Panorama by Dušan Šarotar

Panorama by Dušan Šarotar

Slovenian Fiction ? or non fiction > or just great prose

Original title – panorama

Translator – Rawley Grau

Source – review copy

Well I reviewed the first in the series yesterday and today I move on to the second of the three books from Slovenia istros books have published in partnership. This was the one I read first because of one passage on the back of the book describing it as reminiscent of W G Sebald , who else couldn’t pick it up the day it dropped through the door. Dusan is also a poet he has written four novels and collections of poetry and Short stories. This book is one of those books that really blends the line of what literature is and draws you into a personnel journey.

Like a mirage at the end of the road, without reflection or gleam,dark and grey, a geometric plane shadowed in pencil on a yellowed sheet of drawing paper – that’s what the sea looked like – shallow, motionless, monastery beer spilled into eternity on to a black stone floor, but mainly trapped in a wide, ever wider, nearly limitless landscape; the nearer I was to the shore, the greater, the more impressive was the bay, in the middle of which stood a black lighthouse on sharp rocks, no bigger than a wizard’s ring, hovering on the motionless surface, while the master’s pale hand, still wearing it proudly, had long ago sunk beneath the sea. Without braking, I went down off the asphalt road on to a wide, neatly mowed grassy area in front of the boathouse and rode up to the sea. I leaned the bicycle against a low breakwater that was protecting the lawn from the high tide and slowly made my way over the grey sand, between the slippery rocks, the black pebbles and the rotting seaweed, into the oneness, the residue and abandonment, the world that remained when that sunken, dead arm last unclenched its hand and released the silt on which I now stepped, I thought as the smell washed over me, as if I was standing in an old, abandoned, invisible maritime cemetery, eerily beautiful none the less, like the romantic landscapes of the Old Masters.

I’ve used one long quote today as it sums up so much I mention here and also the line a wizard ring matches up to line of Galway bay about returning to the claddagh ring

The book has 80 pictures that Dusan took on a trip from Ireland where he had been studying , we see him in Galway bay , I imagined the old irish folk song Galway bay which talked about coming into the town of Galway from the sea , a thing which a large number of people didn’t do more head the other way to the new world but this is the old world and a writer is seeing the storms drift in as he travels around Ireland  .He does this in the company of a driver his driver is like the writer is also from the Balkans an Albanian Gijini  who end up in Ireland and as a driver the two share many a conversation about place and times. there is also a strange sense of a switch of past and present he sees evidence of those that escaped galway back in the dark days as i said in a review last week I am always haunted by the pogues lyrics to the song thousands are sailing “on a coffin ship I came here and I never even got so far I could change my name ” a coffin in a boat is also an image we see in the book . We also see the writer heading back first in Belgium the old cities of the lowland country , I felt these place I visited on a school trip as a kid and drove through one night many year later on my own homeward journey to England from working alongside refugees and migrants in 1992 in Germany from the break down of Yugoslavia. Then back t the heart of the Balkans and Bosnia a sort of rebirth in Sarajevo  I remember the watching the film Torjiza about an orchestra escaping Sarajevo as the do a cow gives birth as they sing to calm the cow and this like the return is a rebirth of the writer.

THe pictures are real of the journey the words are what Dusan added after a way to show how the mind works and how images can make the mind fluid and words can mean more than pictures which is what Dusan wanted the images are there but maybe like those native americans photographed against there will as they felt it took their soul one wonders what they would make of todays Selfie obsessed culture ? Have the value of the photographic image is less than it use to be ? the title of the book is a homage to the artist Gerhard Richter photos and his photo realism in his paintings this is a book that shows that we still need a narrative to our photos . This is a book about language swimming in it like the cover art about what words mean how we use language  oplaces memories can all become a flurry of words more than a single image but a connection  like Sebald place leads to connection and like a fine line of a spider’s web from its centre in the Balkans Dusan works spins a thread around the old world meeting those like himself who have travelled from the home  a book about migration written before the migrant crisis hit but at its heart a story of the endless sense of migration man has been on the move  from those poor Irish souls drive by the poatoe famine to escape from Galway and many other place along that atlantic coast we see in those photos to the migrants that came from the polace that where run by countries to those displaced by war and persecution this is like  a sea of people and sometimes we see a tsunami and in other case a simple wave on settling like in Dusan book but another under the book and after the book that wipes out and redraws the lines that follows it like the simple plague to those lost irish souls , even in Belgium he is near the killing fields of Ypres another line changing event . So this book isn’t a novel or memoir . I discussed it with Susan and she told me about Dusan view it is just what is called in Slovenia Good prose , the idea of fiction non fiction is mainly an English language way of dividing books and then we have books like these that sail the line another watery line. Well I have written more than I have in a long time about a book such is this book it is one of those rare gems that hopefully will get the wider readership it truly deserves .

