14 September 11 | Chad W. Post

The Valley Advocate just published an excellent article about Vladislav Bajac, author of Hamam Balkania and director of Geopoetika, a most amazing Serbian publishing house. In addition to publishing the best of the best of world literature, Geopoetika is also the home to SPIT (Sebian Prose in Translation), a new government-funded program to translated Sebian works into English and find publishers around the world to bring out these books in their respective countries.

(For more info, you can check out this post about the launch of the series. And for first hand knowledge of the awesomeness of the SPIT lit, buy The Cyclist Conspiracy by Svetislav Basara.)

Drew Adamek’s profile of Bajac is wonderful, and worth reading in its entirety. Below are a few interesting excepts:

SPIT is an attempt to introduce the English-speaking world to Serbian literature. Supported in part by the Serbian Ministry of Culture, Bajac hopes to expose the global literary community to the challenging and innovative literature being produced by Serbian authors by publishing five translated selections of Serbian literature in English-speaking countries each year. The goal is to showcase the diversity and quality of Serbian authors, and for Serbian writers to become part of the global literary conversation. The first book to hit the American market will be Hamam Balkania, available in March, 2012.

SPIT faces many road blocks to entering English-speaking markets: media coverage of the 1990s wars damaged Serbia’s international reputation, sufficient funding is always a challenge and the works are not intended to be the type of blockbuster popular fiction that dominates so much of today’s publishing industry. Perhaps most daunting, not just for SPIT but international literature as a whole, is that only 3% of the books published annually in English are translated from a foreign language, according to the University of Rochester Three Percent Blog. [. . .]

Q: You took some very bold narrative risks in your most recent novel, Hamam Balkania. You write at the beginning of the book that you are pursuing the question of identity and you use both present and past-tense, first person and third person narrative voices, as well as dual storylines—one set in the present and one set in 1500s Ottoman empire—to find answers. How did you come to weave such a complicated story to answer such a difficult question?

A: I was very aware of the risky path I wanted to go. In the book, I am talking about exploring the ideas of spreading identity and of mixing cultures. I asked myself what would happen if I could put in one novel, very literally, the historical side of the story and the present side of the story. I wanted to say that there are different ways to show the issue of identity and mixing cultures. It sounds like it could be a very kind of artificial work but I said okay, I’ll take a risk.

I always tried to write on the issue of identity by showing one person going his own way but this book is connected to many more historical characters and living persons. I used historical persons as examples that living within two cultures or religions was possible. I wanted to say that this is the proof; they lived that life.

But the contemporary side of the book was a way of saying that this issue is still there- everywhere, absolutely everywhere. What is the conclusion? I don’t know the answer, but I wanted to make it a part of the game.

This risky way was a bit brave because it included other difficult issues as well: addressing the very negative myths about Serbs who became Muslim [during the Ottoman Empire]. There is this idea that they are traitorous, for example. It is still a big issue in the Balkans, in the Ex-Yu, in Serbia today.

I think I reached something that I have never reached before in any book I wrote. However, the book is not only written by the author, it is written by the reader as well. You can’t say that you’ve finished the writing of the book until it is read well.

The consequences of those ideas are still unknown to me, which I like. [. . .]

Q: What is the philosophical idea behind the SPIT (Serbian Prose in Translation) Program? How did you decide which books to include?

A: We started this with the very humble idea of “let’s try to show what we have.” And if we have any reactions from the world, we will be more objective in understanding our own literature. That’s a question not only on the quality of our literature but of our identity as well. Until we compare ourselves with others we do not know who we are.

We choose primarily the books that we think are good literature. Then again, we choose books as different from each other as much as possible to show a wide cross section of Serbian literature.

What we’ve come to understand from SPIT is this: not that we are one of the best literary nations in the world but that we are interesting enough. The positive critical reaction to the styles and the poetics among Serbian authors shows not only that we are different within the larger literary world, but also that we are different among each other. You have nations whose literature is all very similar. Okay, it’s dangerous to generalize but you know what I mean.

