#12

ukraine

Poet and translator Iryna Shuvalova on the world of Ukrainian literature

The contemporary literary scene in Ukraine 

If I had to use just one word to describe what’s going on in Ukrainian literature at the moment, I’d pick the word ‘exciting’ (and add an exclamation point to it). After several centuries of history playing its game of deconstruction with the Ukrainian cultural narrative, the country’s independence achieved in 1991 has opened the way for new writing, language experiments and exploration of the subjects previously too controversial for the official Soviet narrative and hence confined to the texts left unpublished or circulated in Samizdat.

All of this was a huge game changer for the writing process. Just imagine what it was like before: being a Ukrainian writer when your language is dismissed as a mere dialect, your country is mercilessly torn between a whole line-up of super-states and empires, and the majority of your people are consistently considered inferior and left to slave away for the ruling elites. The contemporary Ukrainian writers of the past two and a half decades reclaimed the forgotten (and forcefully erased) names of their predecessors, reconstructed and then, again, playfully dismantled the canon, and engaged with the audience through slams and mixed media performances.

Ukrainian literature today is written in Ukrainian and in Russian (although the writers from each of these two linguistic subgroups sometimes prefer not to mix). Both languages are also spoken throughout the country. And please: do forget the myth of the divided Ukraine, cut cleanly in half by the imaginary line, separating East and West, Russian- and Ukrainian-speaking population, pro-Russian and pro-European population… This clean division has been imagined by people who either do not know the country well enough, or have an interest in manipulating the facts (after all, the Ukrainian politicians themselves used to play the card of the ‘divided’ country, desperate to grab more votes). In reality, as it usually is the case, things are more complicated: in short, Ukraine is a big country (by European standards, in any case), and as in any big country its regions have their unique identity – culturally, socially, economically and even linguistically speaking. Russian does tend to be more widely spoken in the South and in the East, whereas Western and Central Ukraine tend to be more Ukrainian-speaking, however one’s linguistic identity does not determine political affiliation. For instance, many Russian-speaking authors, such as Borys Khersonsky, have fervently supported the ousting of the Russia-backed corrupt Yanukovych’s regime during the Maidan events. Many Russian-speaking regions, such as Dnipropetrovsk or Odessa, have fiercely resisted any attempts to stage the “rebel” coups like those that, sadly, succeeded in Donetsk and Luhansk.

It is relatively easy to become a part of the writing process in Ukraine: young writers usually start engaging with the community on the Internet, either through social media or through one of several big moderated or self-publishing literary websites, and then carry on through festivals and live events. The biggest annual book fairs slash literary festivals in Ukraine are the Lviv Publishers’ Forum (Forum Vydavtsiv u Lvovi / Форум видавців у Львові), taking place in September in the city of Lviv (West of the country, near Polish border), and the Book Arsenal (Knyzhkovyi Arsenal / Книжковий Арсенал) in the capital city of Kyiv, in Central Ukraine. Besides, many art, music and folk culture festivals aim to include literary performances as part of their offerings, so do come in summer to enjoy one of the many events held amidst Ukraine’s picturesque countryside, or in its historic cities. And, after all, no matter when you come, you are almost certain to find a reading, a literary discussion or a performance taking place near you. Just monitor the local book stores (such as the Ye (Є) chain present in all Ukraine’s major cities), art cafes (such as Kyiv’s Cupid (Kupidon / Купідон), Kharms (Хармс) or Lviv’s Dzyga (Дзиґа)), and sometimes local libraries.

Books from abroad are increasingly translated into Ukrainian, although due to the restrictive Soviet translation policies that favoured Russian as a major target translation language and grouped foreign writers into desirable and undesirable – friends and enemies of the Soviet state – we still don’t have all the classics covered. There is also an increased interest in collaboration with colleagues from abroad and inclusion into the global literary process. However, we are certainly still beginners in this respect, as most writers do not have a clear idea of the key global trends and are often not aware how they can, so to say, go international. What certainly does not help is the nearly complete absence of literary agents (let alone qualified ones). Still, some progress is being made, and most of the writers and publishers are very open to these new opportunities arising.

Must-read classics from Ukraine available in English

Ukrainian literature – both its classics and its best contemporary works – are drastically undertranslated into English. Besides, quite a few of the existing translations have to be taken with a grain of salt, as some of them are outdated (sadly, not all translations age well). The most lamentable fact is that only few of these books are easy to locate in the major book shops, as some of them were published by the academic publishing houses targeting mainly the professionals in Slavic studies, and some self-published or funded by the Ukrainian diaspora abroad, which occasionally also makes them hard to find. However, if you do make an effort and locate these, you will certainly be rewarded.

Let’s start with the 19th century. Taras Shevchenko’s Kobzar – a collection of best Romantic poetry from Ukraine’s most loved (and arguably most famous) poet, first published in 1840. If you can, I strongly recommend that you also learn a bit about Shevchenko himself. This guy (sadly, best known from his portraits as a stern-looking man in a huge shapeless coat), was an incredible character (a rebel and a lover) and lived a life that would make for an exciting (if fairly tragic) period movie.

Next, if you can locate the English version of Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors by Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky (here we are moving into the early 20th century), I can promise you an unforgettable journey into the land of the ancient Ukrainian myths, where a tragic love story enfolds on the slopes of the Carpathian Mountains. The book is just as good as Serhiy Paradzhanov’s acclaimed 1965 film based on it. It was written in 1912.

Finally, I recommend the Essential Poetry of Bohdan Ihor Antonych published in 2010. In his 28 short years of life (he died of pneumonia in 1937) this Ukrainian Rimbaud similarly forged a unique poetic language of his own.

