Category Archives: european literature

A biographical note for Alma Lazarevska

A biographical note for Alma Lazarevska:

author of Death in the Museum of Modern Art

alma l,2013  Alma Lazarevska is a Bosnian prose writer. The attribute ‘Bosnian’ appeals to her most when it is used in conjunction with the word, ‘kilim’ or traditional woven rug. She has written a story with that title. She began to consider the date of her birth worth mentioning when she realised that it was the day when Robert ‘Bobby’ Fischer was born. One of the recurrent themes in her work is ‘the light and dark woman’ and she has played ironically with the idea of astrology in her novel The Sign of the Rose. However, out of respect for ‘the last great Yugoslav writer’, Danilo Kiš, and her exceptional liking for the books of the Swiss writer Nicolas Bouvier, she acknowledges belonging to the sign of the Fish.

Lazarevska also recognises the year of her birth as the one in which the Nobel Prize for Literature was won by Albert Camus. She likes The Outsider because it is concise, precise and devoid of sentiment. And she likes it because of the title. She is used to the fact that the combination of her first and second name provokes questions: a Bosnian writer, but ‘Lazarevska’? How come? Her answer to that kind of question may be found in her text, entitled ‘The Origin of Silk’. It is only here that she mentions the town of her birth. She does not, regrettably, speak the language of the inhabitants of that town. Constant moving in the first eight years of her life accustomed her to a sense of impermanence and not belonging. Through her father (in his day one of the most important Yugoslav authorities on porcelain), she acquired an interest in the dividing line between chemistry and alchemy. This interest is built into the essence of her writing and her affinities as a reader.

She lives in the town where her mother and her mother’s forebears were born, in the town where her brother and her son were born. It was here that she was educated. Given the choice between studying regional and comparative literature, she chose the second without hesitation.

The town where she lives is mentioned in the title of a collection of her essays, Sarajevo Solitaire. It is mentioned also in the novel The Sign of the Rose, a novel that has recently been translated into French and German. The stimulus for the novel was the murder of Rosa Luxemburg, or rather the fact that Lazarevska began to experience this theme as almost obsessive during the siege of her city.

Her books Death in the Museum of Modern Art (translated into French and German.. and now – English!) and Plants are Something Else (the title story has recently been included in the most recent edition of the literary magazine Wasafiri) deal with siege, and a ‘besieged city’, without naming it. They are written in the first person, for dramaturgical and stylistic, rather than confessional reasons. That this is the case is confirmed by the fact that several stories are written in the male first person voice. The author leaves it up to the reader to recognise Sarajevo in ‘the besieged city’. If asked, she will confirm that she lived in Sarajevo during the siege. Every single day and every single night. But she refuses to be a loudspeaker. Her stories are always intimate stories. She likes Nabokov and his distinction between ‘average reality’ and ‘true reality’. In her writing, Lazarevska pursues the latter. Her story ‘How we killed the sailor’, translated by Celia Hawkesworth, is included in an anthology of women writers from East and Central Europe. Lazarevska feels honoured that her work has come to speak in the language of authors whom she appropriates as ‘her own’. One of the fundamental threads of her reading runs from Charles Dickens to Virginia Woolf and beyond. Her graduation essay, which she wrote in the department of theatre studies, is concerned with four of Shakespeare’s plays (Cymbeline, Pericles, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest). Her biography is inconceivable without mention of the books that she has read and continues to read. Books are frequently mentioned in her writing. She has a large library and particularly likes books that fit into the pocket. She likes substantial books, or novels, if they are written by Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Mann, Hamsun, Broch … but she is suspicious of recently published long novels. Experience has taught her that after reading such books she regrets the wear and tear on her eyes.

Death In The Museum of Modern Art [NEW]3She is honoured by the fact that her book – Death in the Museum of Modern Art – has been translated by Celia Hawkesworth, who has translated the Nobel laureate, Ivo Andrić, a writer whom Lazarevska considers an unsurpassed teacher of language and style. She experiences Andrić’s language as her own, although because of regional divisions it is inevitably called by different names Andrić’s language is called Serbian. Lazarevska’s is called Bosnian. The language of the poet Ivan Goran Kovačić, whose tragic life inspired Alma’s recently published story ‘Letter from 1938’ is called Croatian. This language Lazarevska also considers her own. Lazarevska keeps in a small corner of her biography the fact that she attended the oldest grammar school (gymnasium) in Sarajevo and Bosnia, which was attended also by Andrić. Andrić ‘failed’ mathematics. Lazarevska had top marks in mathematics, and even won school contests. But she would renounce all those top marks and prizes for the beauty of Andrić’s sentences. When she wishes to believe in language as perfection, she reads The Damned Yard. After such séances, she always thinks: it is a great achievement to be at least a pawn in the literature in which Andrić is king.

