Interview with Author Branka Čubrilo

My guest today is Branka Čubrilo.  Hello!  Welcome back to Writing in the Modern Age!  It’s such a pleasure to have you again.

Can you tell us a little bit about your latest book? When did it come out? Where can we get it? latest book Fiume – The Lost River is a historical fiction; it covers important events in the last century. The story is set in Europe in the early twenties of the twentieth century. Love initially takes a heroine to Vienna, and the war drives her out of the city where she had lost everything she had: her husband, child, possessions and her business … and out of despair and pain she resolves to go to the most distant destination – to Australia, into a freedom as – “Freedom is another word for nothing left to lose” and there her life takes an unthinkable turn.

Is there anything specific that inspired you to write the book?

Yes, there were some events in my life at that time which initiated the idea of the book. At that period, I had found myself in that ‘strange and exotic’ country where life was vastly different to everything I had known before. I had experienced the atmosphere of war, as well, and the major part of the story came from my feelings and knowledge about the topic I was writing about. I heard many stories from European migrants and in the body of my novel I gave them an opportunity to voice their experiences. Those people and their stories vary from World War II and Holocaust survivors to ‘ordinary’ economic emigrants or plain adventurers in search of ‘yet greater adventure.’

If this book was made into a film, who would you cast in it?

Without a second thought I would go for Sir Anthony Hopkins as a narrator. There would be a place for Johnny Depp as one of the characters is a writer (I loved Johnny in the role of J.M. Barrie). And as the main female character I can see Meryl Streep or Helen Mirren.

Now for some general questions.
When reading, do you prefer traditional
printed books or ebooks?  And why?

Printed books. Why? Maybe it is a ‘generational thing’ but I started reading books very early in my childhood and those memories are so engraved in my psyche: I hold my book, I have a relationship with a book, it has that unique smell that is irreplaceable, the feeling at the tip of my fingers when I touch the cover … there is something about me holding a book, leafing through it, seeing it on my bookshelf, yes, it is such a special relationship with me and a printed book. Most importantly: a book has always been for me the best present one could get me for my birthday.

I love physical books too.  So, can you tell us what you are reading now? 

What I am reading, actually, is my own script. I have just finished writing my latest novel and I am working on the editing and thoroughly going through everything. Once again, it is a historical book and there are many details that have to be carefully connected and narrated.
But when I finish it, I am planning to read the latest novel of Michael Arditti, The Breath of the Night, which I got as a present from my daughter just recently.
When you get an idea for a book, what comes first usually?  Dialogue, the characters, a specific scene?  Or do you plot it out before you write?

It might sound strange – but none of it. Before I start to write a book, I walk a lot and observe everything. Usually I start writing when I come back from my holiday. My holidays are always somewhere in Europe as that part of the world is where I feel something special. Simply, it is home. When I come back to Sydney I need time to assess my experience; I have taken in all from my stay and then my ‘walk’ takes place. I walk and let my mind wander. After some time of ‘walking’ I feel that ‘time has come’; I sit at my computer and my story comes out ‘all in one go’.

Then when the story has been written, I give myself time to go thoroughly through it. It is almost that when I read it again, I am discovering it in a different light, but with much more patience, ready to give it that final form.
What do you have planned next?  Or is that a secret?

It isn’t a secret as I have already said that I am preparing a new manuscript for my publisher. It’ll take some time, as I am currently working on some other project. Still, I am working as a linguist and a radio producer; hence I am hoping that the book will be ready towards the end of this year.
So, is there anything you'd like to add?  Any advice for new writers?
I would just thank you for your interest in my work and wish you and the young writers success in their creative endeavors. A very important thing in life is to follow your passion! Life without passion is dry and unproductive, and that isn’t the reason why humans have been granted that beautiful opportunity to participate in this grand creation.

I agree.  Thank you for your wisdom, Branka.

Readers, here is the blurb for Fiume - The Lost River

When a chance meeting with a mysterious, yet familiar, ‘Stranger’ at a party in Sydney sets off a cycle of memories, Beatrice Szabo opens Pandora’s Box which she  had kept under lock and key for over seventy years: she left her native town of Fiume eloping with a famous writer,  an event that provoked a local scandal and broke hearts and souls of a few families for several generations.

