It’s the 90s. Silvio Portelli returns to Melbourne after time spent teaching in England and rents a room from the charismatic octogenarian, Nancy Triganza. Nancy is having an elaborate aviary constructed to indulge her passion for birds. At a city sex shop, Silvio meets the mysterious Zlatko, a Bosnian immigrant and, in a previous life, a collector of rare birds. Silvio becomes obsessed with Zlatko, and his own journal and dreams begin to mirror Zlatko’s past, and in time the reality of what happened in Bosnia. Such revelations are counterpointed by Silvio’s own tense wait to learn the result s of his tests for HIV.
Bold in design, Antidote to a Curse is a story in which the hunter becomes the hunted, the writer the subject, and vice versa. Cristina lovingly captures Stalactites cafe where Zlatko and Silvio often meet, and a city enmeshed with Europe, both physically and in spirit.
Rich with images and allusions yet grounded in the everyday Antidote to a Curse is a startling debut. Cristina subtly draws the reader deeper and deeper into a state of psychological obsession where only the truth can provide a way out.
‘Cristina and his work evoke Franz Kafka and Arshile Gorky. This novel is an astute exploration of the nature of identity. It is also an intelligent and provocative inquiry into the nature of narrative itself and of the creative process, most particularly into the problematic relationship between art and atrocity. On their multiple journeys, the characters slither into other names and ethnicities, but the journey with which the primary narrator, Silvio, is most preoccupied is the journey away from an ending. The activity of writing the novel is the antidote to more than one curse: it holds at bay the dread of being HIV positive; it is also a bulwark against the loneliness of the nomadic outsider.’ JANETTE TURNER HOSPITAL
An extract from Antidote to a Curse won the City of Melbourne Lord Mayor’s Creative Writing Prize in 2013.