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Love, Adultery and the Communist inheritance: Interview with Cecilia Stefanescu, author of ‘Sun Alley’ and ‘Love Sick’

Cecilia Stefanescu is one of Romania’s leading authors; part of a new generation of writers who grew up under the old regime but have gone on to write and flourish in a new literary culture. She made her debut with the novel Love Sick, which has been published in two editions in Romania and translated into French (Éditions Phébus, 2006).  Love Sick was also been made into a film, directed by Tudor Giurgiu, which has been shown at the Berlin Film Festival, Karlovy Vary, Chicago, and in more than twenty countries. In 2005, alongside eleven other Romanian writers, she took part in the annual Les Belles étrangères event, organised by the Centre National du Livre and the French Ministry of Culture, which was dedicated to Romania that year. She contributes monthly editorials to the Romanian-language edition of Elle magazine and writes for the weekly Romanian-language edition of Le Monde Diplomatique.

Sun Alley‘ is her second novel, and was published in April this year by Istros Books, in a lovely translation by Alexandra Coliban. The novel is a tender mix of childhood first love and the more seedy world of grown-up adultery, seen though the eyes of a twelve-year-old boy with prophetic powers. Set in a Bucharest which belongs more to Eliade that it does to Ceausescu, it seduces and beguiles the reader beautifully, so that only at the end does one understand (or believes one understands), ‘the whole story’.

We asked Cecilia a few questions about her choice of subject matter in both her novels, and to tell us a little bit more how she writes and finds inspiration:

If I understand correctly her first novel Love Sick also took love as a main theme? Can you tell me a bit about Love Sick and how important writing about love is for you? 

 Writing about love is as important as writing about myself, about my fears and expectations. I think all of us, at some levels, lead our lives wondering what our purpose is and fearing about our end. We need to be loved and fear we might not be. In Love Sick, I wanted to depict the world through the eyes of a young woman who fell in love, accidentally with another woman, and distorted her reality in order for her to be happy. I spoke about the post-Ceauşescu era, about the Romanian 90s, a controversial and very difficult period of recent Romanian history. But, it’s true, I don’t touch real historical subjects, I talk about that historical period through a personal experience. I think that’s the only way you can speak about collective events.

Why did you decide to write about love in two novels?

 In Love Sick, I wrote about adolescent love, it was a coming-of- age story. In Sun Alley, it was mature, adulterous love. The end is tragic beacause it can’t be otherwise. I often wondered why, I still can’t find an answer…

 When talking about Romania the first thing that comes to mind is Nicolae Ceaușescu’s regime. For a reader it might be somewhat liberating that this is not straightforward political book, or a book that comments on the former regime and the politics of Romania. Was it a deliberate move for you to move away from that historical baggage? 

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Cecilia Stefanescu presenting ‘Sun Alley’ at this year’s London Book Fair

I carry this historical baggage within me, and unfortunately it exists in the basement of my book even if you say you didn’t see it, which I think is a good thing. But I wanted to write only about me and what’s in my head, because it’s the only honest thing to do. I will answer your other question too, about how I see my own fiction. I see it as a work of archaeology, a work of research. I use a flashlight and, illuminate parts of my brain, while leaving other parts in the shadow. By doing this, I perpetually discover something else about myself. I think a book is not an answer but rather an experience in itself. A journey in the brain and the mind of a person who dares expose themselves. In this case, I am that person.

 Can you give us a potted self-portrait of yourself as a writer?

”I’m the neurotic product of a childhood spent among the ruins of Ceausescu’s Bucharest and that’s why, vacillating between petty fears and some naïve happiness, between the nostalgia of what was at that time a personal paradise and the horror of what I might have turned into but didn’t as time went by, I’ve chosen the shortest route, that of fabulation. Since I don’t exactly like talking loudly or laughing noisily or entering a room full of enthusiastic people and listening to those that like talking a lot and for a handful of other idiosyncrasies, I’ve become a writer. It’s a job that increases your phobias, glorifies your failures and sets in memorable forms the whole mess of time passed.”

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”Post-LondonBookFair Blues” and UK prizes for Literature in Translation

Like many other small publishers, translators and authors, I find myself suffering from a touch of post-LondonBookFair Blues. While we were gearing up for the action – preparing PR material, making appointments, co-coordinating events and talks, it was all in the realm of Possibility – an exciting place without borders.

