Branka Cubrilo: When a Character Follows You For Life

I think a writer writes about experiences they have lived through and people they have encountered as this is the ground where they feel the most familiar.

I have been called Barbara though Barbara is not my name. When I correct people, they keep on calling me Barbara.

I published a book ‘Requiem for Barbara’ a long time ago. Precisely twenty-three years ago, in 2000 in my native country of Croatia. The book received good reviews and interesting readership; the Ministry of Education purchased it and placed the book in all the libraries across the country, and I earned myself a new name – Barbara. I would correct people (especially new friends) telling them my name was Branka, but somehow that ‘mistaken’ name followed me for years.

Were there, in the story, hidden parts of my own life life-story?

People who know me well – my family and close friends, were all convinced that it was a loose memoir about my life. A life that I was in fact living in another continent and feeling all the struggles as a foreigner and young unknown writer, building their life from scratch. It is an elegy, a sad story about a young female writer who struggles as a single mother in Sydney, without having any kind of help or any family. And after the heavy burden of trying and unfavourable circumstances, she breaks down and ultimately falls terminally ill. When I was writing the story, I was absolutely unaware (as I don’t have supernatural abilities that can open a window into my own future) that a similar destiny was going to befall me. Barbara was a neurotic, artistic woman who utterly adored her daughter; she led a very hermetic life where she never let other people participate in various ways like advice, or emotional support or physical presence. When people used to tell me that I was Barbara, that they could recognise me in her every word, or every deed or emotion, I would just shrug my shoulders saying, “No, I am not Barbara, she is just a character who happens to be a sensitive writer locked in her own world.”


Branka Cubrilo

I think a writer writes about experiences they have lived through and people they have encountered as this is the ground where they feel the most familiar, hence the most competent. Even when the story is set elsewhere, or in a different historical period, the characters will still have traits of the writer or some of their experiences – real experiences or psychological structures in the mind.

I lived with that nickname for many years, the majority of readers believed that it was my own story (no, my memoir is called The Mosaic of the Broken Soul written a good ten years after ‘Requiem’), then with the passage of time the book slowly went into history, and I was called by different names of my other female characters.

In 2020, exactly 20 years after the first publication of Requiem for Barbara, I got asked to publish it again in a different language, in a different country, so, the book was published in Serbia.

The book, once again, received good reviews and great engagement from readers asking me to translate it into English as I do translate my books into English and some other languages.

My friends and acquaintances who read Requiem for Barbara twenty years ago, re-read the book and I often received emails or messages from people asking the same question: “When are you going to translate this book into English?”

I was never sure if I wanted to translate it, as this story somehow always brought me a profound sadness as it reflected the time of my life when I was living under lots of emotional stress and adversity. Plus, I had the feeling that I had finished all my dealings with this story and with Barbara herself. But, she was a part of me, part of my psyche, for many years, and I understood that she needed to live again through new readership; I understood that she was destined to be published and re-published over and over and get a new audience as if she would gain a new life, a prolonged one, or that she yearned to live forever accessible to many people, in many languages.

Now, needless to say, I translated it into English and the book was published this year (2023).

In this elegy of mine each chapter starts with a stanza from the poem ‘Barbara’ by Jacques Prevert, setting the atmosphere where Barbara shows parts of her personality to the reader – being a writer herself she is a poetic, other-worldly soul who struggles with everyday living, in a common world, among the people who don’t have time to listen to the song of her soul nor hear verses of her poetry.

And, yes, people still, or again, call me Barbara, but to a writer it doesn’t really matter what they call them, as long as their characters live and their books are widely read – we know that sometimes our books are remembered by the name of the characters instead of the authors themselves, but with certain characters of mine I know that I have been woven into not just the story but the part of my soul I have given to them.;jsessionid=14A51E3199CD42EE976336DAB4090B4B.prodny_store01-atgap13?ean=9781645409274

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