Dramaturg and writer based in Zagreb, Croatia working in the fields of literature, performance, dance, and film. She is assistant professor at the Department of Dramaturgy at the Academy of Dramatic Art in Zagreb where she has previously graduated. She has published one novel (My Y♀u, Profil, 2015), two performance texts (Solitaries, INK, 2011; The Other at the Same Time, Emanat & INK, 2012), one picture book (Letters from the Edge of the Forest, OAZA, 2018), one study (Lecture as Performance, Performance as Lecture, Leykam International, 2019), several short stories, reviews and essays. Her latest book “Those Things – Essays on Female Sexuality” is coming out this March.
Jean-Lorin Sterian is a writer, playwright, director and performer. He has published books of fiction and anthropology. In 2008 he created the lorgean theatre – “a theatre of intimate spaces” in his own flat, an open place for actors and dancers, which became a trade mark for alternative culture of Bucharest.
Anna Kove is a well-known poet and translator from Albania. She graduated at 2001 at Goethe Institute, Germany, with the diploma “German as a foreign language in theory and practice”. She continued her master studies at the European University of Viadrina in Germany (2002–2004) in “Media and Intercultural Communication”. She also graduated in “Albanian Language and Literature” at the University of Tirana (1986-1990).
Anna Kove is author of many books, such as “Shën Valentin ku ishe”, “Djegë Ujërash”, “Nimfa e pemës së humbur”, “Kambanat e së dielës” and has been awarded with many prizes, in different competitions in Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro. She is one of the most distinguished contemporary authors in Albania, having the attention of the critics, researchers and journalists, who have been continuously writing about her works.
She has participated in different seminars and translation workshops like LCB “Berlin” “In Käte tanzen” (September 2006); “Artistic Translation of Children Literature: Kein Kinderspiel” (2013), organized by Robert Bosch Stiftung– Hamburg,the International translators meeting LCB march 2019.
She is winner of the translation stock of “Schritte Stipendien”, from S. Fischer Stiftung in Literarisches Colloquium Berlin. (June- July 2015); (January-February 2020) and Residency grants for literary translators at Europäisches Übersetzer-Kollegium Straelen (July-August 2019).
Her contribute in translations is even wider, we underline the translation of “Mohn und Gedächtnis” by P. Celan (Toena Editions, supported by Traduki) and the Anthology “German short stories” (Ombra GVG Editions). Many of her translations, such as “Herztier” (Albas Editions supported by Traduki), “Hast du ein Taschentuch?”,“Dorfschronik” and stories from “Niederungen” by H. Mueller, “Die Nacht, die Lichter” by Clemens Meyer (Albas Editions), ‘Tyll” by Daniel Kehlmann (Toena Editions), “Die groessere Hoffnung” by Ilse Aichinger (Albas Editions) “Ich spiele noch” by Rose Ausländer (Poeteka Editions) and different poetry works by S. Kirsch, M. L. Kaschnitz, B. Brecht, I. Bachman, N. Sachs have been published in different Albanian literary magazines.
Biljana Crvenkovska, born May 23, 1973 in Skopje, RN Macedonia. Writer, screenwriter, editor and translator. BPhil and MPhil in philosophy with sub-subjects in semiotics and philosophy of language. As writer, Crvenkovska started by writing mainly books for children and youth (as well as poetry, essays and theoretical works), but in the last couple of years her writing is oriented towards fiction (novels and short fiction). She also writes screenplays for Macedonian TV and animated shows, for children and adults. Her novels and picture books for children are translated or are currently being translated in several languages: Serbian, English, French, Albanian, German, Slovenian, Russian, Polish, Czech, Ukrainian…
Bibliography. Novels: Девет приказни за госпоѓица Сит (Nine stories about Miss Sith, 2019), Куќа над брановите (House above the waves, 2020); Children’s novels: Што сонуваше Дедо Мраз (Santa in Dreamland, 2014), Супервештерката, мачката и шесте волшебни колачиња (The Superwitch, the cat and six magical cookies, 2017), Sвезда Мрак и суштествата од Страшковград (Stella Dark and the creatures from Scarytown, 2019); Picture books: Светот на Биби (Bibi’s world) – series of picture books; Книгата што никогаш не беше иста (The book that was never the same, 2017), Кучето што мјаукаше и мачето што џавкаше (The Dog that meowed and the Cat that barked, 2020), and many others; Graphic novels: Девојчето кое танцуваше со пролетта (The Girl that Danced with the Spring, 2018), Black Pig Secret Club – a series of six children’s graphic novels. Theoretical works: Митски лавиринт: патување низ митските слики (Mythical Labyrinth: a travel throught mythical pictures, 2004).
Awards: A Claw in the Dark – Black Pig Secret Club series, awarded Best book for children and youth between two book fairs in 2018 (first prize), and the prize Strusko izgrejsonce for best book for children and youth; Nine stories about Miss Sith – shortlisted for the prize Novel of the year 2019, awarded by the Foundation Slavko Janevski; Stella Dark and The Creatures from Scarytown, awarded two prizes between two book fairs, and shortlisted for third prize awarded by The Association of Macedonian Writers.
Barbara Delać was born in 1994 in Kotor. She graduated with a degree in Modern and Contemporary Art Theory. An award she won at the 32nd Festival of Young Poets in Zaječar enabled the printing of her first book of poetry, Tomorrowland, for which she received The Branko Award in Novi Sad in 2018. Her second collection of poetry Where are we, tell me was published in the 2020 edition of OKF. At the Berlin-Stipendium residency, awarded by the Academy of Arts in Berlin, the poem of the same name Where are we, tell me had its premiere in Berlin, a performative staging, in collaboration with a singer-songwriter, Sara Renar. She also won The Reading Balkans scholarship for 2021.
She has been a member of the literary group Young Writers Forum, which has been gathering at the Podgorica Cultural Center Budo Tomović since 2015. She has published poetry and short stories in numerous anthologies, literary magazines, and portals. She was shortlisted for a German translation in the Time (without) Utopia competition. Young Writers Network, a project supported by the DAAD. Her poetry has been translated into English, German, and translations into Slovenian, French, and Greek have also been announced.
Nikolina Andova Shopova was born on 3 February 1978 in Skopje. She graduated from the Faculty of Philology (Macedonian and South Slavic literature) at the St Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje. She has published two books of poetry „The entrance is on the other side“(2013) and „Connect the dots“ (2014). Her first book „The entrance is on the other side“ was awarded with the prestigious award „Bridges of Struga“ in 2013, award of UNESCO and the Struga Poetry Evenings for best debut book, and is published in English language. In 2014 she published the second poetry collection “Connect the dots”, which is also published in Serbian language. In 2016, a selection of her poetry in English, Macedonian and French is published by Éditions Bruno Doucey. Her poems take part in many anthologies of Macedonian poetry. They are translated into many world languages and she is a participant in many poetry festivals across Europe.
In 2019 she received the “Novel of the Year” award, for her first novel “Someone Was Here“, awarded by the Foundation for promotion of cultural values ”Slavko Janevski”. She also writes short stories and picture books for children.
„Connect the dots“ (2014). Her first book „The entrance is on the other side“ was awarded with the prestigious award „Bridges of Struga“ in 2013, award of UNESCO and the Struga Poetry Evenings for best debut book, and is published in English language. In 2014 she published the second poetry collection “Connect the dots”, which is also published in Serbian language. In 2016, a selection of her poetry in English, Macedonian and French is published by Éditions Bruno Doucey. Her poems take part in many anthologies of Macedonian poetry. They are translated into many world languages and she is a participant in many poetry festivals across Europe.
