Infidelities: Stories of War and Lust
“A Purple Story”
Josip Novakovich’s “A Purple Story,” is from his story collection, INFIDELITIES: STORIES OF WAR AND LUST (HarperCollins). Novakovich is the author of three story collections, the novel, APRIL FOOL’S DAY, and several works of non-fiction. His short stories have appeared in many publications, including The Paris Review, TriQuarterly, and Ploughshares, and he won Guggenheim and Fulbright Fellowships. He teaches at Concordia University and lives in Montreal.
Novakovich had this to say about the story’s origins: During the wars in the former Yugoslavia, the amount of “normal” deaths astounded me–all over the place, people were dying of cancer, heart attacks, and other peace-time medical events. It occurred to me that of course the war enhanced and precipitated any medical problems, so perhaps people would have resisted cancer, under stress, might develop it, and even more, heart illness: people used to walk and suddenly they quit in fear of bombs and because of the loss of the usual social networks. I wrote a TB story set in the war, a cancer essay, and so I had a heart failure story remaining. A friend of mine did have heart failure, and I based loosely the story on his crisis. Lots of elements went into the story: I heard of people having gunfights over parking spots, I went to a big political rally in a meadow where I saw an ambulance with sirens stuck in the traffic, I used to hike up to Sljeme, and a friend of mine was a cardiologist. . . so putting together a collage of images, anecdotes, and impressions created a stage for me for the story to unfold.
And for the main character, I made a composite of several people I knew. I decided that it should be someone deprived of his old habit of walking, an uncomfortable member of the minority. I imagined what it was like to be a Serb in the middle of the Croatian national(ist) liberation. With anxiety over losing a job, loss of friends to walk with and hang out with, and general fear to be in the streets, he would grow depressed, be out of shape, and his heart would suffer. So thematically it was all easy to put together. And with the war in the background, I knew the story would have enough dimension, so even with not much writerly skill, the story should fall into place. With more skill, of course, this should be a novel as the theme is important. Well, I am glad it’s a story anyhow, with a second life, resuscitated by Storyville.