Best new books from Ukraine available in English

There is a very limited number of contemporary Ukrainian writers whose works regularly get translated into English. I daresay the situation with translations into German and Polish is somewhat better, although the most translated names do remain the same (to be fair, those are, indeed, some of Ukraine’s best-known and bestselling writers): Yuriy Andrukhovych, Oksana Zabuzhko, Serhiy Zhadan, Andriy Kurkov.

Kurkov is, arguably, the most lowbrow writer out of these four, some of his novels, in my opinion, suffering from to the author’s stubborn attempts to please everyone and create a book with a universal appeal. His translated works are rumored to sell the best out of this cohort, but statements like this can be notoriously difficult to fact-check. Meanwhile, Oksana Zabuzhko’s texts have a strong feminist and political charge: she is a writer in search of the nation’s lost memory, particularly interested in women’s voices. Yuriy Andrukhovych, member of the legendary Bu-Ba-Bu literary group of the 1980’s, creates playful postmodern texts reflecting the surreal everyday experiences of living in a post-totalitarian country. Serhiy Zhadan, the youngest of the four, is a poet, prose-writer, a rock star (he has his own musical project and performs regularly) and a public intellectual, regularly articulating his moderately leftist (and refreshingly sensible) views in the media.

In my top-3 choice, however, I would like, where possible, to go beyond these names. My selection would be as follows: Yury Andrukhovych’s surreal and vagabond novel The Moscoviad (Moskoviada / Московіада), Taras Prokhasko’s mysterious and poetic The UnSimple (Neprosti / Непрості) and Serhiy Zhadan’s rebellious and down-to-earth Voroshilovgrad (Ворошиловград). And if you want some good poetry, Oleh Lysheha’s Selected Poems (the translation that won the 2000 PEN Award) provide a deep immersion into the cruel and beautiful natural world somewhat reminiscent of Ted Hughes’s poetic universe.

Publishing houses that publish contemporary fiction 

The Old Lion’s Publishing House (“Vydavnytstvo Staroho Leva”/”Видавництво Старого Лева”), often abbreviated as VSL, probably, deserves to be the first one named. They are definitely one of the market leaders, offering a great array of fiction and non-fiction titles for adults, young adults and children. Their contemporary Ukrainian poetry series is great, too, and their popularity with the readers is not just due to the selection of works they publish, but also to the fact they cooperate with some of the best artists and book designers in the country, and invest into marketing efforts – noticeably advanced compared to most of their competitors.

Next comes Smoloskyp – a legendary name in Ukrainian publishing founded in the US by the members of the Ukrainian diaspora and closely linked with the dissident movement. In addition to its nonfiction output (such as publishing historical documents and research), Smoloskyp house runs Ukraine’s oldest and most prestigious literary contest for young writers, publishing the winning submissions as separate books. This gives the publisher an advantage of often being the first to bring the new exciting names in Ukrainian writing to the reader. Besides, Smoloskyp has published a series of well-researched and meticulously edited collections of works by some of Ukraine’s best 20-th century writers – especially those belonging to the Executed Renaissance generation (writers who perished in the Stalinist repressions in the 1930’s) and the generation of the 1960’s (the so-called “shistdesiatnyky” – “шістдесятники”).

Finally, a remarkably named A-BA-BA-HA-LA-MA-HA, that made a breakthrough as a publisher of lavishly illustrated children’s books, several years ago started expanding its portfolio with adult literature. In particular, they published a good series “The Ukrainian Poetry Anthology” encompassing books of selected poems by some of best known Ukraine’s 20-th century writers. By the way, it is a curious coincidence that two of the country’s top publishing houses are run by poets: presiding over A-BA-BA is Ivan Malkovych, an established name in Ukrainian poetry, while the abovementioned VSL is directed by Maryana Savka, also a Lviv poet.

Other big publishing houses are Family Leisure Club (“Klub Simeynoho Dozvillia” / “Клуб сімейного дозвілля”) and Folio (“Фоліо”). However, despite them being among the sales leaders, the quality of their output is sometimes questioned. The latest scandal occurred when Folio was accused of publishing in its world literature series translations made, in turn, from the books’ Russian translations, rather than from their respective original languages.

Literary magazines for contemporary fiction

The two that definitely stand out are The Courier of Kryvbas (“Kuryer Kryvbasu”/ ”Кур’єр Кривбасу”) and SHO (“Шо”). The first one is the ultimate go-to literary magazine launched in 1994 and currently published on a quarterly basis.

Courier is curated by Hryhoriy Huseynov, the winner of Ukraine’s most prestigious state cultural award Taras Shevchenko Prize. It includes poetry, prose, drama and literary reviews. It provides a fairly good and comprehensive overview as to what’s going on in Ukrainian contemporary literature at any given point. The magazine also regularly publishes work of Ukrainian writers and translators from outside Ukraine, such as Brazilian Vira Vovk or Vasyl Makhno from the Ukrainian diaspora in the US.

As for SHO, it is curated by the Ukrainian Russian-writing poet Oleksandr Kabanov and funded privately by a large business owner. SHO is not, strictly speaking, a literary magazine – rather a cultural review, publishing on visual arts, music, theatre etc. However, its every issue (it seems there are 4 or 5 published per year) does include book reviews, interviews with writers and relevant opinion pieces, as well as a good selection of poetry and short prose. SHO is remarkable in that it mixes languages indiscriminately, publishing texts both in Russian and Ukrainian. Same policy of linguistic acceptance is cultivated by the annual Kyivski Lavry (“The Kyiv Laurels”) literary festival organized largely by the magazine’s team and including its regular authors.