In 2019 she received the “Novel of the Year” award, for her first novel “Someone Was Here“, awarded by the Foundation for promotion of cultural values ”Slavko Janevski”. She also writes short stories and picture books for children.
Someone Was Here
As I opened the peapods to roll the little balls into a plastic dish, I hoped that when I pulled the pod apart I would find something else, something that would surprise and excite me. Something that according to all the laws of nature shouldn’t be there, and precisely that thing had decided to reveal itself precisely to me. From that entire mountain of green pods waiting to be opened, I would discover just the one that held within it something unusual, something wondrous that had not yet appeared before my eyes, so I raced to open them, digging my fingers into the seams and tearing open the pods. My fingernails were green, and they hurt from the dried bits that wedged underneath them, but I was determined to reach the one I was looking for. My mother was shelling peas opposite me and she watched me bustling, thinking I was interested in counting and rolling the little balls which were strung through the pods like ball earrings. The unopened pods in the bowl were decreasing, as the volume of green balls was growing along with my impatience, and when I rolled out the last pea, I looked in defeat at the floor, hoping I would catch sight of an unopened one. But everything was opened and shelled, and the world became once more dreary, empty, revealed, with no hidden meaning or significance. The riddles and secrets that I sought everywhere around me, even in these small rituals, seemed ever further from me, in some other place, outside my view and grasp and I tried to create them for myself, weaving a mysterious veil around things that were seemingly ordinary and every day. With my fork I created a castle out of the mashed potatoes on my plate because I was obsessed with the scene in the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” which ran for a week in the evenings while my father was in the hospital, the one in which Roy makes a mountain out of his mashed potatoes and other strange things after he saw something unusual in the sky. I pretended that I, too, had experienced something similar that I could not explain to myself, but which tormented me, and I inverted a cardboard egg carton and used the inverted holes like а keyboard which I covered with non-existent letters and then used to communicate with my imaginary creatures from another planet. Empty egg cartons had been put out in the shed and the stack of them, which was about as tall as I was, kept growing smaller as I took new ones, because I quickly tore and made holes in the old ones by writing and typing on them. When the pile had been reduced to the height of a small chair, my father died. I was sitting on them the day his body was laid out in its coffin in the living room like some sort of museum exhibit which everyone came to see; some even to touch and stroke it, while my father, for the first time in his life and certainly for the first time in his death, kept silent for so long and had no comment for anyone about anything. My mother sat in the dining room with her head leaning on my aunt’s hip, they tightly held each other’s hands and they dried their eyes with damp and half-torn paper napkins as they silently peered into space. Whenever my mother glanced at me, she would cry harder and pull me to her lap, but I finally ran off to mingle with the people coming in and to sneak out the door and run to the garden shed. It was twilight but I was used to the dark and the darkness was perhaps the only thing I wasn’t afraid of. I was more afraid of staying at home, of seeing my father lying in his coffin with gauze tied around his head, dressed in the suit he saved for special occasions, and of hearing the sobs that would swell like a powerful wave when new people came in the open door. I was suffocated by the smell of burned coffee and candles mixed with the stale scent of old women and old men, who would pat my head and press themselves to my face whispering something which I didn’t want to hear or understand. I didn’t want to hear the muted but cruel whispering of Auntie Žana, who was sitting not far from my mother, waving and tapping her finger on the dining room table arguing about something with the woman sitting opposite her and spraying spittle on the cookies that had been laid out for his soul. I had to disappear as quickly as possible, and although the egg carton keyboards poked my behind, I felt an inexplicable combination of sadness, comfort, and freedom then rocked by these emotions, I fell asleep leaning against the peeling wooden rack which held the things that were spoiled and unusable, but which we’ve kept for years just in case they were needed.
I woke with the thought that my mother was crying and in despair because she couldn’t find me, and I dashed to the front door which was still open. I burst into the living room and my aunt ran up to me asking whether I had rested up, likely thinking that I had been asleep in the bunk bed in the children’s room. I didn’t respond, I just ran towards the bedroom just as our neighbour, a nurse, came out and signalled me with her hand to be quiet because my mother was sleeping. The coffin was in its old place, this time closed like a pod, and I felt the prick under my fingernails. Some of the people had dispersed, it smelled of smoke and staleness, and that moment I knew that home would never again be home.
“Has this child eaten anything?” asked one of the old women and my aunt sat me at the small table in the kitchen, moved the ashtrays and cleared the table of the discarded wrappers of chocolate coffee-candies, and brought me some of the cheese pastries and some foil-wrapped wedges of processed Zdenka cheese that she was getting ready to bring to the cemetery.
“We lose; our whole life we lose something,” said the man standing by the window smoking. There were only the three of us in the kitchen and I imagined he was addressing my aunt, since he either didn’t notice me or he was pretending I wasn’t there. I didn’t know him, and I thought he was one of my father’s colleagues, because he wasn’t sitting in the living room with the other relatives.
“Folks, friends, you’ll lose your wife, you’ll lose your husband, work, house, property, children…training is what it is, training… So you get accustomed to it, you get accustomed to losing, for when the time comes that you lose your life as well, so you can let it go and not cling to it like a blind man to a stick,” he said curtly and blew the smoke through the window. My aunt opened and closed the oven, checking the cheese rolls so they didn’t burn, and I sensed she wasn’t listening to him, but out of kindness shrugged her shoulders and nodded her head with pursed lips.
“Because, if you don’t let go of life, and your time has come, you’re already dead, and even then…even then…” he considered how to finish the sentence, “even then you’ll have a problem,’ he said quietly, while stubbing out the butt in the ashtray. He said this more for himself, as if he wanted to make the point to himself and to spare us further explanations. With a look I asked my aunt, “who is this?” as he stood with his back turned and looked through the window, my aunt answered me back, also by a look and a gesture.
It’s not as if I hadn’t thought of this before, but I was determined not to accept the invitation which I knew would inevitably arrive one day. Vania proposed that the three of us meet: her, me, and the owner of the apartment; we should go out somewhere for a drink because she’s heard about me constantly and said that she wanted to meet me at last. We had already been in her personal space, anyway, and this was an entirely expected and logical course of events.
I got out of it by saying it would be very unpleasant and at the moment I wasn’t ready for such a meeting, because, until recently we had been seeing each other in her apartment. But I added that in the future, after some time had passed, I’d have no problem meeting her, or sitting together somewhere, the three of us, to chat and laugh, and at the end we would pay her bill since she had been so nice to us and had unselfishly let us use her place temporarily. Vania looked at me with approval and smiled contentedly as if she had expected this answer or as if she should have assumed it, knowing my sensitivity and attention to such things. The truth is that I had never intended to become acquainted with her in the context she wanted and anticipated, and maybe I never wanted to meet her at all. I wanted to touch the things she touched every day, to melt in the bodiless embrace of her shirts and coats on the hanger, to drown in the depth of the armchair, where I supposed she most often relaxed, to touch my lips to the dried traces of lipstick on the not-quite clean glass and to place my head on her pillow, which smelled of faint smoke and of hair. I did not really want to touch her hand, I hadn’t wanted to embrace her if she were standing in front of me, kiss her, or catch her scent. I wanted to caress her reflections, just as I enjoyed doing in Natalie’s room, the room Irina did the least to keep clean and tidy, so as not to wipe away her smell, and through this, her presence, which, most likely, only she and I sensed in our nostrils. Natalie’s room was the only one that didn’t smell of cleaning products, and I would go in to stroke the toys she had played with, her small many-coloured dresses, and her other clothes which we hadn’t wanted to give away, the little notebook with a red band in which there were drawings of Irina and me holding hands, with arrows that had written above them in green coloured pencil – mama, papa. I would curl up like a fetus on her little bed on the blue sheets jammed full of little gold stars and I would lie there for hours, calm and assured that I would not have to say goodbye to it, too. The objects and the material on which I lay would likely outlive me too, and no one would be able to take these things from me. With them I was secure. And for me, that was enough.
