A tasting of Slovak literature

SMALL nations and their authors only rarely find themselves in the focus of foreign publishing houses.

Eric Lane (third from left) and Peter Karpinský (first right) during a discussion at the Bibliotéka book fair.Eric Lane (third from left) and Peter Karpinský (first right) during a discussion at the Bibliotéka book fair.(Source: Jana Liptáková)

This is also true for Slovakia, thus making the publication of an anthology of Slovak literature in English an even more noteworthy event for the country. The British publishing house Dedalus Books published the Dedalus Book of Slovak Literature this August.

“The reasons for publishing books from Slovakia and other small countries are that the UK is part of Europe and you have to know your neighbours, that means their culture,” publisher Eric Lane said when introducing the anthology at the Bibliotéka book fair held in Bratislava in early November. “The best way to show your interest in your neighbours is to translate their books into English.”

Read also:Knowing one’s neighbours better

Dedalus Books, which has already published anthologies of Lithuanian and Estonian literature, published the anthology after Slovakia’s Centre for Information on Literature (Literárne Informačné Centrum) approached it.

It was Peter Karpinský, a teacher at the University of Prešov and a prize-winning author, who had already selected stories for 5x5, an anthology of contemporary Slovak literature published in Slovak in 2012, who selected the authors and works for this English language anthology. But contrary to this anthology, for which he selected young authors published not so often and thus there were no such well-known and important authors like Pavel Vilikovský, Dušan Mitana, or Stano Rakús; making the selection for Dedalus was significantly more difficult.  

“Here it was more challenging because Mr Lane wanted to publish a broad-spectrum anthology from the 19th century to the present,” said Karpinský. “This is 200 years of Slovak literature, which has a huge number of men and women authors who are worthy of consideration and discussion.”

Karpinský had to make a wide and smart selection in order to introduce foreign readers to Slovak literature, as thus far such an extensive selection had not been published. Until now only an anthology of Slovak poetry has been published, while Slovak literature was presented only in joint anthologies with Czech literature or as a selection just for university purposes.

“The sieve was very tight and I apologise to many authors, who alas, did not fit into the book,” said Karpinský. “I’m very sorry, but we were limited by the number of pages. On the other hand, I wanted to offer also whole texts, not fragments of novels that would tell nothing to the reader. Only in case of Dominik Tatarka I had to make an exception.”

As a result, there is Martin Kukučín selected, followed by Gejza Vámoš and Jozef Cíger Hronský with works in the anthology are ranked chronologically. A strong generation of authors from which it was impossible to select only on the basis of quality followed, while Karpinský consulted the selection also with Miroslava Vallová, the head of LIT.  

“Sometimes it seemed to me as drawing lots from a hat,” said Karpinský. “I would need an additional 300 pages to make it at least a bit of a comprehensive anthology.” 

Thus also Dušan Dušak and other excellent authors have not appeared in the anthology, said Karpinský, adding names of Marek Vadas, Peter Krištúfek, but also more women as there is only one female author in the anthology – Monika Kompaníková. Those selected include also Rudolf Sloboda, Ján Johanides, Vilikovský, Mitana or Balla.    

Read also:Anthology of Slovak prose in English

Another matter they had to take into consideration was the challenge of translating the selected works and choosing translators to make them comprehensible for foreign readers. Additionally, the selection had to be made in a way that the stories and their settings would be interesting for foreign readers.

“It is really only a tasting of Slovak literature,” said Karpinský, meaning that readers as well as literary agents need to find out more and that even though Slovak literature is not as vast as in the UK, it is nonetheless interesting and well worth reading.

The Dedalus Book of Slovak Literature is available from Amazon as a paperback as well as an e-book and can also be purchased in Slovak bookshops: Artfórum, Martinus, Gorila or Panta Rhei.

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