When Beatrice came to Vienna with her lover in the aftermath of the Second World War, she never dreamt that beautiful Vienna would not be her last destination.
Under unfavorable circumstances she marries David Goldberg, a Viennese Jew; while the atmosphere of war engulfs Austria they witness  ‘Crystal Night’ and the fear and panic that widely spread; she sets off alone on a journey through war and panic-stricken Europe only to find herself in a Faraway Land – strange, exotic and sleepy Australia where her life takes an unthinkable turn -“Freedom is another word for nothing left to lose."
Here is an excerpt.

He shut the door, and I went in search of Anita Ruhr. When I knocked on

her door, there was a long silence. I knocked once again, and then once more,

and I was just about to give up, when I heard footsteps.

She asked:

“Who is it?”—and I replied:

“Vito Del Bianco—and then she said:

“Just a moment Tito Velango, I’m opening.”

The door opened and I found myself face to face with a mummy.

She wore a long dress, down to the floor, of red silk, and a bright red turban on her head. Her face was tinged in tones of red, and her cheekbones were so outstanding that she looked like a puppet in a Chinese theatre. Her eyes were so deep set in her eye sockets that I could not see what colour they were, if they had any at all. Her mouth was also smeared with bright red lipstick, and such was the colour of her excessively long nails - their length making them look like red swords.

She smelled of stale air, and that odour spread throughout the hallway.

Her nose was large and wrinkled; her teeth were big, disconnected, and loose.

She twisted her already crooked mouth, spread her arms and said:

“You haven’t been here for quite some time, Tito Devango, come in, we shall play bridge.”

The flat was in a terrible mess, and there was a stench of cat excrement and urine from the chamber pot. I repeated:

“My name is Vito Del Bianco, I’m a writer. I’d like to ask you a few questions about the people you used to know, as I have been told.”

She closed her watery eyes, tipped her head to one side, clasped her hands on her bosom as if about to start praying:

“I knew everybody.”

“Fine, Mrs. Anita, tell me, can you remember Beatrice Szabo? Or Goldberg,

she got married to David Goldberg? Do you remember him?”

She gazed somewhere, making no sound, only her lips moved in some kind of a silent prayer. Then she broke the silence:

“You know, I knew Krishnamurti,” and then she started to nod her head.   

“That’s nice,” I said “But did you know David Goldberg?”

“I met Elvis Presley, and you know what he said to me, he said: ‘Anita, Anita, you little rascal.’

When I mentioned the name ‘Michaela Lebovitz’, she looked at me and said:

“Michaela Lebovitz was a communist, I did not like communists, on the contrary, I hated them from the bottom of my heart. And I said to Sandro Pertini that I liked Benito, and that communists bring evil and misery.”

“That means, you remember Michaela Lebovitz?”

“She ran away before the war, they were communists or Jews, by all means this was no place for them.”

“And do you know where Michaela Lebovitz went?”

“They all went to hell, this wasn’t the place for them.”

“Do you remember David Goldberg and his wife?”

“I remember that bitch. I forgot Goldberg from the very day that he married her.”

After all it did appear that she remembered all those people and so I continued questioning her:

“Do you remember where the Goldbergs went before the war?”

“Ah, where did they go? To hell, all of them! And that Goldberg wanted me. In my youth the best men wanted me. All blue blooded, pure Arians. I didn’t want that Goldberg. At that time, let it be understood, my father was Mr. Ruhr, the famous psychiatrist. I used to know Karl Schönnig and many more, why would I need a Goldberg? What imposing personalities my father knew, we were supposed to meet the Führer! Why are you asking me about Goldberg?”

“I beg your pardon, but I thought you might know something about Beatrice, Goldberg’s wife, but it is obvious that I was mistaken.”

“You are not mistaken. I knew all of them. Beatrice chased after Goldberg until he yielded and married her. He wanted me, but what would I do with a Goldberg, don’t make me laugh. My father was the famous psychiatrist Ruhr; we come from an old Austrian family... And that, what do you call it, Goldberg’s wife, she couldn’t hold a candle to me.”

