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Monumenta by Lara Haworth review – Serbian house of horrors

Monumenta by Lara Haworth review – Serbian house of horrors

A film-maker and visual artist, Lara Haworth’s slim debut novel is about remembrance – personal and political – and was inspired by recent debates on monuments and statues of historical figures. In modern-day Belgrade, Serbia, protagonist Olga Pavic receives a letter informing her that her house has been requisitioned by the city. She will be compensated with an apartment in New Belgrade, while her home of 43 years is transformed into a monument “to the massacre”.

Baffled as to which massacre, Olga summons her children home. Her daughter, Hilde, is CEO of a construction company in Frankfurt, while Danilo, her secretly queer son, resides in Moscow, occupation unknown. The house is, after all, a monument to their childhood and late father, Branko.

Three different architects visit Olga, each with a radical proposal. Karl, from Amsterdam, wants to memorialise the death of the king and queen of Serbia in 1903 and aims to demolish the house and excavate a crater.

Misha, a fellow Serbian, suggests an edifice dedicated to Yugoslavia. He proposes preserving the house and erecting a shopping mall around it: “It will be the most terrible building you can imagine. The ugliest building in the world.” As he observes: “There is a fine line… between memorialisation and erasure.”

Chara, from London, takes a tour of Belgrade’s statues before arriving at the proposition that they “remove all the monuments from around the city, and install them here”. She declares: “The massacre I wish to remember is the failure of memorialisation itself.”

Haworth, born in Brussels and raised in London, says it was the grief she felt after losing her grandparents’ house and her father’s flat in Belgrade that impelled her to write Monumenta. It’s also a deeply political work. Haworth examines the difficulty (and absurdity) of memorialising the past in a region such as the Balkans, riven by conflict, with competing historical narratives and interpretations that change over time. Her novella fizzes with ideas and proves a lively, if occasionally perplexing, read.

Source: theguardian.com