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A PUBLISHER DOES HIS BEST TO INTRODUCE SLOVAK BOOKS TO THE ENGLISH-SPEAKING WORLD

Books: The best cultural ambassadors

AFTER the division of Czechoslovakia in 1993, the need to correct prejudices and provide the world with reliable information about Slovakia - an unknown country trying to find its position in the world - became of utmost importance to some people.
At that time, the Encyclopaedia Institute of the Slovak Academy of Sciences (SAV) had almost finished compiling its Concise Encyclopaedia: Slovakia and the Slovaks. As the book was intended for English-speaking markets, from the moment work started on the book in 1990 the institute had been in contact with an American publisher with Slovak roots, Ladislaus Bolchazy.
Welcoming the opportunity to co-publish a book about his homeland, Bolchazy visited Slovakia several times over the following years to negotiate the contract. At the Slovak World Congress in May 1993, he proposed the formation of the Publication Subsidy Committee. The job of this committee was to identify books whose "universal availability would enhance the image of Slovakia in the world". He also promised to assist Slovakia's book publishing efforts in any way he could.


BOLCHAZY (left) presents President Schuster (right) with the camera used to film the first Slovak feature film, Jánošík, in 1921.
photo: Courtesy of Ivan Reguli

AFTER the division of Czechoslovakia in 1993, the need to correct prejudices and provide the world with reliable information about Slovakia - an unknown country trying to find its position in the world - became of utmost importance to some people.

At that time, the Encyclopaedia Institute of the Slovak Academy of Sciences (SAV) had almost finished compiling its Concise Encyclopaedia: Slovakia and the Slovaks. As the book was intended for English-speaking markets, from the moment work started on the book in 1990 the institute had been in contact with an American publisher with Slovak roots, Ladislaus Bolchazy.

Welcoming the opportunity to co-publish a book about his homeland, Bolchazy visited Slovakia several times over the following years to negotiate the contract. At the Slovak World Congress in May 1993, he proposed the formation of the Publication Subsidy Committee. The job of this committee was to identify books whose "universal availability would enhance the image of Slovakia in the world". He also promised to assist Slovakia's book publishing efforts in any way he could.

However, in the fall of 1994, a Slovak company published several thousand copies of the SAV's encyclopaedia without his involvement and without taking certain steps. The result: The book is not available in other countries.

"However great a [foreign] book translated into English is, it still has no access to the English-speaking world unless it is registered with particular institutions," says Ivan Reguli, head of the Bratislava-based publishing house Kriváň, one of Bolchazy's major co-publishers in Slovakia.

He explains that a book intended for the US market needs to have an American co-publisher, because only this publisher can assign the book its ISBN number and register it with the US Library of Congress. Without an American co-publisher, a book can disappear without trace, considering how many thousands of books are published there every year.

While the SAV's failure meant that the several million Slovak crowns invested in the project had been wasted, the ignorance of Slovak publishers and state authorities did not discourage Bolchazy from bringing Slovak books to the world via his 25-year-old company, Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers.

Quite the contrary. Bolchazy's publishing house, one of the most reputable for publishing classical Greek and Latin literature in America, has since introduced over 20 Slovak titles to the English-speaking world, ranging from dictionaries, fairy tales, history books and tourist guides to picture books about Slovak culture.

"My goal, which I aggressively pursue, is to commission and co-publish books in English about Slovakia," says Bolchazy, who is 65.

"There are two reasons for this. First, as a Slovak I want to promote Slovakia through Slovak [and] Slavic books and art. My second reason is that our Slovak values, our history, our art can enrich the world at the level of high culture."

Because of the general ignorance in Slovakia about international publishing standards, Bolchazy sees his mission as very important, one for which he is qualified as a scholar, published author, academic publisher and Slovak-American. His persevering nature, he says, is the result of his upbringing in Slovakia during the second world war, when he took inspiration from Friedrich Nietzsche's phrase "what doesn't destroy me, makes me stronger".

Bolchazy was born in 1937, the son of a carpenter from the far-eastern Slovak town of Michalovce. The family had their own land on which they raised crops. His first job was to take his family's goat, Mana, to pasture. When Bolchazy was 11, communism came to Czechoslovakia and his family emigrated to America.

