Prose after Srebrenica?

This morning I had cause to remember once again that much quoted line (by Theodor Adorno)   that ‘To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric’. The title of the article I was reading in the Independent Blogs – ‘Poetry After Auschwitz?‘ referenced that statement, and was dedicated to the poetry of Tadeusz Różewicz

In my ignorance, I did not know that Rozewicz is Poland’s most celebrated living author, a Nobel prize nominee and considered by many as “one of the great European poets of the 20th century. Despite my dedication to literature in translation, I also find myself a victim of my own specialization – with Poland not included in my chosen area of S E Europe. Luckily, Stork Press have started to remedy that, with their English-language publications of Rozewicz and other neglected Polish writers.

The shadows of the Holocaust still lie heavily over us, nearly 70 years on, especially in the world of literature. But my personal experience with the horrors of war came in the 1990s, when I was working with refugees from war in Bosnia, many of them from soon-to-be sites of atrocities, like Srebrenica and Sarajevo. And so, for me, the question becomes whether it is possible for anything beautiful and pure – in the literary sense – can come out of Bosnia?

And so it is with such pride and relief that I can be involved in translating  and publishing Bosnian writers like  Selvedin AvdićImage, who evokes the horror of mass murders and unsolved disappearances not with blood and gore, but with the shifty workings of paranormal activities in his disturbing book, Seven Terrors; and Alma Lazarevska, whose tender and revealing set of stories – Death in the Museum of Modern Art, avoid the easy traps of politics and blame in order to reveal a world full of incidents and worries so similar to our own, and yet always under the shadow of the snipers and the bombs which we know are out there and who occasionally impinge on the story in shocking ways.

The human desire to understand terror, to probe the minds of the victims and the perpetrators and – perhaps more importantly – to allow the mind to convert the horrors of historical events into the stuff of memory, is an essential one in the process of living, and indeed forgiving. The process of writing down – recording, shading and refining – itself being a kind of therapy, a way to allow one part of the brain to process the experience and allow it a proper place in our recollection and understanding. It seems, therefore, that far from being a betrayal of our humanity (as indicated in Adorno’s quote), it is an imperative action; indeed, an affirmative action by the soul in desperation to save itself.

Without poetry, without prose, we are dumb animals at the gates of the abattoir.

Post script:

The Romania poet, Paul Celan  (who witnessed the Shoah (The Holocaust) first hand, and which provided him with defining forces in his poetry and his use of language) said of language after Auschwitz that:

”Only one thing remained reachable, close and secure amid all losses: language. Yes, language. In spite of everything, it remained secure against loss. But it had to go through its own lack of answers, through terrifying silence, through the thousand darknesses of murderous speech. It went through. It gave me no words for what was happening, but went through it. Went through and could resurface, ‘enriched’ by it all.”

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Check out the European Short Story Festival

It’s funny, but I have a sneaky feeling that since I left Zagreb, it has become the most interesting and edgy city in South East Europe!

Last week saw the likes of Oliver Stone and Slavoj Zizek, discussing such topics as the European Left, Love and Democracy at the Subversive Film Festival, while next week sees the start of the 10th annual Festival of the European Short Story. fessThe festival will be held from 29 May to 3 June in the present capital city of Zagreb and the once-capital Baroque town of Varaždin, bringing together dozens of writers from Croatia and abroad.

Welsh short-story writer, Owen Martell will be there, as well as Man Booker International nominee, Josip Novakovich, who was just in London for the Book Fair, and French writer and film director, Phillippe Claudel and local heroes –Edo Popović, Nenad Bartolčić, Branko Čegec

Highlights at this eclectic and truly European festival include a workshop on The Golden Age of Visual Storytelling which looks at the history of comics and graphic novel and a Short Introduction to the Contemporary Welsh Short Story.

Neighbouring Bulgarian writer, Alek Popov, is also there to present his collection of short stories – The Mythology of Transition’. Istros’ is hoping to bring his hilarious novel, ‘Mission London’, to UK audiences early next year, with the motion picture of the book out for UK release this autumn – watch the trailer here

All due to respect to the Creative director, Roman Simić Bodrožić, himself a short-story writer, as well as an editor at Fraktura Publishing House. Roman too joined Istros recently, at the Croatian stand of the London Book Fair. Listen here to get a sample of his hosting skills and his sterling efforts to control a panel-full of the top Croatian writers at the Europe House event – Contemporary Croatian Literature: Inside and Out

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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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Day Two at the London Book Fair

As I keep telling everyone who will listen – this is the FIRST TIME that Croatia has had a stand at the London Book Fair.

Yesterday we kicked it all off with a glass of Mistletoe brandy and an event to celebrate the publication of RELATIONS literary magazine, which highlights Contemporary Croatian literature in translation. Roman Simic – chief editor – was there, wooing the  crowds with his passion for telling the world about the writing his country has on offer. Will Firth – faithful translator of literature from the region – was also there, passionate in his own under-stated way about the novels and stories that he painstakingly transposes into a new language. The audience consisted of writers, other translators, other publishers and those who were curious about why we were all so passionate!