I will also mention a wonderful project that was, unfortunately, abruptly discontinued – quite recently, too. The Polish-German-Ukrainian literary magazine Radar provided its readers with a great opportunity to explore the delightful intersections of the three languages and even more national literatures. However, due to the changes in the Polish political arena and the consequent revision of the funding priorities in the country’s cultural sphere, this truly great project was shut down, taking a bustling and exciting literary field… well, off the radar.

And finally, new books or authors from Ukraine that absolutely have to be translated into English

Let me name three poets and three prose writers.

The poets would be Kateryna Kalytko (the poet of raw power and great lyrical depth), Ostap Slyvynsky (the author of incredibly delicate and observant poems) and Myroslav Layuk (one of the best voices of the youngest generation, a rebel and a traditionalist at the same time). I am, of course, very much aware that I am leaving out many more deserving names. As far as I know, none of them have a book-length translation out in English, while they are all more than worthy of translators’ and publishers’ attention.

As for the prose writers, I vote for my personal favourites: Taras Prokhasko – a rugged wise man from Carpathians (one of his books I already mentioned above, but I’d like to see his wonderful insightful essays rendered into English – such as the ones collected in FM Halychyna). I heard that the translation of Sofia Andrukhovych’s historical novel Felix Austria is already in the making – do pick that one up to explore an intricate love story set in fin-de-siècle Western Ukraine, then part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. And let me squeeze in both Yuriy Vynnychuk and Maria Matios, whose novels – successfully balancing between highbrow and lowbrow literature – could certainly help to introduce the English reader to Ukraine’s charm of being faintly familiar, and yet remaining tantalizingly exotic: a true terra incognita, yet to be discovered.

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Iryna Shuvalova – Ukrainian poet and translator, she earned her MA in Comparative Literature from Dartmouth College and is currently working on her PhD at the University of Cambridge. She is a Fulbright and Gates Cambridge scholar, holder of Stephen Spender/Joseph Brodsky Prize (2011) and numerous other awards for poetry and translation. She authored three books of poetry – Ran (2010), Os (2014) and Az (2014), as well as co-edited 120 pages of Sodom – the first anthology of queer literature in Ukraine (2010). She is also active as a translator, having recently rendered Yann Martel’s Life of Pi into Ukrainian. Her own works are translated into 9 languages. Her current research is into armed conflict and post-conflict trauma as reflected in oral poetry; she is particularly interested in contemporary Ukrainian folklore related to the War in Donbass.

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#11

haiti

Writer and translator Patti Marxsen on Haitian literature on the 7th anniversary of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. 

The contemporary literary scene in Haiti 

Haiti has had a strong, literary tradition for over a century that evolved in the wake of Haitian independence from France in 1804. It was then that Haiti became Haiti (Ayiti, in Haitian Kreyòl), thanks to a major revolution led by slaves. Prior to 1804, Haiti was an extraordinarily rich French colony called Saint-Domingue. This history of revolution, of fighting to end slavery and become the first black republic in the world, is far from irrelevant to the ‘contemporary literary scene’. Haitian Lit is deeply connected to Haitian history, politics, and the struggle for social justice. It embodies a ‘revolutionary spirit’. That said, there have been enormous challenges for Haitian writers and readers, from dictators and brain drain to poverty and illiteracy and what we tend to think of as ‘natural disasters’.

All of this affects the ecosystem of reading-writing-publishing, which is connected to the Haitian diaspora of over a million people in North America alone. Another key issue has to do with ‘language politics’ in Haiti, which are traditionally related to class consciousness in Haitian society. Until quite recently, French was the language of instruction, the language of government, and the language of Haitian Lit. But French is, actually, a minority language in Haiti. The vast majority of Haitians speak, think, and live in Haitian Kreyòl, which only became an ‘official language’ in 1987, even though it had, effectively, been the national language of Haiti for over two centuries. Many of those fluent in Kreyol do not understand French. Furthermore, this rural majority is often illiterate and/or too poor to purchase books. So even with increased understanding and respect for of Kreyòl, the question of its place in Haitian Lit remains in flux, even if a few innovators like Frankétienne have used it for year; the late Paulette Poujol Oriol also used it quite a bit in Le Creuset. One could, after all, argue that a truly Haitian literature must be written in Haitian Kreyòl since that is the lingua franca of the nation’s people. In my opinion, that goes too far because French is also part of Haitian culture. In truth, Haitian Lit needs both languages to thrive.

In any case, things are changing regarding language usage in Haiti. First of all, and thanks in large part to the work of MIT linguist Michel de Graff, Haitian Kreyol has been legitimized as more than a mere ‘patois’ and is finally becoming the language of instruction in the early years of primary school. Also, a Kreyòl Academy was also established in 2015 to support and expand the use of Kreyòl throughout Haitian life. Michel de Graff is a founding member. Another is Féquière Vilsaint, publisher of the Miami-based Educa Vision Inc.

Another member, Clotaire Saint-Natus, is the translator of a classic novel of twentieth-century Haitian literature, Gouverneurs de la rosée by Jacques Roumain. It is telling to realize that this 1944 novel read by generations of Haitians in school—and translated into nearly 20 languages since—ONLY became available in Haitian Kreyòl in 2007, the centennial year of Roumain’s birth. It is also worth noting that Roumain was one of the first twentieth-century Haitian writers to incorporate Haitian Kreyòl into his fiction. This was quite an innovation in his first novel La Montagne ensorcélée (1931) where he literally used footnotes to explain Kreyòl words and phrases to his readers, elite people of mixed race, very likely educated in Europe.

