Melinda Nadj Abonji

Tortoise Soldier

(German title: Schildkrötensoldat)
ca. 173 pages
Melinda Nadj Abonji
Foto: Melinda Nadj Abonji
© Gaetan Bally

Melinda Nadj Abonji was born in 1968 in Becsej, Serbia. At the beginning of the 1970s she moved to Switzerland with her family. She lives as an author and musician in Zürich. She was awarded both the German and Swiss Book Prize for her 2010 novel Fly Away, Pigeon.

Sold to

France (Métailié), Italy (Keller), Arabic world rights (Tanmia)

»I could have become something in the army, a man or a hero or both, but in the end I didn’t become either, just a dullard, a lackey, an idiotic boot licker, a THUG a GOOD-FOR-NOTHING.«


Zoltán Kertész, blue-eyed son of a »half gypsy« and a day labourer with constantly changing lovers, is the outsider of his little town in Serbia. When a child, he fell out of his father’s hands and off the back of a speeding motorcycle and later, unable to carry a sack of flour through a bakery quickly enough, the baker he was working for beat him bloody. Ever since he has suffered »a fluttering of the temples«, and is happiest sitting in his barn doing crossword puzzles. When the Yugoslavian civil war breaks out in 1991, his parents see it as his big chance: in the People’s Army the »good-for-nothing« and »idiot« will become a man and then a hero. But Zoltán doesn’t fit in, he asks the wrong questions and, on top of it all, stutters when he does. After his only friend’s collapse on a pointless training march turns out to be fatal, Zoltán refuses to play the game anymore with a system that has given all the power to the strongest.

Through pulsating, musical language and vivid images that evoke the power of the wild and winglike nature of thought, in Tortoise Soldier Melinda Nadj Abonji tells the story of the soft resistance imagination establishes against the restrictions of a system which recognises only commands, obedience, and submission.


»It is not just its beautiful language that makes this book special, but also the humorous lightness with which it connects the serendipitous, the incidental and the mundane: a requiem for a country that has disappeared, for its smells, its lights, its people.« Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

»Her latest book, a bitter and gripping cry against war and violence, tells the story of, in terms of anything to do with the military, a completely incompetent and gentle daydreamer, a man who loves plants, animals, and crossword puzzles: ‘To whom do we belong? The state? God? Our parents? The air? Ourselves? Death?’ This is the central question of this highly poetic and well-considered novel.« Der Tagesspiegel

»A powerfully eloquent novel that questions the logic and bares the wounds of war with emphatic language and unusually poetic images.« Hessischer Rundfunk

» ... it’s actually the poetically fantasising language that plays the main role in Tortoise SoldierDeutschlandfunk

»This is not the language of someone who has simply made do. This is the eloquence of someone taking full possession of language itself.« Der Tagesspiegel

»With the air of radical self-destruction, Nadj Abonji’s Tortoise Soldier proves to be a brilliant advocator of literature.« Neue Zürcher Zeitung

»Shifting between the perspectives of Zoli and his Swiss cousin Hanna, this touching story about the quiet opposition of a ›good-for-nothing‹ to war unfolds, page after page.« Weiber Diwan

»A slim book but one with lasting power, as it charges with language the proliferating daydreams which spring from the head of the good-hearted Zoltán Kertész.« Hamburger Abendblatt

»Is this a book you’d really want to give as a gift when your heart aches with compassion while reading it? It is indeed, for your heart, in fact, expands thanks to all the love contained therein.« neues deutschland

»An eloquent novel that, by means of its vivid language and unusual poetic images, questions the logic of warfare while exposing its wounds.« Hessischer Rundfunk