Serbian Prose in Translation
This is really cool . . . Geopoetika—one of, if not The, best literary publishers in Serbia—has decided to take matters into their own hands re: the translation of Serbian literature into English. In collaboration with the Serbian Ministry of Culture, they’re bringing out a number of their books in English translation (and, to quell any concerns, these translations are by native English speakers) to distribute to interested publishers around the world.
According to Geopoetika’s publisher, Vladislav Bajac, “cultural promotion” is the main impetus behind launching this series, and their plan is to send PDF versions of the five books translated so far (with 5 more coming out this year) to everyone who might be interested. They are printing a limited number of paperback copies as well, so if you’re really interested, you can get a beautiful package of books in the mail, just as I did last week.
For more information about the series, you can visit this page, which lists the first six titles in the series. And for more information, or to receive copies of the PDFs, I think the best thing to do is contact Tijana Spasic at tijana.spasic [at] geopoetika [dot] com.
I haven’t had a chance to read these titles yet (but I will! especially the Basara book—I was working at Dalkey when we brought out Chinese Letter, a totally crazy, fascinating, Beckett-like book), but here’s a brief overview of each. (Everything below is from the Geopoetika website FYI, so forgive any grammatical eccentricities):
The Cyclist Conspiracy by Svetislav Basara, translated from the Serbian by Randall A. Major
Masterfully intertwining the threads of waking and dreams into the fabric of present, past and future, Basara’s novel leads the reader into depths of reflection never imagined possible. Rising from the musty cellar of a local library in the backwaters of western Serbia, the author guides us through a fantastic maze of (fictitious or factual?) documentation to one of the greatest held secrets of all times: an ancient Brotherhood, meeting and planning in the realm beyond sleep, are guiding the destiny of humankind into the arms of Providence – from the future. Drawing the reader into a broad circle of eccentric characters, historical and literary figures (from Charles the Hideous to Nietzsche, Sherlock Holmes and Freud), Basara calls into question the unities of space and time, proving once and for all a truth that we all know in our heart of hearts: History is in the eye of the beholder.
Hamam Balkania by Vladislav Bajac, translated from the Serbian by Randall A. Major
To say that Hamam Balkania is a historical novel, is to reveal only one piece of a puzzle, the one which fits in the sky part of a large sea landscape. It is extremely important, that is true, but the way Vladislav Bajac performs his little literary alchemy trick by turning a grand, totalizing narrative into something personal, and thus giving it credibility, zest and liveliness, is truly amazing. The Ottoman empire and its subjects in Southeastern Europe, East and West, Sokollu Mehmed Pasha and Koca Mimar Sinan, destruction and creation, are the crucial elements of this meticulously organized story. One of the two lines of the story starts with an unprecedent human drama of young men born and raised in one faith and nation who are forcefully taken to serve in the other; the line of the plot that takes place in the contemporary world, with Orhan Pamuk, Allen Ginsberg and Juan Octavio Prenz among others, is seemingly independent but strongly connected to the historical one. In a story of a friendship, of unique soul-searching and redemption, we are offered a picture of the world that gently warns us to be careful, patient and wise when forming opinions both of the things we know well, and of those that reached us through history.
Escher’s Loops by Zoran Zivkovic, translated from the Serbian by Alice Copple-Tosic
Once again Živković demonstrates the sheer power of storytelling in this complex cycle of interlocking narratives. Like one of Escher’s drawings, the narrative threads lead one through a dizzying labyrinth of recurring themes, images and characters, all of whom are linked with elegant mathematical precision: God and suicide, food and poison, monks, athletes, soldiers and soccer players all take their places in the circle-dance. Absurdity, surreality and humour abound; death is the ultimate destiny, yet always the next story offers infinite ways of escape.
“Lake Como“: by Srdjan Valjarevic, translated from the Serbian by Alice Copple-Tosic
Solitude is a wonderful thing if you can handle it, says the author of Lake Como, relying on his own experience of living in a voluntarily chosen margin. When his hero, a novelist, receives a Rockefeller scholarship to spend a month in Villa Maranese in Bellagio on Lake Como, he is bound to reconsider his measure of things, to find his place in a world of whose existence he was not aware of before. In his work, Valjarević is uncompromisingly open and honest both to others and to himself – no wonder his readers trust him and understand his need to be who he is, any time, at any cost. Be it in Belgrade, Bellagio or on the Island of Korčula, he keeps his mind open and the membrane of his identity permeable but firm. And because of this, the hero of the novel is able to have fun and enjoy in the fine things of this fleeting life. Because of this, solitude becomes him perfectly.
“Adulterers“: by Vida Ognjenovic, translated from the Serbian by Jelena Bankovic and Nicholas Moravcevich
In gripping true-confession style, the narrator speaks of love, of family history, of the fragile little things that make us what we are. A woman in the prime of her life, her world coming apart at the seams . . . Think you already know this story? Think again. It’s a brand-new tale in the skilful hands of Vida Ognjenović, whose well-known talents for the theatre are on full display in this award-winning venture into fiction. Join her leading lady, Amalija, on a soul-searching quest for true identity. If there really is such a thing . . .
Fear and Servant by Mirjana Novakovic, translated from the Serbian by Terence McEneny
Serbia in the 18th century: battleground of empires. In Belgrade, safe for now behind the fortress walls, a Habsburg princess waits for love. Outside, fear stalks the land. And then the devil comes to town, untrusty servant in tow. Are the dead truly rising from their graves? Is the Last Judgement beginning here in the Balkans? (And can it be stopped in time?) The two royal narrators – one from Austria, one from Hell – join the hunt for the undead, travelling through history, myth and literature, into the dark corners of a land that has given every human language its most infamous word: Vampire.