Singer in the night by Olja Savičević

Singer in the night by Olja Savičević

Croatian fiction

Original title – Pjevač u noći.

Translator – Celia Hawksworth

Source – review copy

I’m back from my short holiday and back with a book from one of my favorite publishers Istros books and also a book that does something that in the time I have been blogging we are seeing and that is a second book from a writer coming out in English. Sometimes we see a great novel from a writer then never see any of there other works translated so this is the first of two returning writers that Istros have brought out this year the other I will be bringing you shortly here. I reviewed Olja first book farewell cowboy a novel that followed a sibling hunting for a lost brother with touches of lost time from her generation often called the lost generation. She grew up when Yugoslavia was still just together and saw the birth of a new country. This book like her earlier book, this is set in Split and also has a similar theme of a female looking for a lost male her it is Clementine’s story of searching for her ex-husband.

Dear citizens, householders, close friends, fellow townsfolk, mild and attentive civil servants and waiter, courageous and patient nurses, magicians, secretaries, dresser of abundant hair, eternal children in short trousers, seasonal ice-cream sellers, dealers in intoxicating substances, drivers who brake on bends, gondoliers of urban orbits, captains of foreign ships, foreign girl on captains, neighbours – agreeable disco gladiators, neighbouring proto astronauts and everyone else in Dinko Simunovic street, not to list you all

The book opens when a poetic letter is posted by someone calling themselves the nightingale. This letter an ode to the street in a district of Split and his wonderful neighbors from the daily rising to there lovemaking. This letter leads into a sort of hunt for the writer of it from someone that was his wife  Clementine now a successful soap opera writer sets of to find the Gale but also driving her car around the places they visited we see her take a drive into her past and what happened to bring them to the present from the street of the letter writer we see a trip to the seaside and the to the Capital of Zagreb where her job is launched and her street poet other half and her drift war and life drifted them and this fragment work shows a women grasping at the past love and trying to reconstruct her life and like most her fellow country people make sense of the war still there in the background and she has to face what is her reality what is her truth this in her world is maybe now rewritten like a soap episode and shows what happens when we make those choices.

All right, I’ll tell you, so ,my name is Clementine. On outside, I’m a blonde orange. I have a Brazilian hairstyle, I drive a two seater Mazda MX-5 covertible, gold, but inside I’m a black orange. Full of black juice.

The day bfore my meeting with nightingale’s mother, the meeting with which I began this story, I travelled from Ljubljana to Split. I decided to make the journey after I had spent tje whole of the proceding week vainly calling Gale every day,. When I tried to pay money for the boat’s berth  I discovered that his account had been closed months before, at the marina they told me he had paid all his bills, but, they’d noticed for some time no one had been coming to the boat. His mobile was dead and at first that annoyed me , then it worried me( we had not been in touch often, in fact very rarely in recent years, and then mainly in connection with our shared boat, but nevertheless).

Clem explains why she want to find the gale.

This book brilliantly is a mix of a road trip novel as clementine revisits her past in doing so sees where her life start from her home town and the mirror of her friends from then with her kids a life that she could have had there is a sense of a soap opera at times the way the tale opens piece by piece wanting us the reader to get to the next episode as one would say a lot of cliffhangers. This is also a detective work in a way we follow Clem and her hunt for the Gale and like a good detective novel those little clues of there lives and past are scatters as the picture builds this is a single night read that lingers with the reader. It has a heady mix of lost love, poetic writing, post-war Croatia  and pre-war Croatia without ever wallowing in the war just showing the outfall from letter by the likes of the old warrior.

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Transit Comet Eclipse by Muharem Bazdulj

 

Transit Comet Eclipse mc

Transit Comet Eclipse by Muharem Bazdulj

Bosnian fiction

Original title  – Tranzit, kometa, pomračenje, kucajte

Translator –  Natasa Milas

Source – Personal copy

I enjoy seeing writers whose books I have enjoyed having more books out in English. I read Byron and the Beauty when it came out a couple of years ago. I have met him briefly when I was in London a couple of years ago when we had a mint tea in Red Lion square with Istros books Susie. He has now moved to Belgrade to live after a number of years living in Sarajevo. He has written over nine novels and been translated into twenty languages this is his third book to be translated into English.

