Millennia ago, stories and poems were mostly shared through word of mouth, so reconstructing their history is difficult. Oral literature left no tangible traces, often intertwined with written texts later on, and entailed constantly changing details as stories passed from medium to medium and person to person (which also beautifully enriched stories). In Croatia, written literature, much of which was influenced by word-of-mouth stories, began to blossom in the 16th century. Renaissance writer Marko Marulić (Split, 1450 – Split, 1524) is considered the father of Croatian literature. Marulić is believed to have finished the first-ever Croatian epic, Judita, on April 22, 1501. April 22 is, in honour of Judita, Croatian Book Day; coincidentally held one day before Wold Book Day on April 23. The first-ever Croatian novel is widely held to be Planina ('Mountain'), finished by Petar Zoranić (Zadar, 1508 – unknown) in 1536.
Since these first literary undertakings, the Croatian literary scene has transformed, thrived, and been translated throughout the centuries, but many renowned works have yet to published in English (including those of writers like Marija Jurić Zagorka and Antun Gustav Matoš). Still, there many phenomenal pieces by Croatian authors available to the English-speaking public. We're bringing you a list of some of the best Croatian books, originally written in English or with published English translations. Some translated books may be rare, precious finds - so consider this an open call for a treasure hunt, as well. The cross-genre books here are listed by date originally published.
Must-read books by Croatian authors available in English
1501 - Judith by Marko Marulić, translated by Henry R. Cooper
Judith tells the biblical story of the widow Judith seduced and murdered Assyrian general Holofernes to save the city of Bethulia. Marulić's epic draws clear parallels with the then-situation in Croatia, consistently attacked by Ottoman soldiers at the time.
1551 - Uncle Maroye by Marin Držić, translated by Filip Krenus
A comedy play taking place in Rome, with characters from the Republic of Ragusa (Dubrovnik).
1620s - Osman by Ivan Gundulić, translated by Edward D. Goya
Osman's theme is a Polish victory against the Ottomans in 1621, as well as a rebellion against the young sultan Osman in 1622.
1871 - The Goldsmith's Treasure by August Šenoa, translated by Neven Divjakinja
A tale of forbidden love that takes place in the 16th-century Zagreb of old, by one of Croatia's most renowned authors.
1877 - The Peasant Rebellion by August Šenoa, abridged & translated by Branko Brusar
Šenoa tells the fictional tale of a peasant rebellion of the 16th century.
1903 - Dubrovnik Trilogy by Ivo Vojnović, translated by Ada Broch
Dubrovnik Trilogy is a drama about the fall of the Republic of Ragusa.
1910s-1950s Twelve Poems by Tin Ujević, translated by Richard Berengarten and Daša Marić
A translation and compilation of twelve works by the celebrated Croatian poet.
1913 - The Brave Adventures of Lapitch by Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić, translated by Theresa Mravintz and Branko Brusar
This book tells the story of an orphan boy, Lapitch, who works for a mean shoemaker. Laptich runs away and embarks on a seven-day journey, meeting a motley crew of fellow adventurers along the way.
1916 - Croatian Tales of Long Ago by Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić, translated by F.S. Copeland
Brlić-Mažuranić presents a collection of ingenious short stories in the fantasy genre.
1922 - The Croatian God Mars by Miroslav Krleža, translated by Celia Hawkesworth
A collection of short stories serves as an overview of (poor) conditions peasants and soldiers lived through at the beginning of the 20th century.
1932 - The return of Philip Latinovicz by Miroslav Krleža, translated by Zora Depolo
This novel follows the story of Philip, an artist who returns home to Kaptol after years away. He must readjust to life with his mother while navigating a new lover and friendships.
1938 - On the Edge of Reason by Miroslav Krleža, translated by Zora Depolo
Krleža's protagonist is a successful lawyer, who one day, blurts out an honest thought in the middle of an elite party. After that, his life goes topsy-turvy, and the lines between conformity and individualism, and reality and imagination are explored.
1950s-2000s - Selected Poems of Vesna Parun by Vesna Parun, translated by Dasha Culić Nisula
A translation and compilation of selected poems by the celebrated Croatian poet.
1954 The Wonder of Dust by Vjeskoslab Kaleb, translated by Zora Depolo
Kaleb follows two young men on a journey to find themselves.
1965 - Cyclops by Ranko Matanović, translated by Vlada Stojiljković
A semi-autobiographical novel following a theatre critic who decides to starve himself to avoid being drafted in WWII.
1972 - The Cricket Beneath the Waterfall: And Other Stories by Miroslav Krleža
A collection of stories: Dr. Gregor and the Evil One, translated by Stanley Frye; The Cricket Beneath the Waterfall; translated by Frank S. Lambasa; Devil's Island; translated by Bob Whyte; A Funeral in Teresienburg, translated by Ralph Bogart, Hodorlahomor the Great, translated by Drenka Willen; The Love of Marcel Faber-Fabriczy, translated by Branko Lenski.
1974 - The Girl from Zagreb by Branislav Glumac, translated by A. Saška Mutić
A coming-of-age tale following protagonist Marijana who, though she comes from a traditional family, lives life on the edge.
1986 - April Fool's Day by Josip Novakovich
Novakovich deals with the life of protagonist Ivan Dolinar, who was born in Tito-ruled Yugoslavia on April 1st, 1948.
1986 - Forgotten Son by Miro Gavran, translated by Nina H. Antoljak
This emotional novel is written in form of a journal by Mislav, a 20-year-old mentally disabled man who returns to his village after spending 16 years in institutions. A new romance awaits him at home.
1992-1996 - How we Survived Communism and Even Laughed, Balkan-express and Café Europa by Slavenka Drakulić
A trilogy dealing with the change of life in Eastern Europe after the fall of communism.
