Knowing one’s neighbours better

THE ANTHOLOGY the British publishing house Dedalus Books published this summer should serve as a showcase of Slovak literature but it can also be considered as a Slovak book, which just happens to be in English.

Eric Lane Eric Lane (Source: Jana Liptáková)

Eric Lane of the British publisher said Slovak readers are an important part of its potential audience. The Slovak Spectator spoke to Lane at the Bibliotéka book fair held in Bratislava in early November where Lane personally introduced the anthology.

The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Why did the Dedalus Books publishing house decide to publish an anthology of Slovak literature?

Eric Lane (EL): We are keen on widening what is available in English. We have already published anthologies of Lithuanian and Estonian literature and [Slovakia’s] Centre for Information on Literature (Literárne Informačné Centrum) suggested we should do one of Slovak literature. We want to publish books from every European language, so at some stage we would ask them and have discussions. But the timing comes from them.

The UK is part of Europe and has to psychologically see itself as part of Europe. To do this you have to have interest in your neighbours, language, culture, and so forth, and one of the best ways of doing this is by translations. The way of translation is soft power; it is a way of integrating people together and making people less disconnected because most people in England could tell you very little about Slovakia as a country, let alone its literature or its language. And in a way, for a country that is so close you really do not want that.

TSS: Who should be the readers of this book?

EL: The main market has to be people who are going to or want to go to Slovakia; English language readers, so not necessarily English, American or Australian people but people who go to Slovakia, who want to read something about Slovakia and its literature, to feel more a part of where they are going, as we don’t read Slovak. Also our market is those people who want to read something different. Then there is the market in Slovakia because in the end it is a selection of Slovak books, which just happens to be in English, so it can be read by Slovaks who read English, and that is also a reasonable number. So Slovakia is an important part of our potential readers. But primarily it is a showcase of Slovak literature and maybe other books could follow.

TSS: What were the limits set for Peter Karpinský, the editor of the anthology, when selecting the authors and works for the anthology?

EL: Basically we said we wanted something that started, like most anthologies start, somewhere in the 19th century and come to the present day. That really was the only guideline. We wanted representatives of Slovak literature. We wanted famous classic authors, not just big names, but also young authors, a bit of everything, a cross section. But in the end the selection must be that of the editor. When I read it, my feeling was there wasn’t a story about which I would have thought: ‘Oh, why this is here?’ and we have done books where I have asked myself, for various reasons, why this one was included. I think every story earned its place in the anthology. My favourites are the first two, Tinker’s Christmas by Martin Kukučín and Gajdoš’s War Horse by Jozef Cíger Hronský, because by reading the first one I learned something about Slovakia and its culture; it made the introduction intelligible to me. It made it real. The second one reinforced this sort of village culture and life, since in most of Slovakia’s history it was the village that dominated the setting of literature, and also I think it is the most moving of the stories in the anthology. And I always like books that appeal to the heart.

Read also:A tasting of Slovak literature Read more 

TSS: Were there any limits in terms of pages?

EL: For an anthology you want to have a reasonable selection of about 300 pages. You don’t want it to get too large. People are intimidated by large books and then your market is smaller. Also in terms of publicity, the longer the book is the less reviews you get. Critics do not like to read long books. They like short books. 

TSS: The cover depicts a church in the countryside, a work by Slovak artist Miloš Kopták. What was the inspiration for the cover?

EL: Basically when we do these anthologies, we intend it to be a showcase or advert for culture. So it is essential to put something from the culture on the cover, either a work by a famous painter or by a contemporary artist, something that either looks like it belongs to the place or is a statement about the culture of the place. Actually we couldn’t decide between the front and the back. In the end this is how we did it. Perhaps I prefer the back to the front. To my eyes it is a beautifully-looking book.   

Read also:Anthology of Slovak prose in English Read more 


TSS: What can Slovak literature offer to English-speaking readers?

EL: First of all every country in Europe has a sizeable community living in the UK, in London especially. So, it is not an unknown country. But most people would probably have only a foggy idea about anything to do with Slovakia, but also Poles, Czech or whatever. So if you want European harmony, you have to understand not only your neighbours, but also people living in your country and what creates some differences, where they are coming from, what are the connections to you. I think that if you happen to have a Slovak family next door, it would be very interesting for you to read something about Slovakia and learn, for instance, the backgrounds of this country, which even though it is modern, its history is fundamentally different from ours. We have had, for a very long time, large cities; we always have the metropolis in London. We haven’t had a village culture for such a long time and the industrial revolution came early with the destruction of agricultural communities happening at the beginning of the 19th century. When I read in the introduction of the anthology it seems like just after a few words, the main stories become reality, how many are set in villages, how life is based in these villages and there is almost no city literature, or only much later. When there is city literature, Slovak literature became more similar, shall we say, to other literatures. As a reader I am more interested in things that make it different. This is why the first two stories are more interesting for me because they are specific to place and time; you feel the place and the time.

TSS: Do you have any other plans for Slovak literature?

EL: We definitively will do something in the next couple of years. There will two anthologies in which Slovak literature will also be represented. The one with European classic stories will be published in 2016. Then in 2017 we will celebrate 25 years of contemporary fiction and the single market of the EU as a cultural event. We definitively will do something in our European classics category because we would like to widen the offer. We will probably start with something from Kukučín or Cíger Hronský.




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