This is not the case with our literature; diversity is the main characteristic of literature in Serbia. We still have more books to show the world, even though this is a small country, with a small number of people. We feel that we are equal to other cultural nations, including the United States. That’s why our work must be shown to the world.

I am not talking about getting famous bestsellers; that is an entirely different kind of writing. But we have to try to get into these markets because our so-called “heavy mental” literature deserves to be read as well. The financial mathematics might not be there but the numbers of readers are.

The literal meaning of the word SPIT is a joke too. It’s like being named an ambassador. You never know when a politician says to someone, I am going to make you an ambassador, is it a praise or is it a punishment? Because it sounds like praise, but then again, it says I don’t want to see you around here. You are expelled from the country, kind of in a nice way. So SPIT is in the very same way a joke in that, “these are the authors we spit out.”

You can read the entire piece here.


Comments are disabled for this article.
....
Astragal
Astragal by Albertine Sarrazin
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

Upon completing Albertine Sarrazin’s Astragal I was left to wonder why it ever fell from print. Aside from the location, Astragal could pass as the great American novel. Its edginess and rawness capture the angst and desires we all had. . .

Read More >

Live Bait
Live Bait by Fabio Genovesi
Reviewed by Megan Berkobien

When my eyes first crossed the back cover of Fabio Genovesi’s novel Live Bait, I was caught by a blurb nestled between accolades, a few words from a reviewer for La Repubblica stating that the novel was, however magically, “[b]eyond. . .

Read More >

The Skin
The Skin by Curzio Malaparte
Reviewed by Peter Biello

“I preferred the war to the plague,” writes Curzio Malaparte in his 1949 novel, The Skin. He speaks of World War II and the destruction it has wrought on Italy, the city of Naples in particular. But the plague he. . .

Read More >

Love Sonnets & Elegies
Love Sonnets & Elegies by Louise Labé
Reviewed by Brandy Harrison

With the steady rise of feminist scholarship and criticism in recent decades, it is little wonder that the work of Louise Labé should be attracting, as Richard Sieburth tells us in the Afterword to his translation, a “wide and thriving”. . .

Read More >

Conversations
Conversations by César Aira
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

In Conversations, we find ourselves again in the protagonist’s conscious and subconscious, which is mostly likely that of Mr. César Aira and consistent with prototypical Aira style. This style never fails because each time Aira is able to develop a. . .

Read More >

Nothing Ever Happens
Nothing Ever Happens by José Ovejero
Reviewed by Juan Carlos Postigo

You are not ashamed of what you do, but of what they see you do. Without realizing it, life can be an accumulation of secrets that permeates every last minute of our routine . . .

The narrative history of. . .

Read More >

The Pendragon Legend
The Pendragon Legend by Antal Szerb
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Literature in translation often comes with a certain pedigree. In this little corner of the world, with so few books making it into this comforting nook, it is often those of the highest quality that cross through, and attention is. . .

Read More >

Mr. Gwyn
Mr. Gwyn by Alessandro Baricco
Reviewed by Paul Doyle

Alessandro Baricco’s Mr. Gwyn is a set of two loosely interlinked novellas that play with narrative and the construction of character. Ably translated by Ann Goldstein, Mr. Gwyn plays some subtle metafictional games as Baricco delves into what it means. . .

Read More >

Bombay Stories
Bombay Stories by Saadat Hasan Manto
Reviewed by Will Eells

I must admit upfront that I went into reading Saadat Hasan Manto’s Bombay Stories almost entirely blind. I have not read Salman Rushdie. I have read, perhaps, two short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri. I might shamefully add that I really. . .

Read More >

The Gray Notebook
The Gray Notebook by Joseph Pla
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

Throughout his work The Gray Notebook, Josep Pla mentions many different authors, some of whom have inspired him to pick up a pen. One of them is Marcel Proust. Even though Pla normally prefers nonfiction, he lauds the French novelist. . .

Read More >

The next few events from our Translation Events Calendar: See More Events >