1995 - The Culture of Lies: Antipolitical Essays by Dubravka Ugrešić
Ugrešić presents a collection of essays cynically exploring (and denouncing) lies prevalent in the politics and culture of post-war Croatia.
1996 - Do Angels Cry? by Matko Marušić, translated by Graham McMaster
Marušić presents a collection of short stories relaying everyday human experiences during the Croatian War of Independence.
2000 - A Brief Excursion and Other Stories by Antun Soljan, translated by Ellen Elias-Bursac
A collection of fiction stories devoted to finding identity and self-exploration in post-war Croatia.
2003 - Zagreb, Exit South by Edo Popović, translated by Julienne Eden Busic
Popović explores post-communism Zagreb and everyday life in the 1990s city. Break-ups, alcoholism and depression are addressed, but Popović uses wit and humour to show the bigger, positive picture of life.
2005 - Infidelities: Stories of War and Lust by Josip Novakovich
This collection navigates the life of humans during extraordinary times with gritty, authentic and often unexpected story plots.
2006 - The Naked She-Wolf by Vesna Ćuro-Tomić, translated by Ligia Luckhurst
The Naked She-Wolf follows Zagreb-based author Ana as she navigates the complexities of living and working in the post-war urban city, as well as finding herself.
2007 - Baba Yaga Laid an Egg by Dubravka Ugrešić
This fictional book explores the mythical character that is Baba Yaga (basically the Slavic, and female, version of the Boogeyman).
2007 - Strangers Either Way by Jasna Čapo Žmegač, translated by Nina H. Antoljak and Mateusz M. Stanojević
Čapo Žmegač offers an anthropological perspective into 1990s Croatia, telling stories rarely heard of: those of more or less forced migrations of Croats from Serbia into Croatia, their perceived 'ethnic homeland'.
2007 - Our Man in Iraq by Robert Perišić, translated by Will Firth
Our Man in Iraq follows Toni, a Zagreb-based journalist struggling to balance his career and personal life. After he volunteers his Arabic-speaking cousin to report on the Iraq War, Toni finds himself caught up in a disappearance and web of lies.
2010 - The Hotel Tito by Ivana Simić Bodrožić, translated by Ellen Elias-Bursac
Simić Bodrožić presents a nine-year-old girl growing up as a 1990s war refugee, who refuses to give up a positive outlook on life.
2010 - Farewell, Cowboy by Olja Savičević Ivančević, translated by Celia Hawkesworth
Farewell, Cowboy tells the story of Dada, a young woman who moves from the city to a small town in Croatia, and deals with her family history, including her brother's suicide and mother's hoarding of pills.
2011 - Running Away to Home by Jennifer Wilson
Wilson's autobiographic book tells the story of a middle-class family from the Midwestern U.S. picking up and moving to Croatia, their ancestral home.
2012 - Trieste by Daša Drndić, translated by Ellen Elias-Bursac
Trieste tells the story of a Jewish woman Haya who had a son, whose father was an S.S. officer, taken away from her. Later in life, Haya goes on a search for her son.
2012 - Mama Leone by Miljenko Jergović, translated by David Williams
Mama Leone navigates family relationships in the wake of the 1990s wars.
2012 - Kaleidoscope World by Tomica Šćavina, translated by Ellen Elias-Bursac
Šćavina explores the fictional life of Dahlia, a young woman, and collector of kaleidoscopes, who escapes her abusive mother in New York and moves to Barcelona.
2013 - Dark Mother Earth by Kristijan Novak, translated by Ellen Elias-Bursac
Dark Mother Earth deals with the life of amnesiac novelist Matija. Years of suppressing his memories, and making up lies, finally upend his relationship and career, which forces him to change his entire life.
2013 - Priestess of the Moon by Milena Belini
A fantasy tale about Kalaide, a young woman kidnapped by a stranger who she must work with to face off against the gods.
2014 - The First Rule of Swimming by Courtney Angela Brkic
Brkic tells the story of Magdalena, who leaves her family home on a Croatian island to New York in order to find her sister, Jadranka.
2015 - The Walnut Mansion by Miljenko Jergović, translated by Stephen M. Dickey and Janja Pavetic-Dickey
Jergović deals with life in 20th-century southeastern Europe, from the decline of the Ottoman Empire to the end of the 1990s wars.
2015 - Girl at War by Sara Nović
This coming-of-age story follows protagonist Ana, from her childhood during the Croatian War of Independence to her life as a college student in NYC, struggling to come to terms with her past.
2015 - Zagreb Noir edited by Ivan Sršen
Zagreb Noir is a collection of crime stories set across Zagreb, each one by a different Croatian writer.
2015 - No-Signal Area by Robert Perišić, translated by Ellen Elias-Bursac
At the crossroads between communism and capitalism, protagonists Oleg and Nikola reopen an old turbine factory, kicking off a series of tragic and comic events.
2018 - When Hen Was on Her Way to Market by Irena Stanic Rasin
Stanic Rasin transforms an old (Croatian) nursery rhyme into a tale about a hen who learns how to use her manners with the help of a few whimsical friends.
2018 - Invisible Woman and Other Stories by Slavenka Drakulić
Invisible Woman takes readers deep into the often-taboo topic of aging. It articulates the experience of growing old and all it entails, however uncomfortable. This book is an exploration into death, losing relatives, humiliation, pain - and human strength.
2018 - Wild Woman by Marina Šur Puhlovski, translated by Christina Pribichevich-Zorić
Set in 1970s Croatia, Wild Woman tells the story of a woman in an unhealthy marriage reclaiming her independence.
2019 - Immigrant Daughter: Stories You Never Told Me by Catherine Kapphahn
An autobiography/biography in which Kapphahn explores her heritage, which she knew little about after, her Croatian mother passes away.