated until the next summer. After all the Italian,
French and German tourists had vanished, local folk slowed down and relaxed. Mother wished the
tourist season would last forever as she earned more during the months of June, July and August
than the rest of the year put together, even if desperate for a good night’s sleep and a day off. Before
the tourism industry took over, Lovran was a town of sailors and fishermen, with small houses
packed together in the Old Town and luxurious villas – some designed by the Austrian architect Carl
Seidel – on the sea front either still inhabited by rich Italians or left behind by rich Italians in the
aftermath of the Second World War, when Tito’s communists took over. Narrow cobbled streets were
suddenly deserted and a sharp breeze was sweeping the leaves away from the chestnut trees as I
was leaving it all behind and heading for the Academy of Dramatic Arts, after yet another summer
sweating in Café Central and hating hazelnut parfaits, custard cream layer cakes, Apple strudels and
all the other cakes which lured old German tourists.
With eyes full of sleep and growing optimism in my chest, I waited for the first number 32 bus of the
morning. It had rough wooden benches instead of seats and it would appear at the Lovran market
stop at 5 45am or even a few minutes earlier and take me to Rijeka coach station. I loved the
freedom and simplicity of studying when I could squeeze everything into a light bag: a few clothes, a
book or two, a couple of plastic containers with food cooked by mother and a box of cakes from the
Café. “

Milka deals with two thought-provoking thematic points – the MeToo Movement and the issue of
masculine toxicity – long before they became popular, and that is why “Ladybird, ladybird” can also
be described as a feminist novel.

I just have to stop doing this; pretending to read while eavesdropping on other people’s conversations. But I can’t; it keeps my mind entertained and focused, preventing it from wandering into the abyss of misery.

Oh no, it just does not look right. I would be absolutely furious if older men were coming onto you. It’s every parent’s nightmare. My mum was furious when Loredana’s husband popped around one evening to collect our broken fridge and put his arm around my waist and whispered in my ear “you are turning into a sex babe”. He did the same when he brought it back, when mother was home. She was making a coffee and suddenly turned around. I was twelve and I blushed and he pretended that nothing had happened.

The novel focuses in particular on events and relationships within the female family line and female
friendships that bring us strong women: grandmother (nonna), mother, friend Lara and „future daughter“.
I don’t think anyone before Milka has described a Croatian (or Italian) grandmother always dressed in black in such a witty and lovely way:

She was like my own mountain that would protect me from stormy winds. Just like Učka protected
Lovran. She was always squeezing my hand a little bit too hard when crossing the road or in the
crowded market as if someone would steal me. If she couldn’t hold on to me while choosing fruits
and vegetables or getting some change out of her deep pockets, I had to hold onto her thick dress.

This novel not only has a high literary value, but is also an art work with many socio-psychologic layers, touching the issues of women, men, relationships and (capitalist) society. The novel begins with a relatively neutral and even joyful mood of the protagonist, leads us through her deep crisis and her
insight into present and past realities and catharsis. The ending offers a miniature romantic image giving a reader the freedom to create another new story. Or many more stories.

I cried, laughed and really enjoyed reading this novel! You can purchase it here:

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