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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 

The German lottery by Miha Mazzini

Mazzini

The German Lottery by Miha Mazzini

Slovenian fiction

Translator – ,Urska Zupanec

Source – review copy via his agent

Orginal title Nemška loterija

Well I was happy to get an email from the US agent of Miha ,whom I had mentioned in a post about literature from Slovenia ,I had also not known I had read a short story from him that was the first translated story to be featured in the Fiction desk collection of stories .Miha Mazzini is a slovenian writer and filmmaker ,his website tells me he has written 27 books all of which have at some point been translated into other languages ,he has written two award-winning screenplays and also made five films to name a few things more info at his website here .

“Good day ,comrade .Are you Zora Klemenc ?”

“Yes ?”

“A registered letter .Can you prove your indentity ?”

“Gladly comrade postman ,just wait a minute ”

“What pride I took in saying those words ! A profession dosen’t only need a uniform ,it needs its own language that sounds strange to the uninitiated ,new words that knit us into a community .

Toni first meets Zora and the letter what is that about ?

The German lottery is set in 1950’s ,but has a feel of a story that could have only be written after the fall of the iron curtain we join Toni a young post man who is drawn into a world of the German lottery after he deliver a package to a women ,the scheme run by the women’s husband ,also  he gets the locals to play the German lottery and thus make some money ,giving  them hope and  a little wealth to the poorest of the locals ,at first Toni thinks he is doing the world of good .But all is not as it first seems and then things fall apart ,but he has also fallen in love which adds to the complications around the story .

Pass me a handkerchief , please

would the magic chain still work ?

Well sure .Everything built on greed is timeless .

I’ll tell you tomorrow …..

the closing lines at a much later time  post communism greed is still there .

Miha has pulled of something great in this book using the past to reflect the present .Greed is the driving force in this book as the locals see what a glimpse of the west can bring forth through the winnings they are seeing .But there is more to this it isn’t as it seems and poor old Toni are the hero in this book is a bit naive and is drawn into a dark world of someone making more money than he imagine from the poorest people around him .This reflects a lot of the modern world ,I read an interview in translation with Miha where he said it was meant to reflect what has happened in Slovenia since communism fell ,I did say on twitter the other day talking about this book the other day it was a dark post communist satire ,but then didn’t follow up why and this is the reason reflect how one small village is driven crazy by greed now reflects the wider world of post communist europe .So thanks to his agent for sending it as they said it is one that seemed to have fallen between the holes in the reviewing world This is part of the reason I love my blog and the ability to bring books like this to you my readers so you can get the chance to break the normal cycle of what your told to read and find something different !!

What gems have you discovered like this one by chance or through a kind person connected to the writer ?

Cafe Europa life after communism by Slavenka Drakulic

Slavenka Drakulic

Notes – Slavenka lives in Sweden and is married to a swedish national ,she is one of the most respected Croatia writers and journalist ,she lived in Croatia til the early 1990’s .She has published a number of novels and other books of non fictions .she worked on a newspaper and magazine in Zagreb from 1982 to 1992 .

The book –

The book is a collection of short essays on the Balkans mainly they range from historic to personal and tell how Croatia mainly but also the other Balkan country’s cope post communism the book was written in 1996 ,the story slavenka tells are wonderful ,the first follows the changes of names in Croatia post communism how things change to Europa instead of the communist names ,elsewhere there are story’s interconnect about the period in the second world war when Croatia side with the germans her father a Croat joining Tito partizans the effect this had on him ,a interview with a former camp commandant from that period who still felt he’d done nothing wrong .and Slavenkas trip to Israel and the fact she was one of the few Croats to travel there but also the questions of Croatia’s role in second world war .there are some funny tales like running round wien (vienna) trying to buy a vacuum cleaner and get the shop to give them a receipt for 99 dollars as that is the max they could take in with out duty .There is also the tale of Tito ‘s wife that still lives in Serbia but doesn’t have id ,pension and lives of state charity the accept she is there but don’t acknowledge the fact .and my favourite is a tale set in london where Paddy Ashdown is in a conversation with the Croat president of the time Tudjman where he ask Tudjman about the future of the region and is drawn a map of what Tudjman see’s and what in the end did happen .

Since her husband’s death ,Tito’s wife Jovanka Broz has lived in a villa in Dedinje surrounded by bodyguards .With their permission she goes out on rare occasions she doesn’t not own the villa ,but she doesn’t pay rent for it ,either .How could she when she doesn’t even get her husbands pension? Jovanka Broz enjoys Serbia’s state “charity”,although it is forced upon her .

from story Who’s afraid of Tito’s wife .

My view –

I so enjoyed this book ,i ve always had an interest in the Balkan’s ,since i worked in a factory in germany in early nineties with Serbs,Croats ,Bosnians and kosvions the tale’s the told made my hair stand on end and also made me think ,this book does the same and brought back memories of that time some of the oddities of the communist world and the strong nationalism of the time ,this book is like a fly caught in amber ,it has wonderfully caught a period of great changer in the Balkans ,it makes you laugh ,cry and think in equal measures which is no mean feat .

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