The paper examines artistic practices and effects of transposing both the symbolic image of Yugoslavia and the accumulated experience of living in it into contemporary fiction written in Serbian and published in Serbia during the second decade of the 21st century. The authors whose novels are discussed represent diverging memories and concepts connected with the country that is either irretrievably lost or willfully abandoned, but constantly longed for and therefore narrativized. Novelists Ivančica Đerić, Mirjana Novaković, Tanja Stupar Trifunović and Milan Tripković employ diverse mechanisms in their search for meaning within a paradigm of Yugoslav identity, which implied many different emotional responses and cultural concepts. Una, the main character in Đerić’s novel, is haunted by memories of a paradise lost, as she saw the breakup of Yugoslavia first-hand and emerged from it a cripple, both literally and metaphorically, because of her self-contained act of rebellion against it. Boldly dealing with traumatized protagonists whose feelings and mood swings are difficult to convey, Đerić and Stupar Trifunović refuse to abide to the stereotypical literary characterization and their narratives find their own ways to express the pain, anger, memory and longing, the same as Novaković and Tripković choose to focus on depravities of living in the post-Yugoslav transition. Displacement is too painful a condition to be simply shrugged off as a temporary crisis and the only way to rescue oneself is leaving the turbulent history of both the family and the homeland behind, yet returning to it with a renewed potential of both self-examination and suffering.
The paper focuses on the achievements of Antonije Isaković, who is often seen as the Serbian successor of such renowned storytellers as Maupassant, Chekhov and Hemingway, owing to his terse, hardboiled style which imposes strict rules of reticence and emphasizes reliance on indeterminacy. The prose style of plain but powerful words and simple but artfully structured syntax tackles many delicate moral and ethical issues. The language which is carefully stripped of any misleading ornaments, replete with symbolism and functioning referentially to describe an event or object with symbolic implications fits into Karl Jaspers’ concept of a limit situation (Grenzsituation) – a situation in which events and moments test the characters’ moral strength and ethical priorities. Choosing to achieve small-scale, concentrated effects rather than construct majestic sentences, Isaković depicts a hero who is frail, alienated and confused, whose undaunted masculinity is larger than life, but also a hero who is prone to errors and falls into a world impossible to handle and control. The prevailing mood of danger and disenchantment seems to go along perfectly with the artistic form of a short story that requires a focus on the turning point in the character’s life and chooses to dwell on a particular moment of crisis, climax or change.