My mother was convinced that cigarettes had killed my father, although the doctors said that the cancer in his lungs was an illness that could arise from other factors as well. “If I ever see you with a cigarette… .it’ll be too bad for you!” she would warn me, but this sounded both tragic and funny to me because, unlike my father, she couldn’t frighten me with any specific punishment, she was too gentle and tender to think up something, let alone pronounce it or execute. “It’ll be bad for you,” was the most terrible threat she could direct at me, even when I had done something for which I really did need to be punished. I wasn’t accustomed to the freedom I had after my father died, and everything I had longed to do, and which had been forbidden, had not brought me the anticipated happiness and pleasure, and it bored me quickly. I splashed my cheeks and my neck with his aftershave from the small green glass bottle, without afterwards washing and scrubbing my face with soap and water afraid that he would smell me and turn my face red from pain. I opened the brown cardboard files he had carried to work but which I couldn’t touch, I sat until late at night and watched television in his armchair with the remote in my left hand just like he used to do, and I would curse like him if one of the buttons in the remote got stuck or didn’t work. “Oh mother – where’s it gotten stuck. Ah, there it is!”, he would pull out the grey button with the nail of his pinky finger, which I thought he grew out just for that purpose. Every so often I would peel off the thick brown layer of tape that held together the bottom of the remote, and I would put on new tape, with pride as if I were accomplishing who-knows-what sort of craftsmanship. Before I fell asleep, scenes from the films I had watched until late at night would return to me, not that I fully understood them, but because that’s what he watched. The images of Papillon in solitary confinement when, out of starvation, he caught a cockroach, or the village idiot Michael who dragged his leg across the sand in “Ryan’s daughter” circled my conscience jumbled together with images from the burial and flies on the wall. I tried lying down on the lower bunk of the bunkbed and fell asleep with the light still on, but that didn’t suit me very long, and after only a few evenings I returned to the upper bunk and put out the light early. I stripped the stem of the ferns with only one stroke of my hand, and I knew that my mother would pretend she hadn’t noticed the thin, naked stems sticking out from the greenery. With a felt-tip pen I scrawled things on the thick leaves of the rubber plant , or I’d write my name amid the veins of the large Elephant Ear plant, just because no one stopped me. I splashed through the yard in his rubber flip-flops as tiny stones poked through, and I sprayed the hose high into the trees. Through force of habit I did my lessons and I studied in the kitchen or in the dining room as I had before so I would be noticed, even though there was no one to notice me. My mother was at work all day; she returned tired and was only interested in whether or not I had eaten. She routinely checked whether I had eaten the sandwich she made for me every day to take to school wrapped in the blue-white plastic bags with “milk” written on them, which she kept rolled in an elastic band to have for packing meat for the freezer. She prepared lentils with lots of garlic and little hot sausages and leeks, since that was my father’s favourite. A whole pot would be left over because neither my mother nor I ate garlic, but she stubbornly kept making the same dinner every Sunday, as she had when my father was alive. His coat hung on the hanger behind the door. I asked why she kept washing the coat since no one was wearing it, and she said to me as she was wringing out the sleeves over the washbasin: “Something might have crawled in… a spider, a centipede, everything in the house is damp.” When she dusted, she moved aside the carton still containing a few cigarettes, and then she would put it back beside the vase on the small table.
I waited to find a suitable moment to mention to her what Emil had told me about his aunt, and to convince her that we should buy human masks somewhere so that my father’s spirit wouldn’t inhabit us, or we should buy at least one “bad” one since my father was bad, too. One evening, as she pressed down the orange-coloured toaster with her elbow, I said this to her; she was visibly upset and said she didn’t want to hear about doing these “devil things”. Аnd she scolded me for what I had said about my father, adding that he wasn’t at all a bad person.
“You should know how much good your father did, how many people he helped,” she said with hidden pride. “All right, he did have a temper, both good and bad, like everyone else. Take Žana, everyone considers her a force of evil, she poisons animals in the neighbourhood, not that she isn’t a snake at times, but she gives her soul for people. She made woolen knee socks for the children who live beside her, those poor things who were left without a mother. She brought them dinner, gave them money, as much as she could… But your aunt, you know what she’s like, gentle, kind, but something once got into her head and she said something she shouldn’t have, she did something she shouldn’t have, and now, everyone thinks she’s a wicked person.
Then she added that my father was in heaven and I shouldn’t worry that some sort of spirits were going to inhabit me, and then I recalled how at the burial one of his cousin’s had come up to me and grabbed my chin, looked me right in the face with her red eyes and said to me tearfully: “You are just like your father. The spitting image!” That was the first time anyone had told me I looked like my father and I was afraid that maybe it was too late and that he had already gotten inside me; At such moments I missed Emil most of all; he would surely have understood me and would have known what I should do. And if he didn’t know, he wouldn’t be ashamed to ask someone and then run back with the answer, like he always did. Now I had to sort it out myself, and I was afraid to call the spirits the way Emil and I had done, so I went out to the shed where the old rusty shower nozzles with their tangled hoses were kept along with broken telephones, or just their receivers. I decided to use them to attempt to contact my father to see whether he really was in the sky or inside me, and although I knew this wasn’t the way one called to a spirit, it’s like I wanted to act out pretend courage for myself, like I was doing something that only fearless people would dare to do. As I pulled the box from the top shelf, countless small screws and a crumpled, dried up tube of glue rattled to the floor. I knew that it was my carelessness that had knocked over the small glass jar they spilled from, but still my hand shook as I held the boxy red telephone receiver that had turned dark from storage and dust.
“Vasil…Vasil…” I whispered into it, calling my father by his name for the first time.
“Vase, are you listening to me?” I said, using the nickname my mother called him. I took out the old handheld shower nozzle which looked like a telephone receiver and I repeated the same thing, but all there was on the other side was silence.
After a short time, my mother stopped making lentils with sausages every Monday, the coat behind the door and the box of cigarettes which stood on the small table seemed to have disappeared and only then did I feel that father had truly died.
Translated by Christina E. Kramer
Dinko Kreho writes short fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction and literary criticism. He was born in Sarajevo in 1986. After attending primary and secondary education in Bihać, Zagreb, Pariz and Rennes, he graduated in comparative literature and South Slavic literatures at the University of Sarajevo. He lives in Zagreb.
Kreho was a regular contributor to the project AKT (Alternate Literary Interpretations), a member of the editorial board of the bi-monthly for culture and current affairs Zarez, as well as the host of the program Od riječi do riječi (Verbatim) in Booksa Literary Club in Zagreb. He nowadays contributes to the weekly Novosti, as well as to the web magazines booksa.hr and proletter.me; he also translates (mainly from French into Croatian) and practices theatre as a member of the Zagreb-based theatre collective Center for the Theatre of the Oppressed (POKAZ).