And so the outcome of the first event at the first Croatian stand could be summed up thus: without the passion and commitment of a few dedicated and under-paid people, there would be almost no Croatian literature outside its home country and we would all be the poorer; not in terms of cash this time, but in terms of culture, knowledge and entertainment.

Isn’t the fact that the short-lists for the Man Booker International and the Independent Prize both have Croatian contenders for the title just one more proof that what we are doing makes sense? Culture is something you cannot put a price on, although we all know it has a cost. If it weren’t for the efforts of the Romans and Will’s of this world, I think we would all be the poorer

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Why is the London Book Fair important for literature from S E Europe?


As you have hopefully already heard, Croatia is having a national stand at the London Book Fair this year, for the first time ever. In fact, it is the first time that any republic of the former Yugoslavia has taken a stand.

So why have they decided to take this step? Well, it is part of a series of events organised to highlight the country’s culture and achievement by the Welcome Croatia Festival, in the lead-up to Croatia’s entry to the European Union this summer. And as luck would have it (or some might call it ‘fate’), two Croatian writers are up for major UK literary awards: the north-American resident Josip Novakovich has been nominated for the Man Booker International Prize for lifetime achievement and Daša Drndić’s book – Trieste – has been long-listed for the prestigious Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. These two facts in themselves just go to prove what riches Croatian literature has to offer to the world, and are one more piece of proof (as if we needed them!) that literature from S E Europe has important things to say and can reach a mass audience through translation and dissemination.

And this is why the London Book Fair is important, and why it is so important for writing from the region to be translated and published in English. And its important for 3 reasons:

– obviously, it allows the work to reach an audience not just in the UK, but – because of the global online book suppliers – also in every other English-speaking country.

-it also allows all those other millions of people who speak English as a second language to access these works

– and thirdly, it allows publishers and agents across the globe – who might not have readers in Croatian or Romanian or Macedonian – to read works that might never have reached them, through the English translation.

The London Book Fair is the largest English-language book fair in Europe, and attracts over 24,000 book professionals from all over the world. Very much a trade fair, it is THE place where people come to buy and sell rights to and from English; where literary agents and scouts and publishers and book professionals come to meet and make deals. And therefore – not being part of this event is an obstacle in reaching British publishers and consequently, in achieving that all-important English translation.

Croatia’s participation at the fair this year can be seen as a test for other interested countries from around the region who haven’t yet made the decision to take part in this way. With Romania already leading the way for some years now – with its beautifully designed stands and its quality literary events – lets hope Croatia can be a worthy colleague. And the proof – as they say – will be in the pudding: keep watching the Istros media outlets for news of press coverage, publishing deals and translations which will surely follow as a results of their efforts!

The London Book Fair is the biggest European fair of its type focused on the English-lanuguage. 

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Nil, Love and Zero – the Art of Translation

Have a sneak preview of Turkish-English translator, Feyza Howell’s article ‘A CORNUCOPIA OF TURKISH DELIGHTS’, written for the Insight Magazine for the London Book Fair

A cracking tale, a superbly crafted sentence, or an exquisitely expressed idea: the temptation to share these treats is too great to resist. Translating favourite books was the natural progression for me. I have learned a good deal along the way, and had a lot of fun too.

ImageA skilful literary translator must be thoroughly immersed in both cultures, be able to distinguish between nil and love and zero, develop a great working relationship with her author, and use her common sense on when to bend the rules. Some of the challenges in translating literature are common to all. How much to localise, for one: Elysian Fields (surely not!) or leave Champs-Elysées alone? Yet when Maureen Freely anglicises a street name into the Chickens Can’t Fly Alley in Istanbul: Memories of a City (Orhan Pamuk, p189), it fits like a silk glove.

Production tools often frustrate more than they assist: the most commonly used word processing programme refuses to accept that one document may contain words from a second, equally valid language. But other challenges are more specific.

Turkish, a member of the Altaic-Turkic family, lacks common roots with western European languages. As an agglutinative language, it yields up to 30% more words -of fewer syllables- when translated into English, which impacts upon the rhythm and melody.

Feyza Howell has translated a number of titles including Waste by Hakan Günday, and edited The Aziz Bey Incident by Ayfer Tunç. She is currently working on a number of Ahmet Ümit novels. Her translation of Madame Atatürk by İpek Çalışlar is due for publication by Saqi in the autumn.

