Byron and the beauty by Muharem Bazdulj euro 2016 post 3

Byron and the beauty by Muharem Badzdulj

Bosnian fiction

Original title – Đaur i Zulejha

Translator – John R cox

I have briefly met Muharem a couple of years ago when I was out for the day with his english publisher Susan and we bumped into him before the first Balkan day at the british library. It wasn’t till I sat to write this review I was remind of the fact I had met him briefly . He lives in Belgrade and has had a number of small piece translated before one was included in the best European fiction 2012. Muharem himself is a professor of English and AMerican Lit and has translated piece from Auster, Rushdie and Larkin to name a few. I choose this as we see Turkey in the opening game the other day of Euro 2016 play a fellow Balkan team Croatia so it gave me chance to shoehorn this book in as Croatia and turkey have been two of my favourite teams to watch over the last few decades as both fans have such passion and this is seen on the pitch.

Isak pointed towards the mountains. “North of here, and to the west ” He said : “A stern and beautiful land. I spent my youth there it is a perfect land, as a Turk once told me, wherever you dig, up comes potable water, and wherever a seed falls, there a tree will sprout. Nowhere is the water any sweeter, or the shade any more beautiful, my lord. This place you were speaking of, my lord , this sintra, seems to me to be complete sevdah, but Bosnia is at once Sevdah and Dert.

Isak tells byron what Bosnia is like in the most poetic way as Bosnia is considered the poetic heart of the balkans .

It’s interesting that Muharem has translated poetry and choose a poet as a lead figure in this book. The figure in this book is Lord Byron the mad bad boy of romantic poetry. We meet him here as we spend two weeks with him as he waits in the Balkans Byron his group of people and a man called Isak whom is the interpreter. Then there is the third character in the story a Bosnian beauty called Zuleiha who is part of the Turkish royal Harem. At one point Isak said her beauty is that much it can’t be described so we have an English man in love with an eastern beauty that he can’t have .They can’t even say he name after she married. We see Byron trying to work out how eastern culture works through his western eyes.

“No my lord” Isak replied, “her name has not been utter since the wedding. All those who’d been saying she would definitely appear re now as silent as can be. Such a story, however cannot be invented. She is here somewhere my lord; I can feel it; and I fear that we Iliad will miss her, that she will come to Yannina, and leave again, while I’m away

Isak talks about Zuleiha and her wedding and after .

Now another connection the mad bad boy of romantic poetry , grew up 20 miles from where I live in his family home of Newstead abbey ( I went a few years ago and Byron had some mad family members one who made the staff of the estate take part in naval battle in small ships with real cannons on the lake ) I knew I had read something similar by Byron and I rooted out my battered copy of Bryon’s poems that I have had for years .

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I found that after Childe Harold he had written a poem or turkish tale in fragments called The Giaour  a story with three character a woman from the Harem an Infidel (also the name given to Byron in the Bosnian edition ) as she is thrown to the sea after being involved with the infidel.But strangely the poem is also one of the first mentions of Vampires and given that most vampire storys start in the east is this maybe the start of it given that it is explained to Byron about the Bosnian Dert and Sevdah Black bile and blood  This book is a modern take on how Byron looked at the east back then how we in the west held eastern culture in such mystery at the time. It is also a tale of love that won’t happen a great lover that misses out on getting the great beauty maybe for the first time . There is no actual record of this two weeks but Byron spent time in-between turkey Albania and the Balkans in 1809  to 1811 on his grand tour when he fell in love with not just the Balkans but also the old Levant region of south eastern europe and north africa.

Have you a favourite book set in turkey ?

Death in the Museum of modern art by Alma Lazarevska

 

Death in the Museum of modern art by Alma Lazarevska

Bosnian short stories

Original title – Smrt u Muzeju moderne umjetnosti

Translator – Celia Hawkesworth

Source review copy

 

Easter, 1916

I HAVE met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,

A view from another besieged city with WB Yeats Easter 1916 when the easter uprising happened in Dublin .