So this evolution of Haitian Kreyòl in Haitian life and literature is one thing that has changed the scene in recent years. It means higher rates of literacy and also figures into the success of a major book fair, Livres en Folie, that just celebrated its 22nd year. I should also mention that Haitian writers are very active at international book fairs in the USA, Canada, France, and Switzerland, to say nothing of winning prestigious prizes. And, of course, a major barrier was broken in 2013 when Dany Laferrière was elected to the Académie française, a bastion of French culture.

Must-read classics from Haiti available in English

The last one on this list was just recently completed and deserves to be read as a wonderful 90th birthday gift to René Depestre.

Jacques Roumain’s Gouverneurs de la rosée. (1944) Translated by Langston Hughes as Masters of the Dew.

Jacques Stephane Alexis’s Compère général soleil. (1955) Translated by Carroll Coates as General Son, My Brother.

Marie Vieux-Chauver’s Amour, Colère, Folie. (1968) Translated by Rose-Myriam Réjouis and Val Vinokur as Love, Anger, Madness: A Haitian Trilogy.

René Depestre’s Hadriana dans tous mes rêves. (1988) Translated by Kaiama L. Glover as Hadriana in All My Dreams. *Winner of Prix Renaudot in France, 1988.

Best new books from Haiti available in English

Yanick Lahens is a wonderful writer who won the Prix Fémina in France in 2014 for a beautiful rural novel, Bain de lune. I’m so pleased to see that an English translation is coming out in the first half of 2017 from a small publisher, Deep Vellum Press. The translator is Emily Gogolak and the title will be Moonbath. I hear that Lahens’s reflection on the 2010 earthquake, Failles, will also be available in translation next year. I expect the title will be Faultlines, but this is, naturally, up to the translator.

Claire of the Sea Light also came out in 2014. Danticat writes in English so she is one of the fortunate few who does not have to get over the enormous hurdle of translation, which has always been an obstacle for Haitian literature becoming better known.

Publishing houses that publish contemporary fiction 

The best publishers of contemporary fiction in Haiti are not in Haiti. Better to check out Actes Sud, in Southern France, who publishes Lyonel Trouillot, for example. Or Mémoire d’encrier in Montréal, led by Rodney St.-Éloi. Or Sabine Weispeiser in Paris, who publishes Yanick Lahens. These houses publish in French, of course. The best small, exciting publisher of Haitian Lit in English is Educa Vision Inc. And I’m not just saying that because they are the publishers of my own short story collection, Tales from the Heart of Haiti!

Literary magazines for contemporary fiction

To my knowledge, there simply isn’t a culture of literary journals in Haiti today, such as there was in the first half of the twentieth-century. There is, however, the Caribbean Writer published in the Virgin Islands. There are also important journals ABOUT Haitian literature and culture published in the USA: the Journal of Haitian Studies and Callaloo, for example. These should not be overlooked by people interested in Haitian Lit.

And finally, new books or authors from Austria that absolutely have to be translated into English

As soon as Yanick Lahens’s Failles exists in English, I would consider it urgent that her elegant novel Guillaume et Nathalie (2013) also be translated because there are important inter-textual links between these two books. So, I really hope his will happen. I also feel strongly that Louis-Phillipe Dalembert’s Ballade d’un amour inachevé (2013) deserves to be widely read. It’s a brilliant reflection on childhood and loss, as well as on the impact of natural disasters.

The Francophone literary world is vast, but English opens doors and windows for writers, especially to writers from small nations like Haiti. They need this connection, and we need them too in order to understand the world. Nothing would make me happier than to see more Haitian Lit in translation, in bookstores, in libraries, and in classrooms as well. The ‘canon’ has to change to include a global perspective if we are ever going to co-exist on this planet with compassion and respect.

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Patti Marxsen is a writer and translator with a long-standing focus on the Francphone world. She has translated Albert Schweitzer’s Lambarene: A Legacy of Humanity for Our World Today by Jo and Walter Munz and Riversong of the Rhone/Chant de notre Rhône by Swiss writer C. F. Ramuz. Her books include Tales from the Heart of Haiti, Island Journeys: Exploring the Legacy of France, and Helene Schweitzer: A Life of Her Own. Marxsen served eight years as secretary of the North American Alumni Association of Hôpital Albert Schweitzer in Deschapelles, Haiti, (1998–2006) and is a former board member of the Haitian Studies Association Based at UMASS-Boston. She is currently working on a critical biography of Haitian writer/activist/ethnologist Jacques Roumain (1907-1944). A number of her articles on Haitian literature are available online at www.pattimarxsen.net.

#10

austria

The translator Tess Lewis on writing and publishing in and from Austria.

The contemporary literary scene in Austria  

Austria’s literary scene is thriving. With a population of just over 8 million, Austria has thrown long shadows over the landscape of German-language literature for decades. Pound for pound, or rather page for page, it punches well above its weight. There are a number of very good independent literary publishers in Austria, but it’s hard for them to compete with the immense marketing machinery of the large German publishers and conglomerates. Still, they are excellent at spotting and fostering new talent and supporting established literary writers whose works appeal to a selective readership.

The most recent noteworthy development is the brand new Austrian Book Prize, founded as a counterpart to the German and Swiss Book Prizes. Intended to draw attention to the quality and originality of contemporary Austrian literature across the genres, it is open to works of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and drama. Frederike Mayröcker, the grande dame of Austrian poetry, is the inaugural winner and the list of nominees offers a good selection of the year’s most interesting books.