The land through the looking glass, tis is how I always thought about Moldova. I always have optical instruments on my mind, I think about mirror a great deal, maybe that is why this very thung crossed my mind. On the other hand. I didn’t think in this manner about Bulgaria. It’s simply as if something mysticalwere floating over Moldova. Tnje people were different, it wasn’t just the language. If I say that bulgaria is underdevolped or primitive, it is clearly like this within the world that I find familar. Iytis similar enough to other countries that Icould compare it to them, even to Bulgaria’s detriment. Moldova is difficult to compare ith anything,that’s how different it is

Moldova another linking factor in the three stories described here in the first novella in the collection Transit

 

The book is made up of three novellas linked by motifs of Elippise, transits or comets. The book opens as we Ruder Boskovic a Jesuit scientist who is traveling in the company of an English ambassador James porter from Istanbul to Petro grad. The journey for Ruder is to catch the once in a century transit of Venus. We capture his description of the hinterlands of Eastern Europe as he feels Moldova is darker than anywhere else at night. But breaks in the journey means he never gets to see the transit. But later in his life, he sees a poem dedicated to an eclipse. The next story follows a young Moldovan student Marie Alexander she is encouraged by her father to make more of her self. She was born the year Halley’s comet made its 75-year visit to Earth. She meets a Bosnian called Bosko  who opens her eye to what the West is like. You see what is coming but she follows him and ends up in Dubrovnik in bad company. The last story is a story of a writer. It is hard not to picture this as a shadow version of the writer himself. He is in America as the famous total Eclipse that happened in 1999 is due to take place as he is studying journalism and looking back at the place of his birth Dubrovnik that is also the place of birth of Ruder Boskovic. But is the place where he interviews a young Moldovan girl Marie Alexander that had ended up working in a club there. As the writer has his eyes opened by Paul Auster’s New York trilogy.

Marie Alexander woke up early. Bosko was still asleep. Occasional snoring came from his bed, probably what had woken her. The sound wasn’t pleasent, but it moved her. That’s love, shoe thought, when you like the ugly things about the person you love. It was then that a strange thought passed through her head. Will I like his snoring in twenty years? she wondered. I will, she thought quicklu and quietly dressed.She tiptoed over to Bosko bed and stared at his leeping face. He was frowning.She discerneddark bristles on his cheeks and his chin , which had seemed smooth last night. The sleepy body started to toss around as if he felt her gaze.She didn’t want to wake him.She left the room in silence and closed the door

Marie imagines a future that is shortlived as she is with a man tthat isnt’t what he seems!!

This tackles a number of things mainly wanting to go to the west from the east. But it is also a nod towards Paul Auster a writer the Muharem has translated into Bosnian. We have a series of interlink novels where the first two are separate tales, similar locations. But different ages see one man trying to capture a once in a lifetime event in the west and a young girl following her father’s dream of a better life in Paris. are all tied up in the last story a writer that looks back at both of the two previous tales sharing his place of birth with Ruder and then having interviewed the young Marie at a sex club in that same city as we see her dream broken. These are like the events mention short lives and a glimpse into life like a comet Marie want to burn up the sky but are only visible for a brief moment like her dream of going to the west or Ruder dream of seeing the transit of Venus or a journalist missing the eclipse as he sits learning about journalism much further west. Muharem has captured what is the dream of many in the east but also the nightmare that is the reality of it with Marie’s story.

 

Fear and his servant by Mirjana Novakovic

Fear and his servant by Mirjana Novakovic

Serbian fiction

original title -Strah I njegov sluga

Translator – Terence McEneny

Source – review copy

I reach the last of this stop on Peter Owen World series Serbian collection. The last book of the series has my favourite cover of the year and like the other books were on the Shortlist for the Nin prize. Mirjana first published a collection of short stories in 1996 since then she has written three novels this was her first novel the other two have been on the Nin shortlist. She has had her books translated into a number of languages this book came out from a Serbian publisher a number of years ago.

