Raising the Velvet Curtain is a festival of literature introducing a new generation of writers from Slovakia to British audiences (22 October – 28 November). Balla, Uršuľa Kovalyk and Ivana Dobrakovová are currently on tour, visiting Manchester, Oxford, Cambridge and London. The grand finale at Rich Mix in London’s Bethnal Green looks unmissable! Info & tickets HERE. Meantime, Lucy Popescu gives BookBlast’s armchair readers an exclusive flavour of what’s on offer in her three-novel roundup.
Big Love by Balla | Trs. Julia and Peter Sherwood | Jantar Publishing | Buy here
The Night Circus by Uršul’a Kovalyk | Trs. Julia and Peter Sherwood | Parthian Books | Buy here
Bellevue by Ivana Dobrakovová | Trs. Julia and Peter Sherwood | Jantar Publishing | Buy here
It is thirty years since the Velvet Revolution, so fitting that there is a surge of interest in literature from the region. The efforts of a two-translator team stand out. Julia and Peter Sherwood have worked tirelessly to find Slovak fiction a loyal English readership. They have been rewarded with the recent launch of three acclaimed books in their translation. Continue reading Guest Feature | Lucy Popescu reviews three novels by Slovak authors on tour
Ivana Dobrakovová is based in Turin where she works as a freelance translator from French and Italian and is the translator of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels into Slovak. She is the author of three short story collections First Death in the Family, Toxo and Mothers and Truckers; and one novel, Bellevue.
Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Czechoslovakia, in Bratislava, and I grew up there as well, in a very nice residential district above the castle.
Were the members of your family big readers?
Well, my father was a mathematician, I have never seen him with a novel (although my mum told me he enjoyed Flaubert’s Madame Bovary when he was young), but my mother is still a big reader. She is also a mathematician and she doesn’t like fiction much (although she has read more novels than me); she usually reads all the biographies, books of interviews, historical books and whatever else she can grab hold of.
When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you?
I read a lot when I was little girl and during adolescence, but different things, not necessarily fiction. I went through all kinds of phases – for a while I read only fantasy, then books about movies and film-making and critiques (Hitchcock, Truffaut), then I caught Monty Python fever. This was followed by two years of reading only Franz Kafka. My mum tried to guide me, she wanted me to read more conventional books, or what was appropriate for a girl, like Gone with the Wind, or Russian classics, but I disobeyed her and just read what I wanted. I started reading fiction a great deal in my last year at university, which was a very happy time – I remember my amazement at discovering Julio Cortázar´s short stories – and the urge to copy him and try to understand how he “does” it. I started to read contemporary French literature since after school I decided to translate French authors. Ernesto Sabato’s novel On Heroes and Tombs was very important to me during my adolescence, and the section Report on the Blind was my first encounter with madness and paranoia in literature. Continue reading Interview | Ivana Dobrakovová | Author of the Week
The fall of the Berlin Wall thirty years ago marked a symbolic end to the ideological split between East and West, spreading across Europe and dividing the two superpowers, the US and the Soviet Union, and their allies, during the Cold War.
Since 9 November 1989, European countries have built over 1,000 kilometres of walls along their borders, with the backing of new populist parties in Hungary, Austria and Italy, in a bid to tackle the continent’s biggest migrant and refugee crisis since the World War Two. By the end of the Cold War there were approximately fifteen walls and fences along borders around the world; today, there are at least seventy.
The border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and the issue of enforcing border checks, is a central issue in the Brexit negotiations. [Chatham House] Even if a border wall falls, it stays in the minds of people. A link between walls and a country’s mental-health problems has been made by psychiatrists. [The New Yorker] Continue reading BookBlasts® | Top 5 Reads for Independent Minds | Central & Eastern Europe
Saint Lucian Writers and Writing edited by John Robert Lee is an indispensable author index of poetry, prose and drama available from Papillote Press. His other publications include Collected Poems 1975-2015, Canticles and Elemental. A new collection of poems, Pierrot, will be published by Peepal Tree Press in Leeds in February 2020.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am Saint Lucian, lived there for most of my life, been involved with the arts, literature and media from the late 1960’s, from about nineteen. I attended the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill, Barbados from 1969, finished off my degree at Mona, Jamaica in the early 1980’s, began work with the library service in St. Lucia in 1979 after working as a teacher, cultural officer and radio announcer and producer. Literature, theatre, literary journalism, media (print and electronic), libraries and teaching have been my main interests and occupations. I am a practising Christian and Bible teacher and preacher with my local Baptist church.
When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you?
My mother encouraged me to read and memorize poetry, my father bought me books; I read the usual Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, William and Jennings books, Enid Blyton, fairy tales and many of the classics. Comics of course. I had an early exposure to newspapers, principally the Trinidad Guardian which my father got daily. My father and mother were readers and encouraged reading. A year or so before I went to university, I took A-level classes in Literature and became introduced to the moderns – Eliot, D H Lawrence, Philip Larkin et al – read many anthologies and these have had a lifelong impact and influence. Continue reading Guest Feature | Leila Sackur interviews John Robert Lee (ed.) Saint Lucian Writers and Writing
The Frankfurter Buchmesse which is happening this week takes place over five days every October. It is the world’s largest trade fair for books and is THE place to be for publishers, agents, authors, illustrators, film producers, translators, and representatives from trade associations to network and do business. It attracts more visitors than any other book fair.
However the smaller local, regional book fairs are less daunting to visit, and are great opportunities to bring new books to a variety of readers and local communities. They are also more likely to showcase a greater variety of independent small publishers and private presses.
Susan Curtis, founder and MD of Istros Books in London which publishes translated literature from the Balkans and South-East Europe, wrote a special report for us about her recent visit to Montenegro to attend The Podgorica International Book Fair, 1-5 October, 2019. Continue reading Guest Feature | Susan Curtis @Istros_books | Podgorica International Book Fair 2019, Montenegro