Born into a Roma family in 1960s’ Yugoslavia, Janek Hudorovec has grown up with a terrible secret. Given the opportunity to ‘make something of himself’, he abandons the familiar wild and tactile world of nature and enters the controlled, rational life of university and the city. Here Janek proves himself to be not a conscious rebel but a spontaneous one; under the influences of impulses he cannot control. While his teachers try to understand and categorize him, it is only his fellow student, Daria, who seems able to provide a rational insight into the causes of his behaviour and offer him true affection. Yet the battle that Janek must fight with his past leads him back to the gypsy village, and a terrible denouement. This tragic story of self-punishment explores the idea that man and nature, if they are to survive, together and separately, must forever remain in conflict. Flisar’s ability to describe Janek’s inner states through juxtaposition with the outer world create a mesmerizing claustrophobia, as the reader is pulled inexorably into the nightmarish world of a man in anguish. A Swarm of Dust is widely considered to be one of Flisar’s finest works of fiction, questioning the very notion of objective truth and subverting the norms of Judeo-Christian morality.
Byron and the Beauty is loosely based on Byron’s biography and takes place during two weeks of October 1809, during his now famous sojourn in the Balkans. Besides being a great love story, this is also a novel about East and West, about Europe and the Balkans, about travel and friendship and cruelty. Bazdulj marvellously combines facts with imagination, history and romance, resulting in an exceptionally beautiful novel. The author’s style has something of the subtle lyricism and chronicle-like tranquillity of his countryman Ivo Andric, but also a touch of the oriental baroque richness associated with Orhan Pamuk, making this a book which is both erudite and innovative, with a daring sense of humour.
Octavian Paler wrote a number of poetry collections during his lifetime. The poems, which appear as ‘definitions’, are rather like Haiku in their intensity and succinctness: condensed descriptions of a feeling or a moment, they offer us an open door into the larger world of internal reflection. Dosage: read one a day before meals or lingering over coffee ”The poems carry deep inside Paler’s unique tenderness and reflection – short descriptions of feelings, thoughts or moments of our life. In all these short poems, sometimes only into a verse…I found again the main and constant topics which enriched my mind…I found definitions of tears and cries, of departures, of love, of regret, or of obsession. I found definitions of illusion, of maturity, of dignity, of balance, of silence, of loneliness, of ego….” Mariana Ganea, Romanian-Insider
The short-sighted adolescent is a poor schoolboy who is in love with literature, and tries to emulate the lives and works of the writers he most admires. He is also fascinated by science and history, and stays up all night reading. At the age of 17 he decides to write a novel to prove to his teachers that he is not as mediocre as his fellow pupils, and is prepared to give up everything in order to do so. The novel is written in a series of notebooks – the ‘diary’ of the title – but instead of achieving fame as an author, the myopic protagonist fails his exams and has to repeat the school year. From the perspective of a schoolboy’s diary of everyday life in Bucharest in the early 20th century, – his teachers, his classmates’ academic and amorous rivalries, his first sexual experiences – we are introduced to the themes of religion, self-knowledge, erotic sensibility, artistic creation and otherness, subjects that would preoccupy Mircea Eliade, one of Romania’s most prominent intellectuals, until the end of his life. Diary of a Short-Sighted Adolescent was written when he was the same age as the book’s adolescent hero, and remained unpublished until it was found in an attic in Bucharest after the author’s death in 1986. As such it provides a unique insight into the early career of a great novelist and religious philosopher whose work has been neglected in the English language for too long.