It had been years since my last visit to Belgrade. And I missing it. I was curious to see what twenty years of Austrian rule had dome for the place. The last time I’d seen it, it was an Oriental bazaar, the skyline bristling withcountless minatrets, the air filled with the stench of tallow and the wailing of Muezzins. In Pest I’d heard how the city was nearly destroyed in the siege or 1717 but that the fortifications had since been tripled, making it even more impregnable during its time under the Turks.

Otto arrives to see how the Austrians have changed the place .

Well, the setting is 18th century Serbia and the atmosphere of this novel is similar to that of Dracula or Kaspar Hauser a story told from Princess Marie Ausua is in town looking for love and the same time as she arrives Otto Van Hausberg arrives with his Serbian servant Novak a crafty man, I was reminded of the many servants we have seen that are devious in the past . They are seen by some as the devil and his man on earth. They are there checking out reports of Vampires and an Attack on an Austrian tax collector.Marie and otto who has taken to his role as being the devil set off to the hinterlands of Serbia to find if the vampire attacks are real.Marie looks forward to seeing more of the country her eyes are naive and childlike at a time. The chapters switch from character to character and there is a sense of the past reflecting the present at times as well.The famous Serbian Vampire Sava Savanovic a real-life character and the best know Vampire Myth in Serbia lurks in the background.

Mary, Maria. Maria Augusta. She lay there in all helplessness. How does tat Serb put in that poem They’re always quoting? she sleeps, perhaps / Her eyes outside all evil. But the vampire wouldn’t let her. And, outside evil was standing watch. The red count sat beside me, quite unconcerned. He was twirling one of the many curls of his red wig

Mary is innocent and Naive in a way and as it says helpless at times.

This is one of those stories that we read middle European books for where else do we see the devil turn up or Evil From Stantango A man arriving in a town unknown cause many troubles. Like others, Otto is a voice questioning the world the devil on earth what is evil does the past have evil does the present have evil. This is one of those reads that will take many a rereading to discover the many twists in the tales also the links from the 18th century Serbia setting through the modern day Serbia and politics of the recent past. The power struggle between the East and west is also shown her Between The Austrian side and the older Ottoman side of the country. This is a clever retelling of old tales from modern eyes.

The house of Remembering and Forgetting by Filip David

 

The House of remembering and Forgetting by Filip David

Serbian fiction

Original title – Kuća sećanja i zaborava

Translator – Christina Pribichevich Zoric

Source – review copy

I reach the second book of the Serbian stop in Peter world series. Filip David has been a big name in Balkan fiction for a number of years. Forming a circle of writers first in Sarajevo then later in Belgrade where he opposed the Serbian leader Milosevic at the time. He also worked on the radio dramas til getting sacked for starting a trade union. This book won the NIn Book prize (Like the Serbian Booker prize ) when it came out in 2014.

My father was distantly related to the famous Houdini, whose real name was Erik Weisz. He was one of Rabbi Mayer Weisz’s six children. The great illusionist became famous or his escape acts from locked spaces and chains, displaying skills that verged on the impossible. My father often joked, although later said quite seriously, that this was a legacy shared by all the weiszes.

One of my fathers close relatives was named erik after the celebrated escapologist. He was one of the few members of the Weisz familyto have survivied the Holocaust, although later he disappeared without a trace. According to unconfirmed rumours he finished up in a mental asylum.

THe family connection to the escapologist and Alberts own tale of escape.

This book is a fictional action of a Holocaust survivor Albert Weiss and his story. He is set on this path when in the present he visited an exhibition with a pair of rooms about the holocaust. He then recounts his life and his survival in how his parents died he was brought up by another couple. After he was thrown out of a train on its way to the death camp. The true story of the Serbian jews told in many tales of Albert Weiss and his life. Old man remembering in a world where news is so fast it is forgotten. This is told in the snippets of stories some forgotten some connected to the past like discovering the brains evil centre. A birth of a devil baby shows the horror and death still walk hand in hand as panic grabs people in Columbia. All this as Weiss lives his life in New York, but still hears the clatter of that train on the rails as he head as a six-year-old child to the Death camp but out of this came his rebirth.