Well its a bit late as I’ve been slow on my bloggging this year but now we have another edition to the East european reading month . Later this month I am of to see a couple of other writers from Istros books at London book fair .Anyway Alma Lazarevska is a Bosnian writer who lives in Sarajevo , this city formed part of her first collection Sarajevo Solitaire .She is also a teacher of writing and happened to teach Andrej Nikoladis another Istros writer before his family left Bosnia .This book won the best book in Bosnia when it came out .

At last the crossing was agreed . The young man who brought the good news did not bang roughly on the door . Nor did he shove her small thin person arrogantly aside , as all the others before him had done , barging into the flat without taking off their boots ,He had timid eyes , which she recognised , and bowed before she confirmed that she had understood when and how the crossing wold take place .

The opening of Dafne Pehfogl crosses the bridge between there and here .

Death in the Museum of modern art is a collection of short stories that capture both life the alma Lazarevska saw in the time Bosnia was at war . This is caught so well in the first story , which to me partly in its title harks back to Ivo andric the great Balkan writer Dafna Pehfogl crosses the bridge between here and there .Covers the war but also in its title maybe the here and there is then and now in a way as we follow someone in the middle of the war trying to get from  point a to point b .Then there is also a dry wit ,like in the story greetings from a besieged city a pun on the postcard greeting , but the story also looks at books translation and being in a besieged city .Another story touches on the myth of the area a tale of the real Kasper Hauser who of course is the subject of the Werner Herzog film starring Bruno S .

“Who was Kaspar Hauser ?”

“Hauser turned up in Nuremberg in 1828 , saying hardly more than a few words , unable to write anything apart from his name , and eating nothing but bread , drinking nothing but water . At first it was assumed he was a tramp , and then he was thrown into the gaol and became an attraction for scholars …

The secret of Kaspaer Hauser looks at his story again from another angle .

I’ve mentioned three of three of the six stories I will keep the other three for you to discover .I love the way Susan the boss of Istros is bringing us such vibrant voices like Alma Lazarevska , yes she has won prizes but in other ways if it wasn’t for Istros we wouldn’t be getting these insights into Balkan life .Think how few books we got before they start publishing a few every year .This collection captures the feeling of being caught in the besieged city the first story Dafna Pehfogl crosses the bridge remind me of the short film I had seen a while ago Torzija which follows a choir trying to exit the besieged city via a tunnel whilst a cow also gives birth  after being spooked by the war , whilst they wait .Such is life in this book yes war is there but also life continues .Have you a favourite book from the Balkans ?

The bridge over the Drina by Ivo Andric

bridge over the drina

 

The bridge over the Drina by Ivo Andric

Bosnian fiction

Original title – Na Drini ćuprija

Translator – Lovett F Edwards

Source – personnel copy

This table has four sturdy legs
And a heart of very near wild oak
When others would have screamed out loud my friend
This one never even spoke

I’ve been sat upon, I’ve been spat upon
I’ve been treated like a bed
Been carried like a stretcher,
when someone thinks they’re dead
I’ve been dined upon, I’ve been wined upon
I’ve been taken for a fool
Taken for a desk,
when they should have been at school

The table in the song by beautiful south is a dumb witness of history source 

Well this has been a book I have want to add to the blog for a while . Part of what I need to do is add books like this and writers like Andric .Former Nobel winner .He was born to Bosnian Croat parents ,was rought up in the town of Visegrad where this book is set and the bridge is .He won the nobel mainly based on the value of this book it was the first of a trilogy of books he wrote set in his native Bosnia .

For the greater part of its course the river Drina flows through narrow gorges between steep mountains  or through deep ravines with precipitous banks  . In a few places only the river banks spread out to form valleys with level or rolling stretches of fertile land suitable for cultivation and settlement on both sides . Such a place exists here at Visegrad , where the Drina breaks out in a sudden curve .

The town has people living on both sides of the bridge .

