Twenty-Seven Stories, Twenty-Seven Views
is a series of 27 prose works (novels, short fiction, short stories) coming from the 27 member states of the European Union. Its first public appearance coincides with a special day and period: with April 23, the World Book and Copyright Day, and with Slovenia’s presidency over the community of 27 European countries.
The books are arranged alphabetically by the Slovene names for their countries of origin, beginning with Slovenia and continuing with the others, from Austria to Great Britain (Velika Britanija).
With the single exception of Torgny Lindgren, all non-Slovene names in the series are presented in Slovene for the first time. Indeed, in some cases it is the country itself that is now introduced with the first book-format translation: Luxembourg (Guy Helminger), Malta (Vincent Vella), Latvia (Inga Ābele), Estonia (Tõnu Õnnepalu). Still other translations, for example those from the Bulgarian, Cypriot, and Lithuanian language areas, help to fill the gaps which Slovenia has been slow to bridge. Slovenia itself is represented by an author whose work has intensely reflected on Europe and enjoyed a warm European reception: Drago Jančar with his new novel Drevo brez imena (The Nameless Tree), now published for the first time.
All selected authors are highly acclaimed spokespersons for their national literatures. By virtue of the weight, distinction and size of their oeuvre, senior authors such as Hugo Claus (1929 – 2008) from Belgium, Klaus Rifbjerg (1931) from Denmark, and Ludvík Vaculík (1926) from the Czech Republic are considered to be the key figures in the cultural life of their countries. Some of the junior ones likewise stand out in their generation, not least with the awards received: Dimova (1960) from Bulgaria and Lăzărescu (1974) from Rumania, for example, are the winners of the first and second prize respectively for Eastern European literature, which have been conferred in Vienna since 2006. Tavares (1970) from Portugal has received three important literary awards for the novel Jerusalem alone, while Keegan (1968) from Ireland would hardly recall all of her numerous awards. Despite their authors’ generational differences, however, all the works in the series, except the slightly older Cypriot novella, were written after 1990, with almost half of them first published after 2000.
Just as the European Union countries are far from representing Europe in its entirety, 27 prose works cannot encompass the reality of our common continent. Nevertheless, the parts of the series do form a kind of map. The amazingly strong literature of the former Eastern bloc is flanked by the self-assured prose of the West; a surprising vigour and freshness are exhibited by the representatives of “minor” and – to us – exotic nations. This set of texts reveals all the themes and contrasts of contemporary Europe: the struggle with the consequences of a traumatic history, the social shifts after the fall of communism, the legacy of colonialism, the problems of identity and liminality or marginality, the ethnic conflicts, the issues of immigration and homelessness, the gulf between the East and West, terrorism, the drastic changes in values, the existential emptiness, family relationships, loneliness, loss, God. At the same time, the texts form a kind of frame which influences them in turn, showing them in a new light. The homely scent of the countryside, of the “blue fields”, in Claire Keegan’s stories is contrasted by the suffocating housing-block areas of the Riga outskirts as described by Inga Ābele from Latvia; the lyrical, mysterious atmosphere of a backwater province – a metaphor for the recent Central European dictatorships – by Ádám Bodor from Hungary is countered by Lăzărescu’s hilarious treatment of the post-communist society and mass media; the warmly humorous father-son relationship described in Vaculík’s novel How a Boy Child Is Made finds its counterbalance in the touching cry for mother love in Teodora Dimova’s The Mothers; the futuristically tinged examination of art in Gene of Doubt by Nikos Panayotopoulos from Greece is offset by scenes from the Cypriot struggle for independence in the novella by Lefkios Zafiriou. On the other hand, the novel New Finnish Grammar by Diego Marani, an Italian writer working as a translator and interpreter for the Brussels EU Cabinet, tackles the most topical European issues: language and national identity.
From the genre perspective, the series contains novels and four short story collections including parodies, intimate dramas, acid character studies, autobiographical writings, and combined traditions of the detective and modern novel. The novel In Red by Magdalena Tulli from Poland thus plays through the conventions of European romanticism, realism and naturalism,
Hotel World by Ali Smith experiments with registers, tenses and punctuation, while Guy Helminger from Luxembourg draws on the Kafkaesque narrative manner.