Albert shuts his eyes. That is how you become invisible. That is the incredible trick his father used to talk abpout. One worthy of the celbrated relative hounini, the greatest escape artist of all time.

“This world of ours is not exactly the most perfect place to live in ” his father used to say “When you find yourself in trouble, just shut your eyes and wait ”

His famous relative and also the fathers words he remembers are touching and sad!

Susie from Istros compared this book to those of Dasa Drndric, They both share a sense of collective loss of the Jewish voice in the Balkans and also both serve as warnings. The David with its reflections of the current news and Dasa in her most recent book translated into English which shows a man looking back at how much the world had changed in recent years. We are forgetting more than remembering the past these days. Also, there is a feeling of the past become trivial like the news piece on the painter using Holocaust ashes to paint with. A point Topol touched on in his book The Devil’s Workshop about wanting to make a Disneyland like death camp experience. This is a testament to the Serbian jews that died and those who survived like David himself who was a survivor.

 

The tragic fate of Moritz Toth by Dana Todorovic

 

The tragic fate of Moritz Toth by Dana Todorovic

Serbian fiction

Original title – tragična sudbina Morica Tota

Translator – the writer herself

Source – reivew copy

I m so pleased to get to the third in Peter Owen series of world series of books. This time the stop on their journey around the world is Serbia. This written by the half Serbian, Half American writer Dana Todorovic was shortlisted for a number of prizes when it first came out in Serbian. Including the big prize the Nin pirze. Dana also works as a translator of mainly films and theatre. She has also worked as Interpreter at the UN.

This is when I discovered that the red priest, that is IL Prete Rosso, had been the nickname of the legendary Italian violinist and composer Antonio Vivaldion account of his flaming red hair and the fact he had briefly studied to become a priest. As a hardcore punk , I owed my flaming red hair not to genetics but to a tube of Koleston hair dye of the shade 77/44, and my wardrobe at the time consisted of scruffy wollen sweaters stretched down to the knees and black t-shirt dedicated to the funeral ,stairway to hell and filthy communion.

He is called the red priest at the opera he finds out why here .

The book is formed of two narratives. The first narrative finds The title character Moritz Toth narrating his life. He is a former punk who has suffered a recent number of setbacks including the loss of a close female friend. He has a turn of luck when he gets a job in the Opera as a prompter. The guy that sits in a wooden box on the front of the stage helping the singers if they forget lines. His first job is tackling the complex Puccini opera Turandot. As the story of his life unfolds he has a sense that like a character in a Greek myth his life is being controlled and who is that feeling or being he keeps sensing in the background behind him.He also has to cope with being stuck in a small wooden box all day  The second storyline in the book follows an official Tobias Keller.Who works for The moral issuses adviser with the office of the great oversee. We follow him through a number of meeting and as his job and reason for being in the book starts to unfold we see how he is connected to Moritz.

“Your name ”

These were the presiding officers first words to Tobias. His voice was rather thin for such a large man,and Tobias suspected that he was burdened with something of a orthodontic anomaly, as he spoke with a certain impediment, causing missiles of saliva to shoot across the room at random targets,

“Tobias Keller,” he answered.

“What is it that you do, Mr Keller?”

“I am the adviser for the moral issues with the office of the great oversee”

Tobias face a panel and gives his ambiguous job title to the committee

 

This is a short novel about one man struggling with his life. Then how the other person actions have affected those it shows how a chance and events. Can change people s lives. Both men are effects as Tobias influence of Mortiz life is considered by those he worked for as maybe wrong. I got a sense of Tobias’s  world is rather like that of the world within the film  Brazil and in fact in the way he deals with Moritz is like the angel visions of Jonathan Pryce in that film. but maybe it also harks back to the old nature of the Yugoslavia of the past with its inner working and committees like those Tobias gets caught up in. I managed to get through this review without mention Kafka, but yes there is a sense of his world in Tobias narrative.