I offer a taste of some of the current Austrian writers I find most interesting—Karl-Markus GaussAlois HotschnigMaja HaderlapAnna Weidenholzer, and Antonio Fian—in my Austrian literature special feature in the February 2016 issue of Words Without Borders.

Must-read classics from Austria available in English

For a panoramic view of the Hapsburg empire on the brink of dissolution, there is no better novel than Joseph Roth’s Radetzky March (tr. Joachim Neugröschel, Overlook 2002). Peter Altenberg, the consummate Viennese flâneur and master of the journalistic vignette offers a more intimate view of Vienna in all its glory with a touch of squalor in Telegrams of the Soul, (tr. Peter Wortsman, Archipelago Books 2005). And for insight into some of the complexities in post-World War II Austria, Thomas Bernhard is essential reading. His novels and plays have had a profound and extensive influence on German and English language literature—and they’re deeply, darkly, viciously funny.

Best new books from Austria available in English

One of the most important books published in Austria in the last decade is Maja Haderlap’s novel, Angel of Oblivion, which I was honored to translate for Archipelago Books. Based on the experiences of Maja Haderlap’s family and the Slovenian speaking minority in southern Austria, many of whom fought as Partisans against the Nazis during the Second World War it’s also the heartbreaking story of a young girl learning to navigate the treacherous terrain between two hostile communities and two extremely burdened languages: Slovenian, a language of heroic resistance and continued humiliation, and German, an escape from her stifling rural upbringing but also the language of the camps which her Grandmother barely survived and many family members didn’t.

Set in Japan, Milena Michiko Flasar’s novel, I Called Him Necktie, (tr. Sheila Dickie, New Vessel Press 2014) tells the story of two misfits who meet on a park bench. At first wary and tentative, the two form a friendship and are gradually able to speak to each other about things they’ve been unable to reveal to anyone else.

Robert Seethaler’s short novel, A Whole Life, (tr. Charlotte Collins, FSG 2016), nominated for the 2016 Man Booker Prize and the 2017 International Dublin Literary Award, renders the concentrated drama of a life spent almost entirely in a remote Alpine valley.

Let me add a fourth novel that is both one of the very best recently published books from Austria and an essential classic, Gregor von Rezzori’s An Ermine in Czernopol, exquisitely translated by Philip Boehm, (NYRB 2012)

Publishing houses that publish contemporary fiction 

Literaturverlag Droschl

Zsolnay/Deuticke

Residenz Verlag

Literary magazines for contemporary fiction

Literatur & Kritik

Manuskripte

Salz

And finally, new books or authors from Austria that absolutely have to be translated into English

Karl Markus-Gauss is one of the most important Austrian writers and European essayists writing today. His books are a distinctive and highly literary mix of cultural history, travelogue, personal essay, and measured political commentary. He has charted the mysterious and overlooked corners of Europe and brought back news of endangered cultures—the Sorbs in Lusatia, the Abëreshë people in Albania, the Armenians in Macedonia and Bulgaria, the Gottschee in Slovenia, and the Sephardim of Sarajevo in The Dying Europeans—and of the Roma of Slovakia in The Dog-Eaters of Svinia. Gauss’ collection of essays, In the Forest of Metropoles, covers a wider range of less esoteric cultures, figures, and events, offering an indispensable and idiosyncratic cultural history of Europe.

In her fiction, Anna Weidenholzer explores the fringes of the Austrian middle-class—those struggling to make ends meet, the chronically unemployed, the socially hapless—with wry delicacy and understated humor. Her most recent novel, Why the Men are wearing Starfish, follows a retired teacher who sets out to find the secret of happiness by interviewing the residents of a snowless ski resort using a survey initially created to measure the gross national happiness in Bhutan.

The 19th century writer Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach (1830-1916) was once one of the most popular and prominent writers of her time but has, as far as I know, never been translated into English. A new edition of her complete works—fiction, drama, and aphorisms—was published last year for the 100th anniversary of her death. Her refined psychological insight, cutting irony and satirical undertones make her work ripe for (re)discovery.

And finally, a writer worth keeping an eye on is Laura Freudenthaler. Her first book, Madeleine’s Skull, is a collection unsettling, shrewd, and sharp short stories. Her first novel will be published next year.

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Tess Lewis is a writer and translator from French and German. Her translations include works by Peter Handke, Anselm Kiefer, and Philippe Jaccottet. She has won a number of awards including the 2015 Austrian Cultural Forum NY Translation Prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She is an Advisory Editor for The Hudson Review and writes essays on European Literature for a number of journals and newspapers including The Hudson Review, The American Scholar, The Wall Street Journal, and Bookforum.  

#9

macedonia

Christina E. Kramer provides plenty of reasons to get excited about Macedonian literature…

The contemporary literary scene in Macedonia 

Despite the fact that Macedonia is a small country there is still a lively literary scene. At the same time as Macedonian writers find a broader audience through translations of their work, within Macedonia authors are finding engaged readers of contemporary writers. There is an audience for various genres and readers come to readings and book launches to engage directly with authors. Writers not only reflect on life within Macedonia, but more and more frequently they push boundaries and write of other places and times. This pushing of boundaries – time, topic, place – is reflected also in the pushing of genres. For example writers are experimenting with many different types of poetic and prose techniques. The possibility of reaching a wider audience, through translation, has also provided space for a broader perception of possible themes.