The no-border principle, not restricted to the EU, is of course best implemented by the stories themselves. We only need to glance at the chequered origins of the authors: the Hungarian representative, for example, was born in Rumania, while the Austrian author is a Russian Jew. Borders are likewise ignored by the literary characters themselves (the pursuit of happiness leads Ferrero’s likeable hero, Amador, through Belgium, Spain, Geneva, and Paris; the quest for a new homeland takes the protagonist of Vertlib’s Between Stations on a pilgrimage between Boston, Tel Aviv, and St. Petersburg; the cynical Paris gallery owner Ferrer of Echenoz’s novel I’m Gone even roams the North Pole) and by the imaginary worlds, such as Bodor’s Sinistra or Tulli’s Sciegi, which are no loca amoena but distinct metaphors for a socio-political reality.
We are thus faced with a map charting the spiritual realm of our broader homeland in its fullness: its cohesion, as well as its diversity and outward orientation. The stories form a single novel, a novel about the state of mind in the changing Europe of today, about the legacy of the atrocities from her common history, about the incredible soul of her people.
The series owes its existence primarily to the efforts of the translators and – often in the same person – of the authors of the accompanying studies. Many of the latter go beyond an analysis of the author and his or her oeuvre, developing into broader presentations which seek to acquaint the reader with less familiar literatures – Maltese, Luxemburger, Lithuanian, or Estonian. We have engaged some of the most esteemed and experienced translators, as well as their promising young colleagues, who will continue to enrich the fund of Slovene translations for decades to come. Doubtlessly they will soon be joined by translators from certain “minor” European languages, who could not be found for the purpose of this series: three works, Estonian, Finnish, and Latvian, are thus translated indirectly via English or French. We are particularly pleased that the youngest member states, Rumania and Bulgaria – when the series was conceived, they were still in the “waiting room” – are not represented only by first-class works but also by excellent translations, although the translator from Bulgarian had never tried her hand at literary translation before. It should also be mentioned that about a third of our translators write prose or poetry themselves.
Let us conclude with some statistics.
The works comprising the series, the Slovene contribution included, have been written in 21 out of the 23 official EU languages. This is because Malta and Ireland, whose official languages are Maltese and Irish (Gaelic) in addition to English, are represented by authors writing in English.
All authors are still active, regardless of their age. The oldest, Ludvík Vaculík from the Czech Republic, will celebrate his 82nd birthday this year, while 34-year-old Florin Lăzărescu from Rumania is the youngest.
While the Euroman authors include only 6 women writers, the translators’ group displays the inverse ratio, with 21 works translated into Slovene by women.
Apart from the 26 original authors, the series has been shaped by 46 immediate co-workers: 26 translators, 6 authors of accompanying studies, 7 editors, 3 designers, 3 technical editors, and, of course, the Slovene writer Drago Jančar.
The series as a whole runs to slightly less than 5,400 pages (cca. 340 printer’s sheets), with an average of 200 pages per book.
About the publisher.
Ever since its foundation in 1996, the Modrijan Publishing House has been run by Director Branimir Nešović, a BA in history and sociology, who formerly worked as a journalist and briefly also as an editor of history textbooks.
The bulk of Modrijan editions consists of textbook literature: textbooks and workbooks in several fields, particularly physics, mathematics, geography, history, and most recently Slovene. In addition, the firm has maintained a steady supply of reference materials, both original and translated, lately including the most demanding types as well: lexicons and dictionaries.
After publishing a handful of works from classical antiquity, Modrijan launched in 2004 a regular programme of literary fiction, especially contemporary prose in translation. The original number of titles – three or four a year – soon doubled, while the year 2008 will expand the Modrijan literary fiction programme by over 40 new titles, including 27 novels from the Euroman series.
Today, the firm employs a staff of thirty and a number of freelance workers.