Hair everywhere by Tea Tulic

Hair Everywhere by Tea Tulic

Croatian Fiction

Original title – Kosa posvuda

Translator – Coral Petkovich

Source – Review copy

I return with a couple of novels from Croat the first her is a debut prize-winning novel , from one of my favourite publishers Istros books. Young Tea Tulic , took her own life experience of losing her mother and wove it into this novel. Tea was born and grew up in the Croat city of Rijeka and has written many short piece in Serbian ,Croat and Macedonia. This won the Croat book prize for the best young writer. She said in an interview one of her influences  and mentor is  the great Dasa Drndic whose latest book I review tomorrow and was also thanked by Tea in this book.

When I was a t primary school, I was allowed to keep little freshwater turtles as pets. I fed them with dried shrimps. I put a green plastic palm in the aquarium for them, to make them feel more at home. They never grew big because they fell ill – Their shells became soft. I massaged the shells with butter, but it didn’t help. I buried all six of them in a big park, in matchboxes.After the last burial I said to my parents: Don’t ever give me those dying animals again .

In the piece another pet dies but maybe it also echoes the slow death of her mother.

Hair everywhere is a collection of short pieces a mosaic of a novel , called by its publisher a fragmented novel . It follows the daughter of woman , whom is dying and also has an elderly  grand parent who she is trying to look after keep alive. Then there is recurring items , Hair on the head of people , on the floor and clothes when it as fallen out. The passion flowers . A dream about a snake and a selection of Pets she had that all either died or disappeared , the colour purple are all motifs in this book . This is a child voice and mind dealing with a sick parent but also what lies past that. I flew through this book it is a real page turner I read it in one sitting.

When mum opened the drain in the bathtub and pulled a lump of hair from it, she said to me “Look, this is your bloody hair ! I’ll cut it short”. In her wet hands were long brown strands, once adored , now loathed. It’s like having a dog in the house!”Once we did have a dog in the house. I found him in the fron of school and brought him home while Mum and Dad were at work .  He ate all the soup and bread. He was big and hungry, as was Dad that evening . So he had to go

Hair and a pet both motifs , also never mention is cancer of the reason for the hair lose , so like a child.

This is a touching account of dealing with a parents death , I know this experiences so well having lost but my mother and step mother in the last few year. So still raw this detached child like voice drifting between the everyday , past and present with her mother in and out of hospital reminded me so much of my own recent past the lonely nights the thought of our shared past in this case through a selection of pets. Tea has also released a spoken word album, I can see a connection between her work and music This has the same feel of confessional lyrics that many of my favourite singers have especially Mark Kozelek , this is a bare voice stripped and telling snippets of  a life twirling out of control as the shadow of death drifts over their lives until the end comes and all you can do is buy some purple shoes for your late mother. Touching elegant prose beautifully sketching the last few months of three generations of a female hierachy. Tea manages to do what Mark Haddon did so brilliantly and that is capture a child’s voice at the worst time of their lives , that way of seeing and not seeing \mum is ill but no mention of the treatment and reason she lost her hair.

None like her by Jela Krečič

 

 

None like her by Jela Krečič

Slovenian fiction

Original title –  Ni Druge

Translator – Oliva Hellewell

Source – review copy

I am as many of you know A huge fan of Istros books , this is the first in a series of books they are doing in a new partnership with Peter Owen , where they will release three books  from one country and the first series is books from Slovenia. This is the first of the three books in the series is a novel for Jela Krečič , she is known for being the wife of Slavoj Zizek, she is a journalist her most famous piece is an interview with the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

As he focused on her face, he saw that he liked it. It was pale distinguished by her severe, uneasy expression and stern feature but softened by her lip.And ,if he was not mistaken, by her big blue eyes too, although with the enormous amount of black eyeshadow all over them he couldn’t be quite sure of the colour.Her lower lip punctured with a piercing, a decoration repeated once more on her eyebrow. A red-head version of Larsson’s girl with a dragon tattoo

How ofter do we see this type of girl about whether in Ljubljana or London .

