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Review: Slovak literature keeps hiding

"SLOVAKIA and Its Literature" is the first history of Slovak literature published in English. According to author Vladimír Petrík, a literary historian and critic, the primary function of the book is to provide an international audience with no knowledge of Slovak literature with information on prominent authors and their works.
The book consists of two parts - a short history of literature and an epilogue by historian Ľubomír Lipták. But in trying to write a book useful for a wider audience, Petrík has reduced the question of literature to national identity, and in places loses his grip on literature as aesthetics.



Slovakia and Its Literature

Written: Vladimír Petrík
Rating: 4 out of 10
Available at: Bratislava bookstores
Price: Sk225
Pages: 133

"SLOVAKIA and Its Literature" is the first history of Slovak literature published in English. According to author Vladimír Petrík, a literary historian and critic, the primary function of the book is to provide an international audience with no knowledge of Slovak literature with information on prominent authors and their works.

The book consists of two parts - a short history of literature and an epilogue by historian Ľubomír Lipták. But in trying to write a book useful for a wider audience, Petrík has reduced the question of literature to national identity, and in places loses his grip on literature as aesthetics.

In that respect, the very first paragraphs of the book are problematic. It begins with a geographical description of Slovakia and warns all potential readers that it is not a book about Slovenia. The geographical approach is further emphasised by the fact, repeated many times, that the destiny Slovakia had to face in the past (together with its literature) was its character of being hidden among (or within) more powerful states and literary traditions.


Milan Richter, editor of the album

The second part of the book, an essay written by Ľubomír Lipták, follows the same pattern. Lipták gives a short political history of Slovakia, but in doing so he wanders away from the project - literature itself.

The essay deals first with the myth of Great Moravia, a state situated on the land of today's Slovakia, and its place in political discourse as a symbol of origin and national identity, connecting it with the idea of Christianity, the works of St. Cyril and Methodius both Slavs from the 9th century Greek town of Salonica, creators of Slavic alphabets and literacy among Slavic tribes.

He continues presenting Slovakia in a "hidden manner", a country suppressed ideologically and territorially by powerful neighbouring states. But he fails to provide much information on the special characteristics of Slovak literature itself, which does not have to be related to the idea of national identity.

The central part of the book, the history of literature, follows literary developments along with the development of Slovak as a separate Slavic language. After a short introduction to literacy in the 9th century and the middle ages, the book provides useful information on the period between the Renaissance and Baroque eras, depicting the leading authors and genres, the first attempts to establish cultural institutions and the development of different genres in a wider European context.



The period from Romanticism up to World War II is also well covered, analysing changes in language, characteristic genres and the influence Romanticism had on future cultural developments and the national spirit. Unfortunately, as it is the case with such short histories - and particularly literary histories of other Slavic nations - literature produced under the communist regime and post-modern literature is not covered with any depth. A proper evaluation and description of this would probably help international readers comprehend more easily the problems the author wanted to depict in relation to literature and its political context. However the chapter does finish with a useful bibliography for further research.

"Slovakia and Its Literature" will certainly be a invaluable guide to all readers interested in literature and culture. But supplemental books, such as two very well designed English and one German edition of Album of Slovak writers (by the same publisher), containing both the most prominent writers of the 20th century and contemporary authors will be a welcomed addition to this ambitious and timely project.

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