Challenges to publication cannot be denied. As elsewhere, the number of bookstores has declined, the costs of printing have increased. This has led to initiatives to increase readership through measures including the widespread sale of translations of foreign blockbusters as well as increased exposure of authors through a number of literary prizes. While the Republic of Macedonia tried to kick-start more translations into English through support of a project 130 Macedonian books into English, the translations are, at best, uneven. The production of new and exciting literary work in Macedonia is reflected in the number of new works now appearing in excellent translations; not only full works, but also excerpts appearing in journals. Asymptote, Chicago Review, Dalkey Archive Press, Tin House Books, Two Lines Press, Words without Borders, and others have published excerpts from Macedonian writers in English translation.

Must-read classics from Macedonia available in English

Pirej, Petre Andreevski [trans. Will Firth and Mirjana Simjanovska; Pollitecon Publications]. Pirej [or Bristle Grass] is widely recognized as one of the most important Macedonian novels of the 20th century. The story, narrated from the differing perspectives of the two chief protagonists, Jon and Velika, describes the cataclysmic events in Macedonia during the first decades of the twentieth century, decades marked by war, partition, famine. The differing viewpoints allow the author to cross-cut between the unfolding events and the impact of war at the front and in the village.

Poems, Blazhe Koneski [translated by Andrew Harvey and Anne Pennington; Makedonska kniga]. No list of Macedonian literature would be complete without mention of Blazhe Koneski. Unfortunately, little of his work has been translated and it is not widely available outside of Macedonia. This small volume is, at least, an introduction to Koneski, one of Macedonia’s greatest writers and linguists.

My Father’s BooksLuan Starova [trans. Christina E. Kramer; University of Wisconsin Press]. My Father’s Books is the first of the novel-memoirs that comprise Luan Starova’s multi-volume Balkan Saga. Starova, an Albanian-Macedonian, explores themes of shifting cultural, linguistic, and religious identities following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of new nation states. My Father’s Books, through a series of short vignettes, introduces us to the Father, the main protagonist of the series, and to major events that washed over the Balkans. It is one of the most gentle and profound accounts of the complexity of identity-formation and the power of literature to sustain us.

pH Neutral History, Lidija Dimkovska [translated by Ljubica Arsovska and Peggy Reid; Copper Canyon Press] is a superb collection, a finalist for the Best Translated Book Award of 2013.

I would also include here two collections of short stories that are an introduction to a wide array of Macedonian writers. The Big Horse and Other Stories of Modern Macedonia, ed. by Milne Holton was published in 1974 by the University of Missouri Press and was one of the first works available in translation to introduce readers to Macedonian literature. Change of the system: Stories of Contemporary Macedonia [trans. by Richard Gaughran and Zoran Ančevski] was published in 2000 in Skopje by Magor Press.

Best new books from Macedonia available in English

I have had the good fortune to work with wonderful writers these past few years and would love to highlight their work.

Freud’s Sister, Goce Smilevski [translated by Christina E. Kramer; Penguin Books]. Smilevski’s novel, a winner of the European Prize for literature in 2010, has been translated into more than thirty languages. The novel achingly imagines the life of one of Freud’s sisters, Adolphina, forgotten to history and left to die along with her other sisters in the concentration camps.

A Spare LifeLidija Dimkovska [translated by Christina E. Kramer; Two Lines Press], a winner of the European Prize for literature in 2013. This novel traces the lives of conjoined twins Zlata and Srebra as they come of age in Skopje, Macedonia against the background of the dissolution of Yugoslavia.

Time of the Goats, Luan Starova [translated by Christina E. Kramer; University of Wisconsin Press]. The Balkan Saga continues in this work. [The 3rd in the series, The Path of the Eels will be released in early 2017 by Autumn Hill Books].

Also:

Alma Mahler by Sasho Dimoski, [translated by Paul Filev] will appear in 2017. Dimoski is one of the authors listed by Dalkey Archive Press as one among the emerging Macedonian writers to watch for.

Publishing houses that publish contemporary fiction 

Three publishing houses that are investing in quality contemporary literature are Ili-Ili, Blesok, and Magor. A number of new and exciting writers will find their way into English and these three presses are worth watching.

Literary magazines for contemporary fiction

Colleagues in Macedonia suggest Blesok, Nashe pismo, Akt, and Sintezi.

And finally, new books or authors from Macedonia that absolutely have to be translated into English

Nenad Joldeski is a recent recipient of a European Prize for Literature for his collection of short stories Еаch with his Own Lake, Rumena Buzharovska has written a number of interesting works and her latest Mojot mazh is a good candidate for translation. I would also like to see the complete collection of tales of women in Skopje Eleven Women by Snezhana Mladenovska-Angelkov (one story “Beba” appeared in Dalkey Archive Press’s Best Fiction of 2017, trans. by Paul Filev), as well as the new volume of poems by Lidija Dimkovska, Black on White, poetry by Vladimir Martinovski, or The 21st by Tomislav Osmanli. I would also like to find the right work by Olivera Nikolova for an English-language audience.

There are many other works as well. It is an exciting time to be reading Macedonian fiction and it is an honour to be part of the community of translators helping to bring works to a wider, English-reading audience.

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Christina E. Kramer is a professor of Slavic and Balkan languages and linguistics at the University of Toronto. She is the author of numerous works on the Macedonian language and the Balkans and is the translator of A Spare Life (Lidija Dimkovska) Freud’s Sister (Goce Smilevski), three works by Luan Starova, My Father’s BooksTime of the Goats, The Path of the Eels, and also one of the group of translators of the Bulgarian classic Bai Ganyo (Aleko Konstantinov). She lives in Toronto.

#8

st-kitts-nevis

Carol Ottley-Mitchell, an author and publisher from St. Kitts, gives us a glimpse into literature on the island.

