Reading Vis second- and third-hand

The Croatian island of Vis, and the fishers’ village of Komiza, are a thoroughly inspiring setting for a conference on wavescapes in literature and culture. As always, experiences of space are in part already mediated by contact with earlier stories – so a few (admittedly random, and entirely personal) thoughts on my earlier, non-bodily encounters with Vis:

I was introduced to the island of Vis as a child overhearing talk of my grandmother’s brother’s exploits during the Second World War. The family had escaped Ostend to England at the beginning of the war and my great-uncle Pierre Beauprez had enlisted in the British army, in what would become the legendary no. 10 inter-allied commando of the SAS forces, consisting of soldiers that had fled occupied Europe. 3rd troop of 10 i-a commando would form the loose inspiration for Tarantino’s movie Inglorious Bastards. 4th troop was the Belgian troop, and saw Pierre Beauprez in action in ao. Italy, Walcheren, and Vis. He would survive the war, later enlist in the Korean war, where he died in action in 1951.

Pierre Beauprez


And it was again the events of war that brought me in contact with Vis later – this time the 1930 and 1940s memoirs of Fitzroy Maclean Eastern Approaches. Maclean, who acted at one point as British liaison officer with Tito’s partisans, describes the idyllic environments of the island being leveled by the Allied forces to make way for air bases to support the partisans. In fact I always found the most gripping parts of Maclean’s book the chapters that deal with his time in Russia, in particular his first-hand witnessing of Stalin’s purges and his explorations of Central Asia, which conveyed an urgent desire to “take the golden road to Samarkand” (to quote Mika Waltari, Hagar Olsson, James Elroy Flecker, and Maclean’s A person from England all in one).

The most impressive, and most recent, exposure to Vis, and to Komiza, came by way of Olga Tokarczuk‘s book Flights, translated by Jennifer Croft, which recently won the Man Booker International. It’s one of the most memorable books I read recently (although unfortunately I’m not able to read it in its original Polish). I found the scenes set on Vis and Komiza – a fuga-like, ever-returning bead of stories telling of small-scale marital tragedy – particularly haunting.

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