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 Books, Luan 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 Life, Lidija 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].
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.
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 Books, Time 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.