The contemporary literary scene in St. Kitts & Nevis

There is a wealth of talent on the island, however, lack of access to training, publishers, and an environment of critical peer review has relegated most authors to self-publishing. The islands did not garner much international attention in fiction until the 1980s when Caryl Phillips was recognised for his plays, essays, short stories, and novels.

Must-read classics from St. Kitts & Nevis 

I would recommend that readers looking for quality adult literature from St. Kitts take a look at the work of Caryl Phillips. A highly acclaimed writer, his work has been described by BookList as being “in a league with Toni Morrison and V. S. Naipaul.” He left St. Kitts at a very young age and so much of his writing about the island centers around immigration, living in a foreign land, and the question of whether having left, one can go home again. His latest book is The Lost Child: A Novel.

Best new books from St. Kitts & Nevis

For children’s books, I myself have produced twelve children’s books aimed at children from birth to young adult. My latest, soon-to-be-published book Barberry Hill was a finalist in the 2016 Burt Award for Caribbean Literature.

For non-fiction analysis on politics, Breaking the Cycle: Politics, Constitutional Change and Governance in St. Kitts and Nevis by Charles Wilkin provides a fairly unbiased description of St. Kitts-Neivs’s political history and makes a case for a way forward.

Jewel Amethyst has made a name for herself with her multi-cultural Romance novels. Her latest is the Dominica based love story, Hurricane of the Heart. A few other authors include Loughlin Tatem, Simon Jones Hendrickson, and Heather Archibald.

Publishing houses that publish contemporary fiction 

CaribbeanReads Publishing is the main publisher of contemporary fiction. Established in 2009, the small publishing house has produced almost thirty titles by Caribbean authors, including the award winning Musical Youth by Joanne Hillhouse.

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St. Kitts-Nevis born Carol Ottley-Mitchell is a professional editor and the Founder of CaribbeanReads Publishing, which focuses its work on publishing books by authors of the Caribbean. Carol is the author of eleven children’s books including the innovative Caribbean Adventure Series and the follow up series Chee Chee’s Adventures. Her children’s books have been nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for Children’s Literature every year since 2013. Carol’s work for adult audiences has appeared in Akashic Books: Mondays are Murder series; Poui: The Cave Hill Journal of Creative Writing; the Institute of Caribbean Studies; and the St. Somewhere Journal among other places. She blogs with several other authors at NovelSpaces and maintains her own blog.

#7

portugal

The wonderful Margaret Jull Costa on literature in and from Portugal. 

The contemporary literary scene in Portugal

I asked some Portuguese writer friends about this, and their view was that the publishing industry in Portugal is thriving (independent bookshops less so), but that, possibly like everywhere else, there is an obsession with the new and with what will sell, with authors often treated as if they were merchandise, under pressure to keep publishing, not always to good effect. They also said that while Portuguese writers are widely published in Brazil, Brazilian writers tend to be very little known in Portugal. However, the excellent Brazilian publisher, Companhia das Letras, now has an office in Lisbon, so there is hope that this will change. One friend remarked that Portuguese writers only tend to be recognised at home once they have achieved fame abroad, hence the intense desire to be translated, particularly into English.

In the field of poetry, Pessoa (understandably) tends to dominate, and books of poetry, as everywhere, have low sales. Very few Portuguese poets have been translated into English, and recommended as-yet-untranslated poets were: Alexandre O’Neill, Herberto Helder, Ruy Belo and José Tolentino Mendonça. Among fiction writers, one name kept coming up: Agustina Bessa-Luís, who (shamefully, according to many) has never been translated into English. She is 94 now and her age may militate against her, with publishers in Portugal and elsewhere showing little interest in ‘old’ writers. Other recommended writers were: Hélia Correia, Maria Velho da Costa, Lídia Jorge, Teolinda Gersão, Rui Zink, Ana Teresa Pereira and Ana Margarida de Carvalho (the youngest of the writers named). Younger Portuguese writers, it was felt, were more interested in plot than in the language they used to describe that plot. There was considerable interest in historical subjects, and Maria Dulce Cardoso’s O Retorno –describing the fate of White Angolans ‘returning’ to Portugal after the end of the war of independence – was an unexpected best-seller.

Must-read classics from Portugal available in English

At the risk of appearing to be shamelessly promoting my own translations, I would give the following three as essental reading for anyone interested in Portuguese literature: The Maias by Eça de Queiroz (tr. Margaret Jull Costa, Dedalus, 2007); Blindness by José Saramago (tr. Giovanni Pontiero, Harvill, 1997); The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa (tr. Margaret Jull Costa, Serpent’s Tail, 1991; new complete edition forthcoming in 2017).

Best new books from Portugal available in English

Now and at the Hour of Our Death by Susana Moreira Marques (tr. Julia Sanches, And Other Stories, 2015); The Return by Dulce Maria Cardoso (tr. Angel Gurria-Quintana, Maclehose Press, 2016); The Prodigious Physician by Jorge de Sena (tr. Margaret Jull Costa, Dedalus, 2016).

Publishing houses that publish contemporary fiction 

Sextante

Tinta da China

Dom Quixote

Literary magazines for contemporary fiction

There used to be a magazine called Ficções, but it no longer exists. Otherwise, there is only Granta.

And finally, new books or authors from Portugal that absolutely have to be translated into English

O verão selvagem dos teus olhos by Ana Teresa Pereira: A re-telling of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca from Rebecca’s point of view from beyond the grave. It moves between first- and third-person narrative and between Rebecca’s memories of her relationship with Max and her current jealousy and bemusement at the arrival in the house of a new young woman, the new Mrs De Winter. This is Rebecca’s turn to give her version of events.

