The Good Days.
Vienna: Paul Zsolnay Verlag, 2019.
When the "migrant worker express" speeds down the Hungarian highway on the way from Austria to Serbia, the bus’s passengers have one main thing in common: they have all left their native country and are now all traveling back for brief visits or family reunions. After ten years away, the first-person narrator is returning to Belgrade for the first time, crossing the border in one direction not so long after refugees rushed to cross it the other way.
Marko Dinic’s debut novel Die guten Tage (The Good Days) does not indulge in nostalgia when the narrator recalls playing hooky, smoking pot, and drinking beer in a run-down neighborhood on the outskirts of Belgrade. Instead, the book explores disempowered aggression and the hatred of fathers, teachers, and, above all, men who have not set good examples in a country where war happened not so long ago, and childhood memories are associated with bombings. A cloak of silence covers the question of who did what during the war.
Shortly after graduating high school, the narrator emigrated completely alone, and started a new life in Vienna—but could not shake off the past. Lack of direction is universal as an impetus for, not an outcome of, migration. Dinic portrays a lost and enraged generation of people who cannot find stability, people who hate the state, their parents, and themselves for their own links to that state and those parents. This is a generational conflict and a reckoning: with wartime and its aftermath, with whitewashed and silenced crimes, with the shirking of accountability.
The primary object of the narrator’s hatred is an attitude toward life that he cannot rid himself of. It is the hopelessness of a generation robbed of its future after a war that laid waste to people, cities, and illusions. There is no escaping this destruction, and the life of the eternal "migrant worker" by no means puts an end to it. One departs, but never arrives. At least, not yet.