He has published the poetry collections Ravno sa pokretne trake (Straight off the Conveyor Belt,2006), Zapažanja o anđelima (Observations on Angels, 2009)and Simptomi (Symptoms, 2019), the feature-length audio drama Bezdrov: A Whistle in the Night (co-authored with Dario Bevanda, 2013), and the non-fiction collection Bio sam mladi pisac (I Was an Emerging Writer, 2019).
Kreho’s poems, short stories and essays have been translated into several languages. For his work he has been awarded a number of literary prizes and awards, in Croatia as well as in the other ex-Yugoslav countries.
A TREATMENT FOR SCHMIDT
“That’s him, no doubt about it”, said Sonja as soon as she had made her way to Deacon and me. Although it was only late spring, judging by the atmosphere on Slovenska Beach you would have thought it was peak season. We were inhaling the aroma of oils, creams and lotions, and even in the shade, where we were waiting for Sonja, my T-shirt was sticking all the way down my back.
“Ta-da-dam!” Deacon handed us his mobile. When hanging out with people he spends more time googling what is being discussed than participating in the discussion, and every once in a while, when this annoying habit of his turns out to be really useful, he can’t help but gloat. Sonja and I hunched over the screen:
THE FLIPSIDE OF BIOPOWER IN THE ERA OF NEW POLARISATIONS
The accompanying text mentioned migration, combating terrorism, the new mechanisms of control, Internet mastodons, and ‘the gorgeous view to the historic heart of the city’ from the premises of the refurbished Sutjeska cinema.
“Academic tourism?” I asked.
“And not just any academic tourism”, replied Deacon. “Check out the organisers, each one better than the next. And he’s their biggest star! I wouldn’t be surprised if he was staying in one of these turbo hotels with a jacuzzi, a waterbed and a bonus Ukrainian girl every night.”
“This is begging for sabotage”, I said. “If anything, we should piss in his sandals.”
“Or read out loud excerpts from that text during his speech… What do you reckon, Red Sonja?”
We looked at Sonja and fell into silence. As her eyes were travelling from Deacon to me and back, they were speaking louder than words: we knew what was on her mind.
“Guys”, she said softly but resolutely “I think the opportunity has finally presented itself.”
Sonja put it well: the opportunity did present itself. If, having spent twenty-odd days on an estate near Berane ambitiously dubbed The Anarchy Ranch by its managers, we finally had not decided to drive down to the sea in Deacon’s rickety van, or if we had done it a day later or a day earlier, we would not have run into Schmidt. And if two years before we had not got involved in a project that at first seemed like a bad joke, and if, under the burden of proof, we gradually had not started believing in it, we would not have enjoyed the tactical advantage we had now. The whole thing was too bizarre to occur to Deacon or to me just like that; no wonder it was Sonja, a.k.a. Sonjdokan a.k.a. Red Sonja, who thought of it first.
The guy we called Schmidt among ourselves was a philosopher of European calibre. By way of various university gigs, engagements, appearances and combinations, he had been popping up at universities from Ankara to Vienna to Moscow for decades – charming, eloquent and provocative, forever debating with the times. Except in the nineties. Even then he was charming and eloquent, but quite in the spirit of the times: as a young and promising thinker, he was developing a theory of war as a socially desirable event, through which the ‘dispossessed’ national culture would once again be its own master. He was close enough to the ideologists of the time, and even to the masters of war themselves, to live a comfortable life – and yet he remained distant enough to safely get the hell out of there when he estimated that the time had come. As a fellow countryman who has built himself a nice CV at universities all over the planet, in the past few years he had been a welcome guest in this part of the world, where he had also enjoyed the favours of some left-wing circles. His former work and friendships were simply not discussed.
Schmidt was not the worst of his kind – far from it. However, it just so happened that my friends and I – with my eleven years of studying philosophy at university, which I am not proud of – always liked messing with him. He was popping up in all the places that were supposed to be safe from people like him; many of those whose opinions I valued respected, sought out and promoted him. Some of us would occasionally campaign, both on social media and in public debates, and Svebor was once involved in a physical incident at a forum in Ljubljana, and then ‒ nothing. Schmidt enjoyed an immunity that could not be justified even by his undoubtedly extraordinary charisma.
Yet, it was here that the opportunity presented itself, and Sonja was the first to recognise it and name it. Now that Schmidt had yet again emerged in our lives for no reason whatsoever, we had mastered a potential response for his kind. Now we had The Treatment.
“Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!” called Sonja in a cracked voice. I rose just enough to be able to see the numbers on Deacon’s phone in the pitch-black darkness of the van: 03:59.
“He’s here”, said Sonja. “Schmidt. Down there, at the seafront.”
“I was on my way back from the loo, and there he was! He’s gone down the path, the sand one. He’s alone. I even think he looked at me, the creep… let’s go!”
“Here’s our chance!” I perked up. “We just need to wake him up.”
Deacon, who was always grumpy when he woke up, just snorted.
The circumstances were indeed working in our favour. In fact, our original plan was to stay at my great-aunt’s in Petrovac, but I kept putting off calling her for weeks, and then it turned out that she had gone to Belgrade and rented the flat out to some tourists. So we eventually decided to sleep in the van. This meant that we had the freedom to build our action plan without witnesses. In the afternoon and evening, while two of us were preparing The Treatment, the third was spying on Schmidt: while he was delighting his motley crew of friends on Slovenska Beach, while he was being treated to the octopus in a Dutch oven at Jurić’s, while he was tasting homemade wine on the terrace of the Majestic (Deacon was right, they were not being stingy with Schmidt). Without a consensus on how to grab hold of him, we finally bought some wine and sandwiches, drove to the edge of a grove four or five kilometres outside town and decided to spend the night there (of course, after we had put false number plates on the van). However, it turned out that Schmidt did not sleep after all the action – and that he had chosen our location as a destination for his nocturnal outing.
It was a strange scene: if my head had not been pulsating after Sonja suddenly woke me up, I would have thought I was still asleep. Slowly, almost sleepily, Schmidt was swaying in one place, staring at the open sea stretching into the distance, the moonlight flickering on his silvery beard. We approached slowly: Sonja was holding needles close to her leg, I was holding wireless cathodes, and Deacon was waiting with the central unit in the van. Suddenly, Schmidt turned towards us.
“Well, well!”, he laughed, and we shivered. “Comrades, suspend the hostilities, I surrender!” He put his hands up. He kept laughing even after we lunged at him.
Comrades from the Austrian underground who taught us the basics of the procedure called it the denazification of the mind. From the very start we thought it was too pompous, obscurantist even, so we spontaneously dubbed it – The Treatment. Whatever evil tongues might say, this is not brainwashing and certainly not torture: The Treatment just enables and by no means forces new ways to experience reality and the self. However, after the subject of The Treatment gets a chance to experience with their own body and mind the repercussions of their own words and actions on other living beings, they simply do not want, of their own free will, to go back to their old ways. This is about sharpening one’s reflection and widening empathy, a one-of-a-kind guided extrospection: The Treatment does not kill emotions and thoughts but opens a pathway to the thousands of other hearts and minds.Although partly based on, let’s say esoteric knowledge, the theoretical basis of the process is materialistic, far from any kind of black magic. Sonja and Tanja simply call it expanded psychology.