Myra by Maria Velho da Costa: Myra is a teenager of Russian origin now living in Portugal. She finds a stray dog and calls him Rambo, and together, girl and dog travel across the country, meeting people along the way. But there is something about this girl, something she’s trying to keep hidden. Myra is a cold, dark tale of identity, belonging and flight.

Passagens by Teolinda Gersão: Almost more play than novel, the book centres around the death of Ana – mother and grandmother – and the various people, mostly family members, present at her funeral. It opens with Ana in her coffin, unable to speak now, but still aware of the conversations going on around her, just as we, the readers, can hear the thoughts going on in everyone’s head. The novel teems with stories and characters and provides a fascinating and very honest depiction of family life, family histories, family tensions and loyalties.

Prazer e glória by Agustina Bessa-Luís: Describes the life of a family in Oporto, told through the various generations who have all inherited characteristics from the previous generations, and who, like all human beings, pursue pleasure (of the physical kind) and glory (in the form of money and fame). The writer and critic, Inês Pedrosa, describes Bessa-Luís as ‘a cocktail of Marguerites (Yourcenar and Duras) in a Proustian glass, with two pinches of English salt, one grain of mischief and two of common sense, like Ruth Rendell’.

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Margaret Jull Costa has been a literary translator for over thirty years and has translated works by novelists such as Eça de Queiroz, José Saramago, Javier Marías and Teolinda Gersão, as well as poets such as Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen and Ana Luísa Amaral.

#6

gabon

A peek into literature from Gabon thanks to Cheryl Toman – professor, translator and the author of the first book-length study in English of Gabonese literature.  

The contemporary literary scene in Gabon

Gabon is one of the highest producing countries for contemporary literature on the African continent although it has been grossly overlooked by literary critics in North America. It is also the only country worldwide where the first novel was written by a woman. This strong showing by the Gabonese woman writer has continued throughout the country’s literary history and one can certainly say that Gabonese women dominate the literary scene in the country. There is a prominent first generation of woman writers who were born in the 1950s and 1960s (Angele Rawiri, Justine Mintsa, Sylvie Ntsame, and Honorine Ngou among others) and an equally promising and highly productive second generation who currently range in age from 18 to 42 (Edna Merey Apinda, Nadia Origo, Alice Endamne, Charline Effah, Elisabeth Aworet, Miryl Eteno, etc). Gabonese writers of this second generation are extremely united, promoting their own writing as well as that of their peers and the older generation. They do this mostly through social media, especially through public Facebook pages such as Littérature Gabonaise and Club Lyre.

In addition to the extraordinary accomplishments of women writers of Gabon, there are also several male authors of note (Laurent Owondo, Janis Otsiemi, Hallnaut Mathieu Engouang,Wilfried Idiatha, etc.) and several Gabonese diaspora writers, the most highly acclaimed being the author known as Bessora.

The Gabonese have a very high literacy rate (nearly 90% of individuals 15 years of age and over), and the quantity and the quality of Gabon’s literary works (novels, short stories, poetry, and theater) are the product of this achievement. The country still faces some challenges however which hinder it from promoting its national literature even further. The distribution of printed books is very limited both in the country and abroad despite the founding of several female-owned publishing houses in the country (La Maison Gabonaise du Livre and Editions Ntsame) as well as the comprehensive bookstore Le Savoir. Many Gabonese works of literature are still published in France which makes them less accessible in Gabon. Gabonese literature is written almost exclusively in French although oral literature can be found in nearly 40 indigenous languages.

Must-read classics from Gabon available in English

Books from Gabon are just beginning to appear in English. Those in print include:

The Fury and Cries of Women by Angele Rawiri, translation by Sara Hanaburgh. University of Virginia Press, 2014.

Afropean by Alice Endamne, translation editor, Cheryl Toman, Create Space 2015.

The Moonlight Tales by Edna Merey Apinda, translation by Beth Johnston, CreateSpace 2015.

Best new books from Gabon available in English

All of the books above were published in the last two years. While there are many books available in French, there isn’t too much in English just yet. But this is a growing market for translation and this situation will change in 2017 and beyond.

Publishing houses that publish contemporary fiction 

La Doxa Editions (Paris), Edilivre (Paris) and Jets d’encre (Paris)

Maison Gabonaise du Livre (Libreville), Editions Ntsame (Libreville)

Literary magazines for contemporary fiction

Nothing in yet English available. However, the magazine Amina often highlights Gabonese women authors and includes excerpts of literary works in French.

And finally, new books or authors from Gabon that absolutely have to be translated into English

N’etre by Charline Effah

La Nuit sera Longue by Edna Merey Apinda

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Professor Cheryl Toman’s area of research is African women’s writing with a special emphasis on authors from Cameroon, Gabon, and Mali. Her most recent book, Women Writers of Gabon: Literature and Herstory was published by Lexington Books. This study is the first book-length study in English of Gabonese literature and focuses on Gabon’s major contributions to African literature. An accomplished translator, Toman has translated several books, short stories, and poetry including Thérèse Kuoh-Moukoury’s Rencontres essentielles (Essential Encounters) that appeared in the MLA Texts and Translations Series in 2002. She has also collaborated on several other translated volumes, including Noureddine Aba’s It Was Yesterday Sabra and Chatila with E. Accad (L’Harmattan, 2004). She directed the translation of Alice Endamne’s Afropean (Createspace 2015), and wrote the afterwords for The Fury and Cries of Women by A. Rawiri, translated by Sara Hanaburgh (University of Virginia Press, 2014) and Edna Merey-Apinda’s The Moonlight Tales, translated by Beth Johnston (Createspace 2016).