Tag Archives: Eurolit

Guest Post: translating the Great War….

 Will Firth, one of a handful of experienced literary translators from BCS (Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian) opens the window on his       present project – a translation of one of Serbia’s best-selling books in recent years – The Great War by Aleksandar Gatalica.

”I feel almost privileged to be translating The Great War (Veliki rat) by the Serbian writer Aleksandar Gatalica because it really is a most entertaining   and moving book written with a convincing blend of styles and imagery. It is hardly surprising that it won the Serbian novel-of-the-year award (NIN nagrada) in 2012.

Over seventy main characters come together in The Great War. Among the historical figures we meet are Manfred von Richthofen (aka The Red  Baron), the flamboyant poet Guillaume Apollinaire, a megalomaniac little corporal in a Bavarian regiment on the Western Front (Adolf Hitler), and the illustrious Mata Hari – one of several spies in the book. These are joined by many characters who are fictional but convincingly portrayed: a Sarajevo  pathologist who finds Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Duchess Sophie on his dissection table in 1914; a failed German artist who is now a zeppelin pilot itching to drop a bomb on Picasso; and an Istanbul spice trader, whose five apprentices are all mobilised and sent to five different frontiers across the unsettled, post-Ottoman territory of Turkey. This is a skilful device which helps sketch the geopolitical dimensions of the war. Many readers will not know that the relatively young Kingdom of Serbia was wiped off the map during WWI. One of the characters is a Serbian commander who repeatedly lies to his freezing, starving men to give them hope and keep them alive on their long retreat through the mountains of Albania; ultimately they reach the Adriatic coast and the relative safety of Corfu, where the officer indulges in a single glass of ouzo – and dies.

The Great War has many elements of a historical novel but is also rooted in the tradition of magic realism. A German submarine captain, for example, is in league with sea monsters; a Turkish policeman of Armenian extraction (something he has successfully repressed) is finally overwhelmed by the spirits of all the Armenians killed in the genocide; a Russian surgeon on the Eastern Front miraculously saves soldiers with bullets in their brains, and the often illiterate muzhiks wake up speaking German; at the same time, students and poets in the Austro-Hungarian army are dying after bloody battles in Serbia, despite the best efforts of a surgeon there (our Sarajevo pathologist). Their souls ‘migrated east (…) along some imponderable transversal, in the invisible barques of the dead, into the split heads of Russian farmworkers’. The Austrian Bolshevik Karl Radek sets off from Zürich, Switzerland, for Russia in March 1917. He is one of the passengers in Lenin’s famous sealed train. On the long journey through war-impoverished Germany, Radek sees the same boy at every railway station: a fair-haired lad with a freckled nose, whom he instantly feels fond of. Pale and emaciated, the boy is either pushing a heavy luggage cart, waiting despondently or leaning on a crutch. And when Radek arrives in troubled Petrograd he can’t believe his eyes: the same boy, it seems, has been sent to meet him.

As well as being fascinating ideas in themselves, these events and links create a web of intersecting fates. The Great War portrays the cataclysm that was WWI from a pan-European perspective and will hopefully help redress Anglophone preoccupation with the Western Front. The author paints a convincing, gripping picture of a continent in agony. It is the end of an age built on a belief in material and technical progress, and the beginning of an uncertain future.

The Great War is due to be published by Istros Books in November 2014. It will make a fascinating read. Although there are some hard nuts to crack, the novel is also a pleasure to translate. I don’t get to say that very often.”

Will Firth, translator

1 Comment

Filed under Contemporary European literature

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

1 Comment

Filed under Balkan Literature, Balkans, Bulgaria, Contemporary European literature, contemporary literature, literature in translation, short story

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…

Leave a comment

Filed under Balkan Literature, Balkans, Contemporary European literature, european literature, European Union, UK publishing

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’.

Leave a comment

Filed under Contemporary European literature

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!

Leave a comment

February 20, 2013 · 12:47 pm