After two years of group sessions, brainstorming and testing – none of which, of course, was supposed to leave a digital trace – it was at the Anarchy Ranch that we came up with the final structure and key features of the Treatment, adapted to our climate. But the most difficult part still remained: to determine what it would look like and how it would work when it was tried on a suitable subject. In retrospect, the way Schmidt served himself on a plate obviously stank, but the opportunity was just too good for us to dare think about that.
We were prepared for all kinds of outcomes and plot twists, but we did not expect that after such a frenetic and almost sleepless night in the van all four of us would be so full of energy. It is possible that Deacon, Sonja and I were simply high on serotonin having expeditiously planned and successfully carried out The Treatment; as for Schmidt, it could have been a side-effect or a result of The Treatment. In any case, that sunny May morning on the terrace of the Garden, he was glowing like a man reborn. When it was time to pay the bill, Schmidt mimed to us to stay clear.
“It’s the least I can do for you”, he said, handing out quite a substantial tip too.
“Schmidt!” Deacon giggled. “We’ll have to think of a tamer nickname. You’ve been Schmidt to us for such a long time that I sometimes forget your real name!”
“O tempora, o mores!” Schmidt exclaimed, puffing out his chest theatrically.
“Hola, profesor!”, someone shouted over the hubbub. We all turned: a beautiful dark-skinned woman in a navy-blue dress, our age or even younger, was navigating between the sun umbrellas and tables.
“I thought I was the only one late, but look, so is our keynote speaker!”she laughed.
Schmidt was about to reply, but before he could do it, we heard another voice behind us:
“Perhaps I was waiting for you!”
We nearly fell off our chairs. The voice was definitely Schmidt’s. A fraction of a second later, Schmidt actually appeared in our line of vision: unlike the one sitting with us, his hair was neatly combed and his shirt was ironed. He and the woman met next to our table, hugged and kissed each other cordially.
“I just hope they heat up the coffee properly this time”, he said, to which she burst out laughing.
Bewildered, we started miming to ‘our’ Schmidt. He opened his mouth a few times like a fish on dry land.
“Oh no…”, he finally uttered weakly. “They’ve activated the backup…”
He did not seem any less gobsmacked than we were. The second (or was it the first?) Schmidt and his colleague headed towards the exit.
As they were leaving, he threw a quick glance back. But it was long enough for us to make no mistake: he was laughing at us.
i always think i’ll meet you
at your funeral. there is no hope there, just
a habit on a stupid loop, the kind of habit
i expect will push you among us.
i forget that solidarity among the dead
is unfaltering, that their communism works.
there is no hope there. but nothing can stop me
from thinking mid-rite that at any given moment
you’ll pop up among us like the moon
and nonchalantly look at your reflection in my ever bigger
to let you slide down the street, a tarmac one, a virtual one,
any one. as a branch of an algorithm that spills out into infinity,
a branch that leads nowhere. to release one’s avatars
to hover with rain, to dissolve in autumn. To imagine that
you’re mapping out the anxiety, mapping out a poem, mapping out a city.
to actually just mess about, to devotedly wear out the soles
until you wear yourself out. until you’re left with as much
as you can bring forth to your friends
when you dawn in their lives, to ferment a little
in their day.
night – flawlessly restored – you cannot prove
it’s not the original – i sabotage
myself – wherever i want to squat – somebody else’s
marks – prearranged landmarks – in the night
of the language – in the language
of the night – done deal – as fixed as
the north as
 Sonjdokan – reference to Sandokan, the “Tiger of Malaysia”, a fictional late 19th-century pirate created by an Italian author Emilio Salgari and portrayed by an Indian film actor, Kabir Bedi, in a TV series based on Salgari’s books which were immensly popular throughout the 1970s in the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia.
Maja Solar was born on February 6, 1980 in Zagreb. She holds a doctoral degree in Philosophy from the Faculty of Philosophy of Novi Sad. Her research work revolves around the political theory. Maja is translating from French and English, as well as writing both poetry and prose. She is a member of the „Gerusia“ collective, left-oriented organization, and one of the editors of the journal for theoretical practices „Stvar“. Since 2015, she has been working as a translator for the Serbian edition of „Le Monde Diplomatique“.
Her first poetry collection, Makulalalalatura, was published in 2008, as it was awarded by Cultural Center of the City of Kragujevac in their contest for first time publishers. This manuscript also won Branko’s Award, the first prize in the category of poets under 30, award of the „Đuro Papharhaji“ poetry festival, and it was a runner-up for the Vital’s award. Maja’s second poetry book, written in Hungarian – Jellemzõ, hogy nem természetes (Of course it’s not natural) – was published by Forum in 2015. The third poetry book – Bez začina (Without Spices) – was published in the edition of the Cultural Center of Novi Sad (2017). Her poetry was publlished in anthologies and poetry collections: Nešto je u igri: Zbornik nove Novosadske poezije (Centar za novu književnost Neolit i Kulturni centar Novog Sada, 2008), Iz muzeja šumova, antologija novije srpske poezije (1988-2008) (V.B.Z., Zagreb, 2009), Ulaznica Srbija: Panorama pesništva 21. veka (Drava, Klagenfurt, 2011), VAN, TU: FREE, Izbor iz nove srpske poezije (Cetinje, 2012), RESTART, panorama nove poezije u Srbiji (Dom kulture Studentski grad, Beograd 2014), Antologija nove srpske lirike „Serce i krew“ (Lublin, Poljska, 2015) and Cat Painters: An Anthology of Contemporary Serbian Poetry (Diálogos, New Orleans, 2016).
From 2007 to 2014, she was one of the editors of „Polja“, a literary magazine. She was also a member of the Centre for modern literature „Neolit“, a member of poetic-political theater „Poetske rupe“, an author and participant in the women’s poetic performance group „LILITiranje“, and a participant in a few performance and poetry videoworks. Since 2019, together with Žak Lučić, she has been hosting the poetry podcast „Full Mouth of Poetry“. She currently lives in Novi Sad.
my first photograph
was one of mum and dad
on the moon
mum looking at dad lovingly, dad eyeing me warily
(ever fretful about whether something or other would succeed)
in the background a giant new year tree
shielding them from asteroid shards
flying in a moonish dimension
dad was wearing a plaid shirt the kind I guess
every yugoslav man must’ve had
back then. it could be seen on the DIY pages
for men in the burda magazine
mum was wearing a tracksuit made out of material
which absorbed the strains of endless giving. mum… cut from the cloth
of house-work and emotional labour, in slippers which weren’t à pompons
dad paranoid, mum head over heels
dad afraid that all beauty would perish
mum unafraid, unstoppable, laying tracks to beauty
I was seven and I still hadn’t
developed the ritual of imagining sinking in an earthquake.
it’s a rather useful ritual
whereby one imagines a sudden earthquake so
vividly one can feel the room move
see the shelves, books, walls fall, ceilings crash,
the shell of the tower block cave in. the ritual develops subconsciously.
either you’ve got it or you don’t.
