Year of publication
Number of pages
Poland (Wydawnictwo Miedzymorze)
UK (Istros Books)
English sample translation, French sample translation, Spanish sample translation
historical novel, Jewish community in Slovenia, antisemitism, World War II, holocaust, 1945
Biljard v Dobrayu
Billiards at Hotel Dobray
In the centre of Murska Sobota stands the renowned Hotel Dobray, once the gathering place of townspeople of all nationalities and social strata who lived in this small town in the middle of Prekmurje, a typical Pannonian panorama on the fringe of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. Due to its historical and geographical particularities, the town had always been home to numerous ethnically and culturally mixed communities that gave it the charm and melos of Central-European identity. But now, in the thick of World War II, the town is occupied by the Hungarian army.
Franz Schwartz’s wife Ellsie has for the past month been preparing their son Isaac, a gifted violinist, for his first solo concert, which is to take place at Hotel Dobray. Isaac is to perform on his bar mitzvah and his 13th birthday on April 26, 1944. When the German army marches into town and forces all Jews to display yellow stars on their clothes, Ellsie advises her husband that the family should flee the town and escape to Switzerland. Schwartz promises her he will obtain forged documents, but not before Isaac performs his concert at the hotel.
A year later, in March 1945, Schwartz returns, on foot, from the concentration camp as one of the few survivors.
Shortlisted for the Kresnik Award for best novel of the year 2008
Shortlisted for the Big Other Book Award for Translation 2019
Shortlisted for the Oxford–Weidenfeld Prize 2020
This segment of Šarotar's prose can hardly find any parallel in literature. What does come to my mind, however, is a cinematic one: the Hungarian master of slowness, Béla Tarr, directing screenplays written by László Krasznahorkai.
Billiards at Hotel Dobray is a book written with masterly skill. Šarotar takes his time and his narration glides slowly among the stories and people's destinies and across the landscape; a book bereft of all radicality. The eye's gaze from way up in the air is cool, distanced, almost indifferent to people's destinies; as if they were looked upon from a great distance, temporal as well spatial, and the destinies of individuals were almost entirely insignificant specks in a more broadly outlined picture.
Well versed as a narrator, Šarotar skilfully knits all the aspects of narration together, which results in a fresh, pleasant and carefully reflected approach bringing together two great literary qualities: lack of pretence and authenticity.
The key specific poetic trait of the author is his marked synergy of lyrical rhythms and the rhythm of prose. With its dense apocalyptic imagery, the poetic quality of the language assumes a fable-like role.
The work which genuinely reopens the topic of the literary treatment of life during WWII in Slovenia.