Gabriela Babnik’s novel Dry Season breaks the mould of what we usually expect from a writer from a small, Central European nation. With a global perspective, Babnik takes on the themes of racism, the role of women in modern society and the loneliness of the human condition. Dry Season is a record of an unusual love affair. Anna is a 62-year-old designer from Slovenia and Ismael is a 27-year-old from Burkina Faso who was brought up on the street, where he was often the victim of abuse. What unites them is the loneliness of their bodies, a tragic childhood and the dry hamartan season, during which neither nature nor love is able to flourish. She soon realizes that the emptiness between them is not really caused by their skin colour and age difference, but predominantly by her belonging to the Western culture in which she has lost or abandoned all the preordained roles of daughter, wife and mother. Sex does not outstrip the loneliness and repressed secrets from the past surface into a world she sees as much crueller and, at the same time, more innocent than her own. Cleverly written as an alternating narrative of both sides in the relationship, the novel is interlaced with magic realism.
The collection ‘Fariground Magician’ brings together stories about love fulfilled and unfulfilled, about things that are visible in the everyday world and values that are perceptible only at exceptional moments. The narration moves from apparent realism to other genres, such as crime fiction, the thriller and erotic prose. Memories, intimations, and premonitions are infused in these stories with a tranquillity that accepts what fate brings, even when, as in the stories Pockets Full of Stones or Nosedive, efforts are made to change it. Lengold uses eroticism as a natural ingredient of human life, as an integrated tension consisting of two inseparable aspects – body and soul – energising stories like Love Me Tender, Fairground Magician, Zugzwang, Wanderings, and Aurora Borealis. In Fairground Magician, Lengold is a lucid observer of minute details and subtle emotional shifts. In stories like It Could Have Been Me, Shadow, or Ophelia, Get Thee to a Nunnery, she manages to leap over the wall between the bodily surface and the human interior in a very distinctive way. No matter how common the situations she depicts – whether it be broken marriages, unfulfilled expectations, or the motives of forlorn lovers – Lengold is constantly searching for the authentic, finding it within the sophisticated irony which is a trademark of her fiction.
Gaudeamus (Let us Rejoice) is the second autobiographical novel written by the author about his university years, and follows on from his Diary of a Short-Sighted Adolescent, described by the Guardian’s Nick Lezard as ‘Romania’s Adrian Mole’. In this exuberant and touching portrait of youth, Eliade recounts the fictional version of his university years in late 1920’s Bucharest. Marked by a burgeoning desire to ‘suck out all the marrow of life’, the protagonist throws himself into his studies; engaging his professors and peers in philosophical discourse, becoming one of the founding members of the Student’s Union, and opening-up the attic refuge of his isolated teenage years as a hotspot for political debate and romantic exploration. Readers will recognize in these pages the joy of a life about to blossom, of the search for knowledge and the desire for true love. Already an accomplished writer as a young man, this follow-up to his Diary of a Short-Sighted Adolescent reveals a keen observer of human behaviour, a seeker of truth and spiritual fulfilment whose path would eventually lead him to become the ultimate historian of 20th-century religions.
Hair Everywhere is the story of one family and how they manage to cope when the mother is diagnosed with cancer. It is a delicate tale that balances itself between the generations, revealing their strengths and weaknesses in times of trouble. It is also a story about how roles within a family can change when things become challenging, due to sickness or death, allowing some to grow and others to fade. Ultimately, this is a book about life; full of humour and absurdity as well as sadness, and set against an everyday background where the ordinary takes on new significance and colour. Tea Tulic’s debut novel is a brave glance at the human condition.
This is a book that lives in two parts – one set in the Ottoman empire of the 16th century, and the other in our own 21st century reality. Here we have the story of two friends, both taken as children from their homes and inducted into the Turkish Sultan’s private guard: Sokollu Mehmed Pasha, the Serbian shepherd boy who rose to the position of Grand Vizier and Koca Mimar Sinan, the ‘Michelangelo of the East’. Between them they represent both destruction and creation, while at the same time providing us with a harrowing insight into the heart of religion and identity. Back in our own time, we hear the voice of the author, sharing with us his experiences in the modern world, and his musings on faith, identity and nation. This is a truly ambitious book that rewards the reader with insights into some of the great questions of our time.