it’s a useful ritual, an earthquake can’t catch you by surprise
at seven I still hadn’t discovered that talent, but now
I know the excitement I felt in the brief
time-space of a click
was tantamount to an amorous socialist earthquake
in which I sunk, elated,
into a moon crater
(Translated by Mirza Purić)
death grew from inside a mulberry tree
broke through the bark
onto the bicycle path
then entered my breakfast
and headaches which you, small elephant,
cope with using your trunk really well
you spiced up your arms around my waist
you made wednesday giggle
but i now saw her, death
because i was running
death came even earlier
when the oregano stopped breathing
and you continued to whisper that I am your little bird
that i am all the birds in all the world the taxonomies
especially the swallows
as you kissed me
as though I were candied fruit
through the kiosks of laughter
death swayed into a hair color dyeing brush
parceling out hair so the greys could be covered
you—the part behind me, which I cannot see,
me the part reflected in the window
but not even there did i see death
because i was running
so it sprouted from your
when you had the scent of a small child
when we were we
maybe that is why our two bodies have become too much
death boiled over
in a dream in which you were eaten by a crocodile
she hugged you with all her might
reminding us of a popular series from our childhood
when you wash dishes death made winter mornings glow
and heat up fingers with soap suds
you sit by the tv screen
knock on the wall
as an i love you reminder
in your always half-open mouth
with your high gums
while we dance our happy dance in half-darkness
you, who will not be upset by any natural disasters
you, because of whom i always dive into a fainting love spell
death has leaked out from dark knots
but i did not see
because i ran persistently
because i looked at you continually
where she is not
where the sea is
and continued to run
as if it were wednesday each day
Translated by Biljana D. Obradović
THE ECONOMY OF CLASS SUFFERING. OR HOW IT PISSES ME OFF WHEN A CAPITALIST IS SAID TO SUFFER, TOO.
v.šš. doesn’t buy any more fruit
meat is a luxury found on the table every three,
or even four days,
the meat of the poorest quality.
she and her eight translucent sisters wither doing the dishes.
making the inventive new meals out of leftovers of cheap aliments and
reaped traumas of the day
e.klj. ran out of costly shampoo
that mildly dyes her hair and makes it lush
she suffers because she got used to this special shampoo
and her special luxury anti-wrinkle creams
with indispensable spf factor 66 of course
e.klj. has a lean sister and pyramidal
brother, thank god they are all rich
đ.đđ. shares his room with another four and a half. he doesn’t have peace quiet a chair a table or a book, just stacked bunk beds and piles of butts in the glasses. their father sometimes sleeps in the room, drunken, emitting vapors of garlic and brandy, thrown out of bed by mom.
when his eldest brother feels hot he opens the window. no matter whether others are cold. every day the residents of this residential unit play emotional ping-pong until petrified by weariness, usually during the sixth stanza of the comic operetta
đ.đđ. might not get enough money for his studies because, you see, ideology claims he is not exceptional
j.kpr. wakes up when he wants, studies when and how much he wants.
it is tough because he is thirty-two and lives at his parents’ place.
it is simply not the time yet for him to leave. it is hard to live on one’s own work on one’s own study on one’s own manage one’s own food. otherwise, mom does the cooking. the most colourful meals in the whole world.
he has no siblings, he stares at the gigantic dough of music and smokes weed to roll out of his misery
r.str. has never ever been to the seaside. she can’t swim, apart from stroking her arms in a plastic basin that her homeless parents once bought at the marketplace. r.str. has porcelain skin so she might be better off without going to the seaside and exposing herself to the sun, she hasn’t got the money for a high spf factor cream anyway. r.str. suffers for she has never had a boyfriend nor sex nor a real kiss with a tongue, if you don’t count the smooch in year five of primary school at a birthday party
in a round of ‘Spin the bottle’
kss.s. suffers for she has to repay a student loan.
that is hard and she will have to renounce her stormy shopping sessions in zara. will have to reduce shopping to once per week, and if she rationalises well, that could come up to twice per week. luckily enough her family rents two flats in a two-hundred-and-plus-square-metre home so she will manage somehow.
kss.s. has congruent tits and drinks kukicha and bancha tea.
kč.žlj. has just lost a mortgaged flat in which a washing machine used to rumble a couple of times a day. in which heavy curtains were washed together with heavy memories. for kč.žlj. is his underage siblings’ guardian, they are eleven together with six dogs. where will the brothers and sisters go now, where will kč.žlj. go, how will he do the laundry and simmer nettle with eggs… kč.žlj. drinks ‘jelen’ beer from a 2l plastic bottle.
s.sjj. calls herself a leftist activist.
she listens to electronica and dresses accordingly. she writes project proposals and owns a flat on the sixty-seventh floor,
with a view of the synagogue. she always complains to have no money.
but she has huge problems. mental ones.
she is cheating on her boyfriend and he is cheating on her, for polygamy is an essential ingredient in the soup of hiding everything from everyone where everybody thinks they are emotionally liberated
because they live in couples and keep secret of whom they fuck aside.
s.sjj. visits an army of psychiatrists, psychotherapists, psychodrama sessions, workshops, and whatnot,
attending to complicated pathologies of those
who can afford the services.
hlj.čnj. knows that psychology is not the cause of suffering, the society is. he got a job in the syndicate, even though the syndicates are the cumbersome tentacles of the state apparatus, but hlj.čnj. doesn’t want to give in. he frequents all the meetings and demonstrations. he blows his whistle going at it hammer and tongs. he is an actor and acting cannot make him a living so he acts he is living.
pl.tl. is going noodles because he doesn’t know how he will manage to pay for the gas heating in his three-hundred-and-twenty-eight-square-metre villa. the heating is really costly because the gas has its geopolitical capitalist flows that are mysterious to the people and scrumptious for the companies.
pl.tl. is very concerned about the huge number on the bill, which made a wrinkle on his forehead.
krr.crr. works overtime, unpaid, sometimes during weekends as well, in a small shop in liman. her hair has grown thinner at the age of twenty-seven, she never complains about unpaid hours, because she is happy to have a job at all.
she is mostly angry and rude, even though her employer is convinced that the turnover would be much bigger if she were to invest in herself more, if she were to smile more, communicate more. and if she were to take care of that… that… that hair, for who has ever seen a woman going bald!
drm.šs. is an attorney and she works like a yoked mare all day long, there is always more work in the office, sometimes she takes a workload with her, she goes home to have dinner and an evening tv session, an evening sex with her husband. her work is always there with her and she is proud to be so industrious. she hasn’t got children yet, she will once they have made more money and have sold the forty-six-square-metre flat, when they have bought a house as twice as big, where they will dine their workloads again. one should make some space for work. dmr.šs. welcomes new labour law reform and the extension of the retirement age, she spits on all the slackers in the world. she and her husband spend the summer holidays in corsica, sometimes sardinia, the winter holidays in hysteria. drm.šs. is mostly content, if she is not she meditates and tells herself the affirmations of louise hay. she sometimes plans a date with her husband because the handbooks advise refreshing your relationships,
relationships need to be spiced up
gf.mnd. lives in a roma settlement and has never finished primary school. because he had to work in the morning and in the afternoon he would either fall asleep in class or at home. he did the military service while it was still compulsory and he mostly holds some nice memories. apart from those couple of days then the army police found his and cile’s heroin and syringes for which they kicked them for a few long temporal paces and transferred them into the mountain. he did not mind, he got used to cold cramped spaces without wc. he does not know what spices are.
ht.wwv. suffers because she could not afford the blueberries this morning, one should eat blueberries every day because they are rich with antioxidants. luckily enough, she still has some wild oregano essential oil and a collagen anti-age lux facial mask so she can peacefully watch dr. oz’s advice on a low-calorie tv screen transmitting her torment
Translated by Ivana Anđelković
this morning from five thirty
I wouldn’t have woken up were I not redeemed
by green tea
once I tried to save a swine
from the butcher
I went up to the man and woman
and explained to them I am a vegan
explained what that means
how much bad karma
they will accumulate because of the exchange of energy
I explained to them the process of entropy and negentropy
I wrote down Schrödinger’s equation for them
prayed for them
looked at their birth charts
saw moon knots in the eighth house
and again begged them not to do it
the swine screeched
I sent a text to the police on my cell
but they didn’t come to save it
I plunged into despair
blood was splattered all over
I was bewildered
I peed in my pants from fear
I sweated in my red sweater
I spat out my molars which had fallen out
I was full of rage
full of fire
so took a knife
and pierced the SWINE
opened my mouth wide
gulped down the recently deadened meat
!!!!!! saved saved saved saved saved !!!!!!