Well this book is an odyssey in a way the title refers to Sara the former partner of Matjaz. He is obsessed about her but to get over her or get her back he has decided to go on a quest to find other woman.What follows is a series of relationships as we see what the women as like in Modern Ljubljana , Each chapter is a different relationship Matjaz is a strong macho man he is a photographer , he is one of this men that uses at times his power over women making them feel less , although at one point this is turned on him when he meets a red head that reminds him of the lead character in the dragon tattoo who doesn’t fall for his patter. For me it is an interesting look at modern balkan relationship. The types you can meet anywhere a TV for example her runs into in a gay club and what one would call a cougar an older woman who husband left her for a younger woman so she now finds younger men. This is a journey of one man to becoming a real man a modern man.

checkmate by the very fact of being born. That’s why she always liked names where she could see the beginnings of a ‘mate’: Matej, Matjaž, Matko, Matic, Matija, Matilda, Mateja, Matahari and so on. But Grandma is dead, he said to himself, he was convinced of it – she had a headstone at Žale cemetery, along with dried flowers, burned-out candles and all of that. Then maybe he was just imagining it; maybe the heat was messing with his head. Finally he looked up – and he saw her. Sara.

She was coming towards him with a crumpled newspaper and her distinctive smile, which struck him right in the stomach. ‘Your newspaper’s crumpled,’ he said upon greeting her, slightly embarrassed. He hadn’t seen her for more than a year.

Late in in the book we meet the woman who started it all  Sara .

This is a clever juxtapose tale with a female writing a male main character, whom she said in an interview she based on those french film stars of the fifties. . But what really works in those women that matzaj meets they are more than just a type Jela manages to make these types see real in the dialogue between the characters. This is a story of Love lost and a hunting of love obsessive love. This is how one man lost in life and obsession through this group of women he finds himself. I love how easily people fall for this guy he is like the Fonz of ljubjana but also like the Fonz character at his heart is a broken soul yes a strong man behind leather jacket but like Fonz , Matzaj is that tragic comic hero in a way the Fonz is yes girls fall at his feet but at his heart he is sad , but there is also a pinch of classic bad boy as well the way he treats his woman as Jela says like a fifties male with that feeling of position of male over female being held.

 

Down the rabbit-hole the publishing world of istros books

the son Andrej Nikolaidis

I was so pleased that Susan from Istros books had agreed to do a piece on being a publisher in the modern world of publishing books in Translation .I agree with her on the point about scope for a new Book Prize .

A few weeks ago – more than I care to remember(!) – Stu asked me if I would like to write a guest post on his blog. As he has written so many posts in honour of Istros’ titles, I could hardly refuse, but the title made my heart sink a little – ‘The Experiences of a Small Publisher’. Well, my first thought was that ‘Trails & Tribulations’ or simply ‘Frustrations’ might have been better, but then I stopped myself: ‘Don’t be negative!’

missioon London Cover Alek Popov

So maybe I should begin at the beginning, as Lewis Carroll’s king advised, and tell you how I came to be a small publisher championing the cause of the people of the Balkan wonderlands….. Well, after living for some years in Croatia and Slovenia, and travelling extensively in Bosnia and Romania, and quite apart from all the friendships and contacts I have across the region….well, there came a point where all these strands of my eclectic life seemed to be wanting to draw together and make some kind of pattern; something of substance. As a writer and lover of literature, that thing of substance turned out to be Istros Books: a small voice in the land of publishing giants.

ekaterinfrontcover_50b7770928f02

Now into its third year, the successes of Istros for me have been the following: working with some of the region’s most accomplished and interesting authors; building relationships with some dedicated and talented translators; being supported by an informal network of enthusiasts in the form of literary bloggers; being invited to take part in festivals and fellowships programmes and therefore being introduced to many others who share the same passions.

the-coming-front-cover1

As things are, and very probably because of the way I am too, my greatest successes have been the quiet ones – the grant application approved, a regional prize awarded to one of the authors, a translation sold to another interested world publisher… The clanging sounds of PR and marketing have not been ringing around Istros, and this has to do with lack of funding as well as lack of aptitude, and seems to be a constant issue. Small publishers really have to struggle to get the word out about their books, and having no budget for such activities simply means that the effects are very limited. Add to this the huge competition to gain reviews from the handful of reviewers who are interested in translated fiction, and you end up with a constant fight on your hands.