A young man is found lying unconscious on the outskirts of Bucharest. No one knows who he is and everyone has a different theory about how he got there. Within the pages of this charming book, the stories of a variety of characters unfold, each closely interwoven with the next, and outlining the features of what ultimately turns out to be the most important and most powerful character of all: the city of Bucharest itself. The plot of Life Begins on Friday takes place during the last 13 days of 1897 and culminates in a beautiful tableau of the future as imagined by the characters we have come to know and love. We might even say that it is we who inhabit their future, and so too does Dan Creţu, alias Dan Kretzu, the present-day journalist hurled back in time by some mysterious process for just long enough to allow us a wonderful glimpse into a remote, almost forgotten world. Parvulescus’ book is a magical tale full of enchanting characters who can carry the reader to another time
My Father’s Dreams: A Tale of Innocence Abused, is a controversial and shocking novel by Slovenia’s bestselling author Evald Flisar, and is regarded by many critics as his best. The book tells the story of fourteen-year-old Adam, the only son of a village doctor and his rather estranged wife, living in apparent rural harmony. But this is a topsy-turvy world of illusions and hopes, in which the author plays with the function of dreaming and story-telling. The story reveals an insidious deception, in which the unsuspecting son and his mother are the apparent victims; and yet who can tell whether the gruesome ending is reality or just another dream…. ‘My Father’s Dreams’ can be read as an off-beat crime story, a psychological horror tale, a dream-like morality fable, or as a dark and ironic account of one man’s belief that his personality and his actions are two different things. It can also be read as a story about a boy who has been robbed of his childhood in the cruelest way. It is a book which has the force of myth: revealing the fundamentals without drawing any particular attention to them. It tells a story about good and evil, and our inclination to be drawn to the latter.
Quiet Flows the Una is the story a man trying to overcome the personal trauma caused by the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995. Through an induced trance, the main character of the novel takes the reader through three time periods: the hero’s childhood before the war, the battle lines during the war, and his attempt to continue with normal life in a post-conflict society. Through poetic, meditative prose, Šehić attempts to reconstruct the life of a man who is bipolar in nature; being both a veteran and a poet. At times, he manages to pick up the pieces of his life, but at other times it escapes him. With the help of his memories, he uses his mind and strength to look for a way out of the maze in which he is confined, acting as both archivist and chronicler of the past – roles that allow him the opportunity to rebuild everything again. In parallel to this story, the book’s passages on the city next to the river Una take on mythical and dreamlike dimensions. Here, the novel expands into a poetic description of nature, seasons, flora and fauna, as well as childhood memories not yet tainted by all that will happen after 1992. Quiet Flows the Una is a book is dedicated to people who believe in the power and beauty of life in the face of death and mass destruction.
An epic, homourous and quite unique historical novel which looks at Central Europe in the 16th century – a territory plagued by ceaseless battles for supremacy between the Protestant political elite and the ruling Catholic Habsburg Monarchy, as well as the ongoing battle between the sexes. In Kumerdej’s wonderful saga, history and fiction intertwine in wavelike fashion, producing a colourful portrait of the Renaissance; permeated by humanist attempts to resurrect antiquity through art, new scientific findings, and spirited philosophical and theological debates.
When Vladan Borojević googles the name of his father Nedelko, a former officer in the Yugoslav People’s Army supposedly killed in the civil war after the decay of Yugoslavia, he unexpectedly discovers a dark family secret. The story which then unfolds takes him back to the catastrophic events of 1991, when he first heard the military term ‘deployment’, and his idyllic childhood came to a sudden end. Seventeen years later, Vladan’s discovery that he is the son of a fugitive war criminal sends him off on a journey round the Balkans to find his elusive father. On the way, he begins to understand how the falling apart of his family is closely linked with the disintegration of the world they used to live in. The story of the Borojević family deals intimately with the tragic fates of the people who managed to avoid the bombs, but were unable to escape the war.