But now that the event has been and gone, comes the time of consolidating on ideas, following up on leads and assessing the effort/outcome ratio. Having the privilege of running the first ever Croatian stand at the fair was a great experience for me personally, and also meant a boost in visibility for Istros Books and its Croatian writers.

But now that the mists of excitement have started to lift, writers and promoters of ‘small language literatures’ are left with that dull old problem: how to let people know about the books and stories we have to offer in a market where so little in translation gets any attention (and those that do are usually from the same old French/German/Spanish camp).

One very useful way for a work of fiction to get noticed – and especially useful for small publishers who lack big marketing budgets – is for it to be nominated for a literary prize. However, just as one might have expected, there are only a handful of prizes in the UK that accept works of translated fiction. So far, I have come across the following, but would be VERY grateful for any more to add to the list!

– First and foremost, is the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

This prize honours the best work of fiction by a living author, which has been translated into English from any other language and published in the UK. Uniquely, the prize gives the winning author and the translator equal status: each receives £5000

The Oxford-Weidenfeld Prize

The Oxford-Weidenfeld Prize is for book-length literary translations into English from any living European language. It aims to honour the craft of translation, and to recognise its cultural importance. It is funded by Lord Weidenfeld and by New College, The Queen’s College and St Anne’s College, Oxford.

British Fantasy Society Awards  

With categories for novel (over 40,000 words); novella; Short Fiction; Anthology; Collection; Screen Play and Graphic Novel, this award just about covers all forms of publication, with the stipulation that the work falls within the genre

And one for the little ones – The Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation

The Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation, awarded biennially since 1996, was founded to celebrate the best translation of a children’s book from a foreign language into English and published in the UK. It aims to spotlight the high quality and diversity of translated fiction for young readers. The Award is administered by the ESU on behalf of the Marsh Christian Trust.

Judging by the Wikepedia site for Translation Awards, it seems that the US is much more embracing of its translated literature, although many of the awards listed seemed to be linked to specific languages.

So please, help ease my blues and let me know of any over-looked prizes and awards just waiting for nominations for Montenegro/Albania/any other country non-English speaking country Imagein this world….

STOP PRESS: Thanks to Literature Across Frontiers for putting together a complete list of prizes for literature in translation, which you can find here

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Let’s RECLAIM the Balkans!

As we enter the third and final day of the London Book Fair, a certain theme can be noticed lingering around the Croatian stand. If you pass by, you might notice a Bulgarian publisher or a Romanian literary scout, perhaps even the odd Macedonian translator or Serbian PR agent. And why is this so?

Well, it seems to me that those from the Balkan seem drawn together in some elemental way. They feel welcome to take a break at the Croatian stand between meetings; to catch up with colleagues or make new acquaintances; and of course to listen to what our visiting writers have to say about their books:)

While I was at the lovely Romanian national stand on Monday (the only other stand from the region at the LBF, listening to one of the speaker bemoan the negative associations connected to the Balkans, while also repeating those woeful words blood-letting, war, ancient hatreds. And it suddenly occurred from me how willing we all our to accept these adjectives and to apologise for the apparently inevitable curse that is cast over the region…

And suddenly I felt a voice inside me shout no! What we have to do is to reclaim that word – turn it round and make it our own. And that’s what the Romanians and the Croatians, the Bulgarians and the Serbians are all trying to do with their efforts to promote their culture, art and literature – they are trying to promote new adjectives for the Balkans: exciting, inspiring, fascinating, multi-cultural…

I don’t want to start wading though the muddy waters of recent history, but let’s just keep in mind who taught them the ways of Fascism and ethnic cleansing, and let’s keep in mind the cruel hand dealt by geography.

So let’s open the floor;
The Brilliant Balkans
The Best Balkan Books…

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Josip Novaković – Croatian writer nominated for the Man Booker International Prize

ImageIt’s a joy for both Canada and Croatia – Novakovic’s adopted country of residence and his homeland – a double celebration on both sides of the Atlantic. Josip Novakovic is well-known in North America for his books for his novels and short-story collections, and especially for his two books on creative writing: Writing Fiction Step by Step and Fiction Writer’s Workshop. However, his renown had not generally spread to the UK until the award short-list was announced a few days ago. As far as Croatia is concerned, this couldn’t have come at a better time, with the celebration of Croatia’s summer entry into the European Union this summer, and the accompanying Welcome Croatia Festival here in Britain.