(without the help of Great God/ Almighty)
Translated by Biljana D. Obradović with the author
Petar Andonovski was born in 1987, in Kumanovo, North Macedonia. He studies general and comparative literature at the Faculty of Philology, at the University of Cyril and Methodius in Skopje. He has published the following books: Mental Space (poetry, 2008), Eyes the Color of Shoes (novel, 2013), The Body One Must Live In (novel 2015), Fear of Barbarians (novel, 2018).
In 2015 his novel The Body One Must Live In won the national award for Novel of the Year. Fear of Barbarians received the 2020 European Union Prize for Literature.
(an excerpt from a novel)
At the beginning of the summer, I was supposed to spend two weeks in the hospital. The last day of the first week, Vlado came and said I was going out earlier. When we got into his car, he took out from the glove compartment before me a white envelope. My name and his were written on it. I was still unable to move my right arm because of the injury. He opened it. He took out two plane tickets from the envelope and put them on my knees.
Had I not fallen off the terrace, what happened later would most probably never have happened. The night the accident happened, Vlado was throwing a party on the occasion of twenty years of his acting career. I was against that party from the very beginning. Vlado did not have a single important role in his career. He always got supporting, meaningless roles. Once he was offered a role in a film. Out of the two hours that the film lasted, he appeared in whole ten seconds. He gathered then all of his friends to celebrate. Vlado loves parties. He uses every occasion to be among people. He enjoys their attention. That’s why he is an actor, most likely. I spent my whole life in the library. First in the reading room, then as a librarian. Reading and writing pieces of criticism was all that gave me pleasure. I was like a shadow to Vlado. I accompanied him everywhere, but no one noticed me. That’s what it was like that night as well. Apart from all of his colleagues and friends, he also invited at the party everyone from the music scene as well as political figures. Vlado loved to hang out with politicians. He is one of those people who are close to every governing structure. People from the opposition can frequently be seen at his parties. He considered that he should always be in good relations with them because when they come to power, you can become their minion more easily. Although I considered this hypocritical, I never told him that. I didn’t have much of an attitude about anything. Not even about the books that I was writing criticism on. I know Vlado considered this to be hypocritical, but never told me that.
That night, at the party, Ivan was present as well. Vlado and I hadn’t mentioned him for more than twenty years. When we saw him on TV, we’d immediately change the channel. Or when one of our friends mentioned him, Vlado would immediately change the subject.
I avoided him all night, as I have all these years. I greeted him and left, just as he left twenty years ago. Without explanation. I felt bitterness at his presence and anger that Vlado didn’t tell me that he was also invited.
I found a shelter in a dark corner of the terrace. The whole city was below me. I stood leaning on a willow whose branches fell over the lights of the city. Apart from a waiter who was passing by with a tray of drinks, no one else approached me. Not even Vlado. That night I was drinking alcohol for the first time after a long while. I wanted it to be over soon. I took from the tray whatever came to my hand. I drank fast until I felt nausea in my stomach. I turned to the fence and started throwing up. And then the darkness just swallowed me. I had a feeling that I was falling on the city. I felt a strong hit on my head. My right arm was tingling. I tried to move my body, but I couldn’t move. At one moment, I no longer felt anything.
I regained my consciousness in the hospital. Fortunately for me, there was another, larger terrace under the one I was standing on, which was from the lower hall. Vlado was standing next to me and looked at me with concern. Ivan was standing behind him. When I saw him, I closed my eyes. I had a feeling that I still wanted to throw up. I didn’t want him to see me in such a state. I wanted to say something, but I was afraid to open my mouth lest I throw up. And then I sank into darkness again.
Vlado wanted us to give ourselves another chance and go together on a trip. That trip was supposed to bring us closer, and therefore decided not to invite any friends with us, as he used to do every summer.
Then, in the beginning of the summer, a few days after I got out of the hospital, we set off on a trip. Him and I. Alone. On the island of C.
Vlado wanted us to spend time alone as much as possible. We didn’t go to the small beach that belonged to the hotel in which we stayed. He considered it would be best to spend the time on a wild beach at the end of the city, far away from any human presence. Vlado rented a car so we wouldn’t have to walk every day. I had the feeling that he prepared this trip for months. He had planned each step we took. He knew what restaurants we should eat in, which beach we should go to, where we should rent a car from. That was unusual for him. All his summers so far were planned by his friends who went with us. He’d always have a pretext that he was very busy, that I’m not good at organizing, and that it would be best for others to plan our trip.
At the wild beach where we went, there were no people, so we didn’t have to use bathing suits. While our naked bodies were laying one next to the other, the only thing we felt was shame. We have been sleeping in separate beds for ten years now. Vlado always comes back too late. Often drunk. He loves to tell how many people came to take a picture of him, how many women and men hit on him. I pretended I was sleeping, but that didn’t stop him from talking. When he comes in, he turns the lights on throughout the whole apartment. When he enters the bedroom he always shouts loudly “goooood eeeeevening”, and then throws his shoes through the room. Often after he undresses, he lays on the bed naked and immediately falls asleep. And I get up to turn off the lights, and then can’t fall asleep for a long time. When I tell him the next morning that I don’t like that behaviour, he starts laughing and asks “did I do that”, “what did I say then”.
Until one evening I started sleeping in the guest room which I only used when Vlado’s parents were visiting us. I listened to him speaking all night, thinking that I was next to him. The following morning during breakfast he asked why I got up so early. He hadn’t even noticed that I was not sleeping by him. I continued sleeping in the guest room the following evenings. And he continued speaking as though I was next to him. He never asked why we no longer slept in the same bed.
When I lay down naked by him on the beach, I felt deep disturbance. How long our bodies have not been next to each other. I felt shame such as when you undress in front of someone for the first time, and you are supposed to spend the evening with him. I didn’t even think about passion, it simply did not belong to us any more. Unlike me, he was tranquil. He undressed calmly and lay down first. When he saw I was still standing, he looked at me in surprise and said “what are you waiting for, undress yourself and lay down”. After I lay down, I couldn’t endure it for long. With an excuse that I was uncomfortable in the sand, I wandered along the sea coast. I collected pebbles or went into the water and swam to a rock, then sat on it and didn’t go back for hours. When I returned, he looked at me confused as if he didn’t even notice I was gone.
I spent the first few days hoping that he’d get bored and he’d wish us to go to the beach by the hotel. We spent the days in the same way. In the morning, after we finished breakfast we went to the beach. He mostly solved crossword puzzles or took a nap. We spent the evenings in one of the taverns. First we had dinner, then we walked along the port until we wanted to go to sleep.
