At Waterstones Nottingham, the fourth talk of the BookBlast® 10×10 tour, a nationwide celebration of independent publishing, features Istros Books, founded in 2011 to showcase the very best fiction and non-fiction from the Balkan region to a new audience of English speakers. Its authors include European prize winners, polemic journalists turned crime writers and social philosophers turned poets. Book Tickets
On Thurs 27 Sept @waterstonesNG Susan Curtis, the founder of Istros Books, will lead a discussion with fellow translator, Christina Pribićević-Zorić, on The End of the World? How the Balkans writes the Holocaust. They will be joined by Georgia de Chamberet who is currently translating The Disappearance of Josef Mengele by Olivier Guez for Verso Books (2019).
Book extract: Doppelgänger by Daša Drndić, (October, 2018) translated by Susan Curtis & Celia Hawkesworth, consists of two stories that skilfully revisit the question of “doubles”, and how an individual is perpetually caught between their own beliefs and those imposed on them by society. Meet Susan the translator-publisher in person on Thurs 27 Sept. @istrosbooks
“Oh. He shat himself.
An ordinary day, sunny. Soft sunlight, wintry. A view of the railway tracks. A view of the customs house, people in uniform. In the distance, a bit of sea, without any boats. A lot of noise: from the buses, from the people. This is what is called a commotion. Beneath the window – commotion. The panes quiver, the windows of his living-room.
“They’re quivering, like jelly, quivering like a small bird. The glass trembles impatiently. He watches. He listens. He’s very still while he listens to everything trembling. He places the palm of his hand on the glass. To check what is actually trembling: whether it’s a little or a lot, whether it’s trembling gently or violently, just the way it trembles – or might it be him that’s trembling? He watches what’s happening outside, down below. Beneath the window it is lively. His window-frame is peeling, the wood is coarse, unpolished. Women neglect themselves, become unpolished, coarse. Especially their heels. Especially their elbows. Especially their knees. Men less. Less what? They neglect themselves less. They take care of their heels. Take care of their heels? How do they take care of their heels?
“There are three rubbish containers under the window. That’s where poverty’s gathered together, below his window. Drunken women gather, cats gather. Life gathers down below, beneath his window. HE is above. Watching. All shat up. His penis is withered, all dried up. The panes are loose. The wood is bare and rotten. Between his buttocks – it’s slippery. Warm. Stinky. It stinks. Sliding= down the leg of his trousers. Down both. He squeezes his buttocks, he walks and squeezes, à petits pas. He puts on a nappy. Looks through the window. Here comes darkness. There goes the day.
“Nappies. Incontinence, incompetence, incompatibility. He watches grey-haired ladies weeing in their nappies and smiling. They smile tiny smiles and they smile broad smiles. When they give off big smiles, old ladies quiver. Old ladies in aspic. In buses they piss and smile to themselves. In coffee shops, in cake shops, in threes, in fives, sitting at small marble tables nattering, some are toothless, nattering over cakes, secretly pissing and smiling. Great, happy invention. Nappies. Each one of them is warm between the legs. Just like once upon a time. In their youth. In joyful times. Long ago.”
Book extract: The House of Remembering and Forgetting by Filip David (Serbia), translated by Christina Pribićević-Zorić, (2017), won the 2014 NIN prize (the Serbian equivalent of the Man Booker Prize). The novel is set in two time frames: the present-day, in the aftermath of the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, and during the Second World War. “A profound book, immense in its wisdom and courage.” – The Los Angeles Review of Books. Read the BookBlast interview with translator Christina Pribićević-Zorić, and meet her in person on Thurs 27 Sept.
“The man spoke calmly, with a mesmerizing self-assurance that stilled the room, at least momentarily, and sparked the audience’s attention.
“He went on, ‘I wish it were as simple as some of today’s papers make it sound: that evil and crime are merely the work of criminal characters, criminal ideologies, people who have been manipulated, rabid fanatics. If only I could convince myself of what Hannah Arendt believed, maybe I’d be able to get a good night’s sleep myself. But my nights are just one continuous, terrible nightmare, because such claims are unproven and uncorroborated; they merely feed our illusion that we have brought the crime under control because we have given it a purely human face.’
“Just then a waiter appeared with a fresh round of drinks, and the audience started losing interest in the man. The noise level rose again, and, as often happens at gatherings like this, somebody made a rude joke about the uninvited guest, and people stopped listening to him. As I was closest, the man then turned to me, determined to find at least one person who would hear him out.
“‘The first time I thought about the actual nature of crime was when I was a boy and had to face the horror of unimaginable, unfair, senseless – whatever you want to call it – dying. You know, some people live all their lives without ever having seen a dead person, while others are suffocated by the constant presence of death in their lives and their dreams. I was ten years old when the Second World War broke out. I lived with my parents in a small provincial Serbian town occupied by the Germans. A family of Volksdeutsche, ethnic Germans, moved into our house. They had a son who was a bit older than me. We started spending time together. One day he told me that my father had been arrested and would be executed that same afternoon along with the other hostages. I told my mother. She said, “That’s just childish rubbish, your father will be released.” But my new friend grabbed my hand and said, “I never lie. I heard it from my father. C’mon, you can see for yourself!” He took me to the courtyard of a former factory where we hid behind a mound of earth. We didn’t have long to wait. The Germans set up two heavy machine-guns, and then a group of people, their hands tied, was led out of the shed. I recognized my father among them. The Germans shot them before our very eyes. I saw my father drop. He was a strong, tall man in his prime; he had never been sick a day in his life. The memory of his senseless death stayed with me all throughout my childhood and youth. It was the most awful feeling, to realize that such a crime could be committed for no reason, that death could strike somebody down, somebody who’d been chosen at random out of thousands of people, somebody who was simply picked up off the street. He didn’t know his killers, and they didn’t know him; it was an utterly absurd, terrible crime. I lost the power of speech that day; it took a long time for me to start talking again, and it was only thanks to the support of my mother and the care and love of my younger sister’.”
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