The bridge of Drina is well what it says on the tin the story of this bridge that in a way links east and west . The bridge is set in the town of Visegrad . The bridge was built-in the 16th century by the Grand Vizar to connect the two sides of the town and two worlds really . Through the book we see families torn apart on the two sides of the river . The story starts with a Serbian boy  whom has been  taken from his parents  .The parents of the boys taken suffering . Through the door of everyone living in the town we see the small world there but also the larger world of the Balkans .WE see the religions of the region and how they affect the townsfolk Catholic , orthodox and muslim altogether .This is a huge book about the region through glimpse of the world through three centuries .

In all that ten days long bombardment no major damage was done to the bridge .The shell struck against the smooth piers and rounded arches ,ricocheted and exploded in the air without leaving other marks in the stone than light ,white scarcely perceptible scratches . The fragments of shrapnel bounced off the smooth firm stone .

The bridge came through world war one fairly unscathed .unlike the world around it

Now this book was written in Belgrade during the second world war .It maybe shows much of what happened after the second world war . The cracks that finally broke up the post Tito Yugoslavia can all be seen in these little stories in this book as we see the lives through 300 years which has seen many people trying to gain control of the town and over Bosnia and the wider region . from the Ottoman empire .then the interaction between the Serbs and the Muslims .Andric enters all the lives of the town he grew up these are little stories glimpse of people’s lives that he knew and must have heard of growing up in the town .Also the  folktales of the place all drawn together .The bridge is like a dumb witness to the history and the wounds left during the three hundred years in this book .Which formed scabs after this book that was maybe ripped off to bleed again by the Balkan conflicts at the end of the 20th Century .This is my second book for east European month and maybe one of the best and earliest books of the post war eastern europe .

Have you read this book ?

Sarajevo Marlboro by Miljenko Jergovic

Sarajevo Marlboro by Miljenko Jergovic

Bosnian fiction

translator Stela Tomasevic

This book was sent to by my friend Simon of Inside books .I was happy he sent it as it was one I d meant to get around the time it came out but hadn’t and then it had dropped out of my mind .The book is a collection of stories set in and around Sarajevo the capital of Bosnia before and during the war .As I mention before I work in Germany around this time and many of the people in the factory I worked were refugees from Bosnia and Croatia.So as I got to know many of them I heard similar things to the stories in this book . My favourite story is one called Bosnian hot-pot we follow two young women Elena and Zlaja  around the the city  of Zagreb during the war for a clay pot to make a Bosnian hot-pot  like they would in Sarajevo .This story is familiar as it partly metaphor for the city pre war every one made the same hot pot of many parts like the city they had Bosnia , Croat and Serb  living side by side in a harmony  in the pre war Sarajevo .

For a long time Elena and Zara searched everywhere in Zagreb for a clay pot .In the end they found two pots – at opposite ends of the city – that were ideal for preparing the traditional dish .

they find the pot .

Other stories look at pre war and like many of the people I worked with the former Yugoslavia  president Tito is mention as the man who held the country from the second world war ,he was respected and in some ways feared by all .We meet people who lived in Sarajevo that have got out and now looking at the horror unwind from the sidelines ,upset and not understanding the horrors .Then we find how the book got its title in the story The Gravedigger as A man offers the gravedigger packet of cigarettes wrapped up that turned out to be  some old Sarajevo Marlboro (it turns out Philip morris allow each country and even places make slightly different versions of this brand ,I can acknowledge this as I smoke Marlboro for many years and always notice subtle changes when in different places ) .This makes the gravedigger wonder what the man an american makes of them maybe he things we re all mad he says .

the american is curious too ,but he has no idea what I’m doing at last I undo the  cigarette packet to reveal a Marlboro wrapper the old brand from  Sarajevo

we discover the meaning of the title of this collection from the story the Gravedigger .

The Croat writer  said of the many book written about Bosnia that it is perhaps the best collection of stories .I couldn’t agree more this brings you into the besiege city and the people that live there or lived there .I ll end with a video of a song from  Passengers  featuring Pavarotti called  miss Sarajevo about the city and a beauty pageant that went on in the city during the war .

Have you a read any books around the Yugoslavian conflict ?

 

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