The Man Booker international prize is open to all writers and recognises their career achievements. Worth £60,000, the award recognizes the world’s finest modern literature. It highlights a writer’s continued creativity, development and overall contribution to fiction on the world stage. The 2013 prize will be the fifth time it has been awarded, and there are 9 other candidates apart from Novakovic, from all across the globe.

This year’s judging panel for the Man Booker International Prize 2013 consists of the scholar and literary critic, Sir Christopher Ricks (Chair); author and essayist, Elif Batuman; writer and broadcaster, Aminatta Forna; novelist, Yiyun Li and author and academic, Tim Parks.

Keep your ears open to hear the results on May 22nd, and if you haven’t got another favourite, then keep your fingers crossed for Croatia and Novakovic!

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Top ten tips for the EU Literary Translation application

Yesterday at the Free Word Centre in central London, a few publishers dedicated to translating quality fiction met for a workshop on the ins and outs of EU Culture Strand 1.2.2 for Literary Translation. The form is long, the instructions many, and the session lasted more than two hours…but don’t despair – there is method in the madness! All you need is a bit of patience, a tick list and some helpful people on hand to offer advice.

Of course, the most important thing about your application is that you are presenting a number of excellent, quality titles for translation, that you have qualified AND experienced translators and that you believe these books will bring added value to the citizens of the EU. Nothing can make up for quality, but there is also the fiddly business of paperwork. So here’s a few helpful hints to make the passage easier:

1. Start the process in good time (that means now!) so that you don’t end up rushing at the last minute. The e-application form has to be submitted online by midday on Feb 6th – which means 11am to us in Britain.
2. When you apply for a number of titles, that is taken as the whole ‘project’. Therefore your project must not start before the set date of Sept. 1st and not run on longer than 24 months. Make sure none of your books run on longer than this, or you may risk being disqualified.
3. Remember to work out the dates of each book very carefully – translation time, plus manuscript preparation time and publication = beginning and end dates for that title.
4. Use the check-list provided on the website and check through your documents at least 7 times before sending them!
5. Remember to include any prizes that the books may have won in their home countries. Past winners of the European Prize for Literature are particularly welcome and receive optimum points on the scoring system
6. Don’t forget that the page count is now based on 1500 characters without spaces. You work out the total number of pages by taking the Word manuscript of the original work and dividing it by this figure.
7. You work out the translators fee by multiplying the pages (see above) by the set fee for the target language. i.e. if the work is being translated in English you must use the 25.95 Euros per 1500 characters as stated in the guidelines.
8. You need to have hard copies of all the titles you are applying for as you have to include these with your posted application forms.
9. Don’t forget to sign all the forms you are submitting
10. Don’t panic! The UK Cultural Contact Point is here to help you and can be contacted anytime leading up to the submission date
EU logo

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What was the Pula Book Fair?

Please forgive the past tense of this title. It’s because we were so busy at the Pula Book Fair that we didn’t have time to write about it while it was going on!

So, we figured better late than never, and anyway this could be the first time you have heard of the fair, or even of Pula! So let’s start with the latter: Pula is a port town on the tip of the Istrian peninsula, in the north-west of Croatia. It’s architecture reveals a mix of influences from Italy and Croatia, with a dose of Austria-Hungary and Communist Yugoslavia thrown in.This is the Mediterranean.

The book fair is something unique in the region, and provides a platform for local and international writers, publishers, agents and those in-between to meet, talk, stage events and of course, buy books. Founded in 1995, just after the end of the last Balkan war, the fair has fast become the most exciting literary event of the region.

Every year the Book Fair presents more than 300 publishers from Croatia and the region, it is visited by approximately 60.000 book-lovers, has more than 80 events (presentations of books and authors, professional gatherings, round tables, performances…) and more than 200 authors participate in these events. Today it is the biggest festival of writers in Southeast Europe. Past guests include Orhan Pamuk, Umberto Eco, Claudio Magris, Peter Esterhazy, Kenneth White, Irwin Welsh, Tess Gallagher, Michala Viewegha, Jiři Menzel, Dacia Maraini, Albert Manguel…

This year’s theme was ‘the Mediterranean – the black and white seas’,represented by speakers from Turkey and Italy. The packed programme included such delights as a multicultural discussion on Free Speech, book launches from Miljeko Jergovic, Andrej Nikolaids and Dragan Velikic, a discussion of Istanbul through writers eyes….

The finale of the nine days fair is the award ceremony for the Kiklop PrizeImage, where authors from across Croatia in all areas of literature (including poetry and historical books) are selected for special attention.

If you are asking yourself who some of the above writers are, then start paying more attention to what Istros Books is trying to do! We are here to present S E Europe to Western Europe.

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