Branka Jurca

Branka Jurca (detail). Legacy of Branka Jurca, Ivan Potrč Library Ptuj

Born in 1914 in Kopriva; died on 6 March 1999 in Ljubljana. Author of much-loved children’s and young-adult books, editor of children’s journal Ciciban, and writer of – until recently – significantly underappreciated adult literature.

Branka Jurca was a prolific writer, publicist, and author of children’s and young-adult fiction. She lived and worked in Maribor and Ljubljana, but kept returning to her home village throughout her life. Official records show that she was born on 24 May 1914, but her mother always insisted that she was actually born a month earlier, on 27 April. She attributed the mistake to Kopriva parish priest, who supposedly recorded the wrong date in the register. Branka Jurca was of a playful and cheerful disposition, which is why this anecdote became the subject of many a joke. Even when old and trying to get used to living with a pacemaker, she claimed that, as she was born twice, she would also have to die twice – her heart would just keep going tick-tock, tick-tock.

After 1938, she began publishing in literary journals; her early short fiction is mainly concerned with social themes. Jurca drew from the injustices witnessed in her local environment: poverty, social inequality, and violation of women’s dignity. She is considered the first female proponent of Social Realism in former Yugoslavia. Because of her sensitivity to the plight of ordinary people, she is today regarded as one of the best representatives of this literary movement.

Following the German occupation of Maribor in 1941, Jurca moved to Ljubljana. There, she joined the resistance, but shortly after the beginning of war she was interned in the Italian camp Gonars and eventually moved to German Ravensbrück. In the aftermath of war, Jurca published the novel Pod bičem (1945), which depicted the horrors of concentration camps; despite this, she never talked about her experience in everyday life. Instead, we have the testimony of her fellow inmates. Their accounts tell us that even under the hardest of circumstances Branka Jurca knew how to keep her spirits up and encourage her fellow sufferers. After the deprivations she suffered as a child during World War I and the unspeakable suffering of camp life, Jurca had reason to be proud of her hardiness and courage. “Grasp the nettle,” she would say, with an old adage referring to the name of her village (the Slovenian word kopriva translates as “nettle”).

Jurca’s writing flourished after the war. Her works were regularly published in literary journals. Since this could not provide her with a living, she also kept teaching. In 1958, she published Stekleni grad, a collection of novellas addressing the socially precarious lives of women, psychological conflict between the sexes, and moral dilemmas. Despite her many publications, it took half a century before her fiction was given due critical and literary historical recognition. It was first critically evaluated by Jožica Čeh Steger with her selection of Jurca’s short fiction, Pot v svobodo (2014), which is also available in braille.

Branka Jurca described her hardiness and courage with an old saying: “Grasp the nettle.”

After the critical neglect of Stekleni grad, Branka Jurca gave her full attention to writing and editing for children and youth. Generations of children have enthusiastically read her stories, fairy tales, and novels. Her novel Ko zorijo jagode, about a girl caught in the whirlwind of adolescent drama, is today considered a classic of young-adult literature. It served as the basis of a popular teen film made in 1978. Branka Jurca wrote more than 35 young-adult stories, novels, vignettes, fairy tales and children’s picture books. Some of her works have been reprinted more than 30 times; several have been translated into Czech, Slovak, Russian, Hungarian, German, and languages of former Yugoslavia.

Despite her rich output, Branka Jurca was never admitted into the national literary canon. However, she has been canonised in her own way in the Karst, where the locals are proud of “their” Branka. Their respect is evidenced by literary events and Branka Jurca memorial footpath, which they hope will lead to a culturally and spiritually enriched future. If you walk Branka’s path and listen well, you may well hear a faint tick-tock, tick-tock coming from the thicket of wild berries and the Karst stone. 

Branka Jurca’s Birthplace

On the centenary of Branka Jurca’s birth, a memorial plaque was unveiled at her birthplace in Kopriva, which is also known as Tišler’s house. A plaque was also placed on her father’s birthplace in nearby Brje pri Koprivi; the two houses are connected with a memorial footpath, Pot Branke Jurca (1.5 km). The gravel path is not suitable for individuals with limited mobility.