Belgrade Publisher Promotes Serbian Literature Abroad

22. February, 2011 Culture 3 comments

Literature gets under the skin of a culture to reveal truths about people, their feelings and influences on their lives.  Books can bypass spin to provide a vivid snapshot on a time, a culture or a community.  For me, the thrill of discovering new literature is addictive. I make a point of reading books from countries that interest me or where I have a connection.

A barrier can be locating English translations. The range is often limited to big name award winners and firmly established authors, with modern writers missing out on sharing their stories more widely.

I have read many fine books from Balkan authors, particularly from Serbia, a country that can only benefit from a deeper international understanding of its cultural touchstones. But while early 20th century writers such as Ivo Andrić, Danilo Kiš, Meša Selimović and Milorad Pavić have been translated into English, the range of writers from recent decades can be more difficult to get your hands on.

Like many things, economics is part of the issue.  Translations cost and, if you can’t guarantee sales, it’s a big commitment. One publisher to tackle the global market in an innovative way is Belgrade-based publishing house Geopoetika

A bold strategic partnership with the Serbian Ministry of Culture has enabled Geopoetika to release English translations of modern literature under its Serbian Prose in Translation banner.

Having released about a dozen books since founding in late 1993, this publisher is almost single-handedly spreading the word about modern Serbian writers.  Although small in output, Geopoetika is seen as one of the most respected publishing house in Yugoslavia, pursuing a strategy of quality rather than quantity.  

That decision paid off, with their books winning major prizes and attracting a growing circle of admirers.  Three books are long-listed for the International IMPAC Dublin Literature Awards 2011.

I recently picked up three books in Belgrade: Hamam Balkania (authored by Geopoetika publisher Vladislav Bajac), The Box and Adulterer, welcoming the chance to have a window opened on Serbia’s modern literary landscape.  I was not disappointed and will be snapping up more when I return to Belgrade in a few months.

Geopoetika does not have a distributor in the UK for Serbian Prose in Translation… yet.  Details of their books can be found here

·         The Box by Slavoljub Stanković: Filled with 1990s pop culture and a dose of humour, The Box traces the transformation of Belgrade into a ghetto and the desires of three young men to ‘get out of the box’ of Belgrade

·         The Russian Window by Dragan Velikić: Winner of Serbia’s most important literary awards, the NIN and Mesa Selimović Awards. It’s a three-part novel about an elderly man and his younger companion and the opportunities they missed during the last part of the twentieth-century as Yugoslavia went through monumental change.

·         Destiny Annotated by Radoslav Petković: post-modern novel that uses pastiche, parody and humour to relate events between the time of Napoleon and the Balkan Wars.

·         Constantine’s Crossing by Dejan Stojiljković:  An historical novel involving nazi vampires in Nis and the clash of ideologies in Serbia during World War Two. 

·         Kaja, Belgrade and the Good American by Mirjana Djurdjević:  A writer, a girl and the American consul in a cosmopolitan 1930s Belgrad.

·         The Cyclist Conspiracy by Svetislav Basara: About a cult centred around bicycles

·         Lake Como by Srdjan Valjarević: About an author coming to terms with his solitude

·         Haman Balkania by Vladislav Bajac:  A historical novel exploring issues of identity

·         Fear and Servant by Mirjana Novaković: An historical novel, also published in French

·         Adulterers by Vida Ognjenović: A woman explores her identity after her husband’s affair

·         Escher’s Loopsby Zoran ZivkovicAbsurdity, surreality and humour abound in a complex cycle of interlocking narratives
Some other modern Balkan authors I enjoy, quite freely available in English translation:
·     Ivo Andrić:  Nobel Prize winning author of classics Bridge on the Drina, Bosnian Chronicle, The Damned Yard and The Vizier’s Elephant.

·      David Albahari: A handful of novels in English, including the excellent Gotz and Meyer (2003), a moving tale of obsession and memories from a Belgrade concentration camp.
·     Meša Selimović: Regarded as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, particularly for the incredible Death and the Dervish, a story of the change within a man after he becomes part of the repressive system that he initially fights against. 

·     Milorad Pavić: Best known for his original novels using quirky literary techniques: Dictionary of the Khazars (published in a male and female version), Landscape Painted With Tea (a novel-crossword hybrid), and Last Love in Constantinople (where the reader is encouraged to use tarot cards to decide chapter order).

·     Alexandar Hemon: A Bosnian writer based in the US.  I enjoyed his English-language shorts, The Question of Bruno (2000) and Nowhere Man (2009)

Note:  Images used for promotion only


If you like it, please share it:
  1. Anonymous

    2 / 25 / 2011 6:59 pm

    I think we should not narrow down Andric and Selimovic literature only to one ex Yugoslav republic by proclaiming them modern Serbian authors. No matter how they declared themselves (born in Croatia and BiH) their great work belongs to Balkan region, as they were members of Yugoslavian academia.
    And by the way, Aleksandar Hemon was born and raised in Sarajevo, living and writing in Chicago USA, therefore he is Bosnian and USA author.


  2. 2 / 25 / 2011 7:48 pm

    Thanks for your clarification regarding Hemon. I have amended the piece to reflect this.


  3. Anonymous

    2 / 25 / 2011 10:26 pm

    Thank you! Re Hemon I strongly recommend “Love and Obstacles” and “The Lazarus Project”.





Your comment:

Add your comment