And so this raises the inevitable question ‘What is to be done?’. I have reached the point where I don’t think I can do much more on my own: I need the help of others, in one way or the other. Could we do with the instigation of a new literary prize for European Literature in English in order to profile and publicize works which are now neglected? A prize that bubbles up from the bloggers and the publishers at the grassroots level and serves to promote good writing from a continent which we are – and will always be – intimately connected to? Should small publishers band together and work out a strategy for marketing that means we can do a whole lot more for less, simply because we share the financial burden? One way or the other, we have to fight for our place on the market, or we shall loose it.

As someone who has worked in refugee collective centres, wartime Bosnia and teenage cancer units, I have been witness to the cry of of despair. That is why I try to remain positive and focus on my mission of bringing the forgotten voices of S E Europe to the British public, and not too much on the frustrations of marketing, distribution and the garnering of reviews – all of which can easily become bywords for ‘frustration’. But just sometimes (mostly when surveying the sales figures at the end of the month), I have been known to let out the odd squeal of desperation.

Can I also add that as of today most of Istros books are now available a e books for the first time  here 

Ekaterini by Marija Knežević,

ekaterinfrontcover_50b7770928f02

Ekaterini by Marija Knežević,

Serbian fiction

Original title –  Ekaterini

Translator – Will Firth

Source – review copy

Well another book from last years backlog of read and unreviewed books as I try to clear the backlog, so  I get to another of the Istros books Best Balkan book 2013 ,this time it is the Serbian writer Marija Knežević she studied at Belgrade university and the in the US ,worked in Serbian radio ,she has published a number of books in various styles of writing poetry ,essay ,short fiction and novels .She was included in the best european fiction 2012 for Serbia .She has also won a number of book prizes in Serbia .

Where is he ? Why is he late ? All right , I always come a little early just in case , but he should have passed by already ,like every other day .How did he look ? Is he going to come ? Is he going to give me a piece of chocolate today too ?

The start of a chapter grandmother when Ekaterini was waiting for her fathers return from the great war .

Well Ekaterini is a novel about women in the Balkans ,about moving through places ,about longing ,about a quest to return home .As you see a complex book that deals with one women journey from Greece to Yugoslavia as it was then and the history of the 20th century she saw .The woman is Ekaterini the title of the book she is as Greek women that falls in love with a man from what is now Serbia and follows him home to Belgrade and she makes a life with him this is before the second world war ,the we see how her and her two young daughters cope during the second world war .The change fortunes as the war goes one way and the another the two leaders Hitler and Stalin ,the post war period of Socialism and of course the great leader of Yugoslavia Tito then post Tito to the falling apart of Yugoslavia .Ekaterini always dreams through out her life of returning to her home in Thessalonike .The story is told by her granddaughter who greatly admired her grandmother .

Visiting her grave is like going for a walk for me .They say Lesce cemetery is a real “fresh air -spa” .Sure enough ,I alway come back from the cemetery feeling refreshed ,in a mood such as only intoxication with oxygen can bring

Ekaterini granddaughter the unnamed narrator of the book visiting the grandmothers grave .

Well the book is described as the reverse  story of the myth  Odysseus of course instead of Odysseus going and fighting in the wars it is a female Ekaterini a modern-day take on Penelope  that takes the journey not to fight but to show the other side of a conflict and that is the home life ,what is it like to bring up a family against this backdrop ? what is it like to be a women instead of a man and miss your homeland .I love the fact that Susan the publisher of Istros books keeps turning up gems like this one .Yet another book that for me shows the importance of books in translation .They take you to another place ,see the world through another eyes and like this can twist what we known as Greek myth into a greater myth of the Balkans and switching what was the male narrative of the original to a modern female narrative .

Have you a book you’ve enjoyed that is a modern  retelling of a  myth ?

September 2019
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