He distinctly remembers the nightly retreat he made with his family to their underground shelter as bombs fell before he left for America. Every night, children and women from the town hid in a stone cellar as the Germans and the Czechoslovak partisans fought outside. Bolchazy's father did not fight in the war because he was being held in a German labour camp. At one point his father escaped from a group of Slovaks that was being led to the forest to be shot.

"As a kid, I lived from moment to moment; I was not afraid. My biggest problem was occasional hunger and cold," he recalls.

His family eventually settled in Yonkers, just north of New York City. Bolchazy worked as a shoeshine boy on weekends and delivered newspapers after school.

After receiving a Ph.D. in classical literature from the State University of New York at Albany he taught at various universities. While teaching at a Catholic Franciscan college also in Albany he managed to convince the administration that the students needed various courses in Greek and Latin literature, among other subjects. He taught there until 1975, when the school closed down. By this time he had had two of his own books published and he realized that he could become a publisher himself.

However, he needed to earn a living while he learned the trade of publishing. Upon securing a loan from their relatives, Bolchazy and his wife Marie Carducci bought a printing shop to make ends meet. Less than a decade later, they sold it and concentrated on publishing.

"I love being a publisher, it gives me an opportunity to publish the books I want to publish and to promote the classics and Slovak studies, to publish a four-volume English translation of a book about the most evil man of the twentieth century and to [publish] two of my own scholarly journals. All of this keeps my colleagues quite busy," he says.

The first Slovak title that Bolchazy's publishing house introduced to the English-speaking world was the Slovak English Dictionary by Ján Šimko in 1991. Soon, the memoirs of Slovak Cardinal Korec, with forewords by Czech President Václav Havel, Pope John Paul and Cardinal McCarrick, will be published in English by Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers.

"I think this is a significant book for the world because it shows the values of a top Jesuit, top churchman, and a prominent Slovak, and because it's a credible and damning exposé of the fact that communist principles didn't work, but on the contrary, were engendering a world of 'man's inhumanity to man'", says Bolchazy.

Any time now poems by Slovak laureate Milan Rúfus should reach the Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers for editing. According to Bolchazy, Rúfus doesn't stand a chance of winning the Nobel Prize for literature without his book being available in English

However, two book projects that Bolchazy has been working very hard on - a new edition of the encyclopaedia and a white paper written by President Rudolf Schuster - have not seen the light of day yet, and he feels that he needs to work even harder to convince government officials of their importance to Slovakia's image abroad.

"I've been suggesting to the Ministry of Culture that Slovakia publish more of its books in English, the universal language, so the world may get to know Slovakia better.

"With the recent change of guard in the Ministries of Culture and Foreign Affairs, we must reemphasize the fact that books can be effective and important ambassadors and that the only way they will reach the outside world is with an academic co-publisher based abroad," says Bolchazy.

According the Slovak publisher Reguli, Bolchazy may have to wait a long time before seeing the fruits of his labour. The state is involved in lots of great projects, like the encyclopaedia, for example. But in the end, if a publishing partner abroad is not involved, the book will not reach its target audience.

"Here in Slovakia [it seems as though] people have been strongly inoculated against doing business," he says.

Selection of Slovak books produced by Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers

Images Gone with Time - photographs of Slovak folk life by Igor Grossmann
Slavic Myths - Slavic mythology illustrated in colour by Karol Ondreička
Slovakia: The Heart of Europe - illustrated booklet about Slovak culture and history
Illustrative Slovak History - the latest work on the country's history
Slovakia: Photographic Odyssey - a guide to the country's natural wonders
Martin Martinček: Time in the Sun - profile of a leading Slovak photographer Slovak
Tales for Young and Old - bilingual (English/Slovak) version of fifteen stories by Pavol Dobšinský, illustrated by Martin Benka.
Guidebooks on the Tatra mountins,
Bratislava and the Slovak-Austrian-Hungarian Danube region.

What a book needs to reach the US market

CIP record (Cataloguing in Publication)
A CIP record describes the bibliographic characteristics of a work and thereby facilitates its access to library catalogs.

ISBN (International Standard Book Number)

The ISBN is a 10-digit number that uniquely identifies books published internationally.
This number allows a book to be registered in a number of databases, giving potential buyers easy access to information about the book.

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