"You were blind and deaf in that cage made up of your problems, the bars of your distress blocked your eyes, and you didn’t see me at all."
Communism has just fallen and Slovenia begun the exploration of Western lifestyles. Ira, a strange young woman who barely speaks, has been hired by the Lady to help manage The Ark, the flagship store of Empire, a chain of high-end pet stores. A strange cast of characters soon enter this strange fairytale world: Erzulie, the blind window dresser; Felipe, Ira’s best friend from childhood; and Greta and Marga, twins so identical they are perceived as one. This Ark; however, instead of saving the world ultimately delivers the plague that decimates Slovenia.
The Feline Plague, Maya Novak’s first novel to be translated into English, introduces this gifted writer to the world. A modernist writer who plays deftly with the traditions of magical realism, provides commentary on political situations within her rapidly altering homeland. As Robert Buckeye explains in his introduction, Novak argues that her country’s "quick embrace of cowboy capitalism initially threatened to destroy Slovenia" and this message, savagely presented in The Feline Plague is one her countrymen didn’t wish to hear during capitalism’s early heydays.
Presenting an unpopular message is never easy, and to do so when your country has just taken its first steps out of Communism’s shadow is tantamount to playing Chicken Little. Novak, determined that her message is one which Slovenia needs to hear, wraps it in mythology (Ira is the goddess of anger and Erzulie the voodoo goddess of love and beauty) and common symbolism (Noah’s Ark). She presents her fable to the world as entertainment, trusting her message will seep into reader’s subconscious and help slam the brakes on an out-of-control system.
Ira brings about her country’s downfall by importing unvaccinated cats, turning the Ark from the world’s saviour into its harbinger of doom. The Lady, instead of making pets the new "must-have" accessory and building up earthly treasures for herself, introduces a snake into the Garden of Eden. The Feline Plague is such a powerful message because it resonates in the heart of readers far beyond the borders of Slovenia.
Publisher: North Atlantic Books
Publication Date: March 10, 2009
tags: books book reviews literature in translation Maya Novak