I saw that I was on the wrong track. So I said:

“I will now bid you farewell Mrs. Ruhr...”

“I never married, I am not a Mrs. I did not want to marry, there wasn’t a man worthy to be a match for me. Let alone a Goldberg...forget it!”

Then she went silent, picking the tip of her peeling nose with her long nails,

and finally asked in a trembling voice:

“Why do you ask me about the Goldbergs today?”

“Well, you see, I thought that you might be able to give me their address. Actually they are in Australia. I don’t know, I just thought you might know their address...”

“I have all the addresses. I have his too. Now I’ll find it for you,” and she went off into the next room. She took a long time. When she returned, she handed me a slip of paper with the address:

David Goldberg and Bella.

Avenue 1, Sydney, Australia.

I stared at the piece of paper in disbelief, then I looked into her eyes and, without changing her expression, she said:

“Come another time, we’ll have coffee, I have some guests right now.”

She saw me to the door, and I asked her once more:

“Do you remember Beatrice Szabo?”

She answered:

“She was haughty, but not as haughty as I was. I was always better than she was. Oh yes, now I remember, she is no longer Goldberg’s wife, she ended up in a nuthouse.”

I departed with the piece of paper on which she scribbled that address. I couldn’t come to any conclusions except that she was senile and a bit wacky.

There were moments when I had the impression that she knew you; that she remembered you, and then she’d suddenly go haywire. Still, I took the address. I thought if it was right, it could really be the address of David Goldberg, or maybe yours.

I wrote you a letter, the letter you obviously never received.   

Author Bio

Branka Cubrilo is a novelist. She is the author of seven written novels. Six of them were published by three different publishers (as Branka writes in two languages). Apart from writing novels Branka writes short stories, poems and articles and she works as a radio producer and a linguist, fluent in four languages. Branka's latest novel Fiume - the Lost River has just been published whilst currently Branka is editing her just written novel Thirty Years of Pia.

What people are saying about Branka's books:

For The Mosaic of the Broken Soul:

"I was stunned when I read Branka Cubrilo's The Mosaic of the Broken Soul. I had read her short stories and was quite impressed with her literary talents. However, I thought that Mosaic was probably a woman's book, which would not interest me in the least. I was wrong. The novel is an ode to humanity and those problems both large and small that do indeed become the mosaic of our lives. I felt as though I was reading about someone I truly cared about, and maybe it was because I really did care about a woman facing the toughest tests that can ever confront anyone: the lump in her breast, the black pearl that may take her life, the lost loves she has experienced, the hope that springs eternal, the determination to fight to the end no matter what the end may be. No one captures the passion, the spirit, and the resilience of the human soul like Branka Cubrilo. Some novelists write prose. Branka writes literature. Her story sings. It makes you cry. It makes you worry. You understand what fear is all about when it grips your heart during the darkest of hours. It gives you hope even when hope seems like an impossible place to find. With The Mosaic of the Broken Soul, Branka Cubrilo has established herself as one of the most important writers of her generation, a generation that is indeed fortunate to have her."

- Caleb Pirtle, Author, Film-maker

For Fiume - the Lost River:

"Branka is a writer of exceptional talent who traverses cultural, historical and linguistic barriers in her writing with a passionate fluidity.

I have read Branka’s translated work  ‘Fiume - The Lost River’ which tells the story of migration and place; of Australia and Europe through the mysterious journey of a handful of characters. Branka’s work has the great virtue of capturing the essence of place and nation with a seamlessness found only in the works of great writers who themselves have known displacement and separation. Her writing is beautifully evocative and captures the sense of place and atmosphere in a way which is transporting for the reader. 

Branka is both an exceptional writer and exceptional person. She has an acutely intelligent and engaging mind.
She has always demonstrated an integrity in her life and writing which drives her toward a psychological truth. She is an observer and translator of human complexities and this is nowhere more evident than in her writing. Despite many of the psychologically disturbing themes in her writing, Branka has a wonderful sense of playfulness and spirit for life."

- Prof Penny Green



  1. Excellent interview! I'm so glad Branka has published her second book in English. I read Fiume - The Lost River in Croatian many years ago and instantly fell in love with the book and Branka's style of writing.


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