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Aleksandar Gatalica again awarded an important national prize


Aleksandar Gatalica – ‘The Great War’

Following the success of winning the Nin Prize back at the end of last year (see my previous blog entry), Aleksandar Gatalica has now been awarded the ‘Mesa Selimovic’ prize for his novel ‘’The Great War’’

The English rights to the book have already been signed to Istros Books, which keeps a beady eye open for novels like Gatalica’s, who garner national and regional awards. Its seems as if all literary forces are behind this book, with the centenary of the start of WWI only 18 months away.

The ‘Mesa Selimovic’ prize is awarded by the paper – ‘Vecernje novosti’ in Serbia (and is different from ‘Mesa Selimovic’ regional award for Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia and Montenegro). For the twenty fifth time, since it was first presented to Dubravka Ugresic and Milorad Pavic in 1988, the award was presented to the writer of the best novel in the previous year. For 2012 the award went to Aleksandar Gatalica, for his novel ‘The Great War’. The grand jury of ‘Vecernje Novosti’, which included fifty prominent literary critics, theorists and literary historians, emphasized the way Gatalica drew attention to the importance of the First World War and re-instituted this important subject into Serbian literature. Gatalica received the award on the scene of the cult Serbian theatre – ‘Narodno Pozoriste’.

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Daša Drndić: Another voice for Croatian Literature. WHO and WHERE?


Daša Drndić is a distinguished Croatian novelist, playwright and literary critic. Long listed for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2013, for her book Trieste, published by MacLehose Press in 2012.


Tuesday April 16th: ”Meet the voices of modern Croatian Literature”

18:30 – 20:30, The Nightingale Room, Keats House (library), Keats Grove, Hampstead, London, NW3 2RR

A rare chance to get see and meet three top Croatian writers presenting their work to a UK audience, in conversation with Nicholas Jarrold, former British Ambassador to Croatia. After a short presentation, the audience will have the chance to mingle and talk to each writer, in an informal ‘mini book fair’ setting.


Daša Drndić  –              long listed for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2013

Josip Novakovich –      nominated for Man Booker International Prize 2013

Marinko Koščec –        winner of the first-ever Meša Selimović Prize for best novel in the Croatian-Serbian-Bosnian-Montenegrin speaking region, in 2002

This event is hosted as part of the Welcome Croatia FestivalImage, in parallel with Croatia’s inaugural presence at this year’s London Book Fair, and in celebration of its accession to the EU in July this year.



Wednesday April 17th: ”Contemporary Croatian Literature: Inside and Out”

A two-part discussion on today’s Croatian literary scene, and the efforts to bring Croatian literature to a wider audience through translation. Chaired by Man Booker International nominee, Josip Novakovich, and Literary Editor, Roman Simić-Bodrožić

Part 1 – Croatian lit: Olja Savičević, Daša Drndić, Robert Perišić, Matko Sršen

Chaired by Roman Simić-Bodrožić

 Part 2 – Croatian lit in translation: Will Firth, Ivan Sršen, Marinko Koščec, Susan Curtis-Kojaković. Chaired by Josip Novakovich

 This event is hosted as part of the Croatian Embassy in London, in celebration of Croatia’s inaugural presence at this year’s London Book Fair, and its imminent accession to the EU, in July.

Europe House 32 Smith Square London SW1P 3EU, 18:30 – 20:30

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Croatia at the LONDON BOOK FAIR 2013

Every year the london book fairImage brings together publishers, agents and book industry professionals in the biggest book event in the uk: Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre, from 15th-17th April

This year, in honour of the fact that Croatia will be joining the EU in July, the Croatian Ministry of Culture has got together with various other organisations and come up with an exciting programme of culture events, under the umbrella of the Welcome Croatia Festival

We are thrilled to add Josip Novakovich to the list of authors mentioned below. Novakovich has been short-listed for this year’s Man Booker International Prize. Although he has lived and worked in north America for many years, Josip Nokakovich was born and raised in Croatia, and was proud to be part of the Croatian LBF events being organised this year.

Other award-winning writers who will be appearing at this year’s book stand include:

Robert Perišić, author of Our Man in Iraq, Istros Books 2012, endorsed by Durbravka Ugresic, foreword by Tim Judah US edition due out in April 2013, published by Black Balloon, endorsed by Jonathan Franzen

Slavenka Drakulić,award-winning author and perhaps the best-known voice to appear from Croatia since the war of the 1990s.

Matko Sršen, playwright, theater director and author. ‘Odohohol and Cally Rascal’, children’s fantasy, to be published by Istros Books, 2013

Daša Drndić, whose book ‘Trieste’ was recently published by MacLehose Press and was reviewed in all major UK press.

Marinko Koščec, author of ‘A Handful of Sand‘, Istros Books 2013.Koscec is one of the great stylists of Croatian literature and has been a recipient of the Mesa Selimovic Prize

 Apart from the fantastic series of events at the book fair itself, there will also be a chance for the general public to see and meet the authors at various literary venues across London; from Europe House to the Conway Hall!

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February 20, 2013 · 12:47 pm