For the first ten days since arrived on C., our relationship not only failed to change, but even that little communication that used to have was lost in the past days. He, as I, most probably thought that this trip was a mistake.
The eleventh day after breakfast Vlado said that on that day we’d go on the beach near the hotel. He didn’t surprise me at all. He went alone in order to find place on the deck chairs, and I returned to the room to get the necessary things. I shortly hesitated before the pile of books that I brought with us, and which were not even touched, just as our relationship. Among them was Ivan’s new novel. I knew I wouldn’t read it in Vlado’s presence. I read his books at work. I usually did that during the break, when everyone went out, I locked myself and read. I never read them at home, not even when Vlado was on a business trip. The last drawers of the table I work at is where I keep his books. I never write pieces of criticism about them. You can’t be objective about a person who means a lot to you in life. I reluctantly took a book which was on top of the file and put it in the bag.
Vlado was standing by a bar, hugging two children, and a woman was taking a photo of them. He was smiling. He smiles only when you praise him. His hair was messy, his white shirt unbuttoned on his chest, and he had a pipe although he doesn’t smoke. When he tells of something important, or at least he thinks it’s important, as he mostly does, he puts the pipe in his mouth, half closes one eye and looks somewhere far away with the other. In this way, even when he says something meaningless, he leaves the impression on others that he is saying something profound. And when he wants to express a certain point, he opens the eye, and looks at everyone separately with eyes wide open, and after observing everyone, he comes to the point. Then everyone is nodding, and he contently says “and now, let’s have another glass of wine”.
When he saw me standing on the side, he let the children go and called me to join them. These are Nita India and Mila India, he pointed at the two girls who were twins. Nita India stretched her hand in order to greet me, and then quickly withdraw it, looking at her sister. Mila India was looking at me as though she didn’t notice me, and a few seconds later she also gave me her hand. She held me tight and wouldn’t let go. Although they were the same, there was something that made them different. I was looking at her curiously while everyone was looking at me. The mother pulled her toward herself, and then she let go of my hand. Vlado decided to put an end to the awkward situation and waving in the air the hand in which he was holding the pipe, he said “and this… and this…” and he took the mother’s hand and said “this is their beautiful mother Ilinka Indira”. Ilinka Indira smiled with false shyness and looked at him seductively. “She and her husband are from Macedonia, they have lived on the island for several years now.” – Vlado said. I was silent. I didn’t want any new acquaintances. Least of all did I want Macedonians on the island who would recognize Vlado and run after him all the time. “Look, look, doesn’t Ilinka Indira look like the widow of Zorba the Greek. Look how much she looks like Irene Papas.” Whenever he gave complements to women, that’s what he said. Indira Ilinka joined her hands and bowed to him.
She really did look like Irene Papas. She had natural dark tan, but there was something infinitely false in the salvar she was wearing, in the green eyes that I was certain were lenses, all the way to the chain bangle on the ankle of her right leg, which jangled every time she moved.
Indira Ilinka looked at the Sun and, surprised, shouted “Oooo… ten o’clock already. It’s time for me to go. But we’ll meet tonight as agreed in At three blue boats. Then she turned to me and with her hands joined together she bowed. Then she turned to Vlado and, while she was bowing, winked at him. Nita India waved at us, and Mila India was looking at us baffled, as if she sees us for the first time.
I was angry at Vlado all day long. I wanted to tell him so many things, but I didn’t have the courage to do so. I wanted to tell him that the greatest mistake was that, on the day he invited me to move to his place, when Ivan left our lives forever, I accepted and decided to stay there forever. As well as the day in the car when I should have told him I didn’t want to go with him on any trip.
The crowd and the music on the beach created additional anxiety in me. He lay all day on the deck chair. Occasionally he’d lift himself a bit and look around to see if anyone was watching him. He didn’t mention Indira Ilinka or the children at all.
Vlado got a job in the theatre several months after I moved to his place. At that time, I was working for a year at the University Library. In the beginning, I was providing for him. He was greatly troubled that he had to depend on me financially. He was always very proud, and therefore often reiterated that it was natural for the artists to be without money. After he started working, he never mentioned that. Even once when a journalist asked him how long we had lived together, he said that in the beginning of our relationship I hadn’t had a job and I had lived in a rented flat, so he had proposed that I moved in his place. “Nothing romantic,” he added in order to avoid additional questions. He knew I’d never tell it wasn’t like that.
He was never a favourite among the colleagues and directors. Ever since the first year he started working in the theatre, Vlado rarely gets parts, and when he does, it is usually a supporting role. He was always saying that they didn’t give him any significant roles because of vanity and jealousy. That’s how he passed the first ten years of his career. And then, one night there was a great change. In a TV show, a well-known journalist called the theatre where Vlado works to ask for his phone number. The journalist wanted to invite in the show another actor who is also a famous comedian, and who also happens to be called Vlado. When Vlado appeared in the show that evening, it was too late to correct the mistake. The journalist saw him for the first time in his life. In order to avoid the fact that he wasn’t prepared for the interview, he told him to imitate someone. Vlado felt this was an excellent opportunity to do something in his career. That night he imitated a politician who was considered to be untouchable. The show became very popular. The journalist suggested that he imitates a politician in every show. Then they started inviting him to the theatres in other towns. Even the politician himself mentioned in an interview that he was imitated so well that he couldn’t get angry. And then came the film in which he briefly appears, and Vlado used his popularity to attract the attention with those ten seconds. His popularity reached such a level that people were laughing even when he didn’t say anything funny.
Translated by: Kalina Maleska
Flogerta Krypi is born in a small village of Tirana, in 14 July 1993. She is the first born of a family with five kids. Her father is a police officer and her mother a dressmaker. When she was seven years old her family moved in Tirana, where she got educated. Her connection with literature started since she was a kid. She wrote her first poem eleven years old and never stopped writing, even though she has finished her studies in Finance Accounting.
She is the Executive Director of the NGO “I choose to change the world”, which has organized many literature projects. She found two book clubs, “New Pen”, who supports new writers in Albania and “The Republic of Books”, where she gives reviews for books she reads. She can speak fluently English, German, Spanish, Italian and some Turkish.
She started with publishing in a small publishing house a collection of poems “Waiting for you” which she wrote during nine years and after a year she published her first novel “The tracks of the nameless shadow”. The novel got positive reviews from the critics and was well accepted among readers. In a few months she published her second novel “A promise in the last kiss”, a romance. In 2015 she published the sequel of her first novel “A promise carved into the sky”.
After facing a lot of problems because of denouncing corruption she decided to move in Germany, when she currently living. For three years she never stopped writing and in the Book Fair 2018 after an agreement with Argeta Publishing House she published her new book with two short novels called “Everything around nothing”. Her work got awarded from the Association of Publishers in Albania, when she took the Encouragement Price for New Writers with the motivation “For her originality in the description of humanity”. Now she is working with her next book “Arthropods”, a book with three short novels; the spider, The Hospital 256, a post office for death.
In January 2020 she was chosen “Person of the year” for 2019 in Albania from Radio Travel for her project of donating books to primary and high schools. She has reconstructed eleven school libraries since 2015 with her personal funds.
The Spider – PREFACE
When I decided to rent this house, the landlord explained to me that the contract included the room where I would live, the toilet, the balcony, my bedroom, and a spider. I listened in silence and made no comment. I am a financial officer. I know that when I am negotiating economic matters, as a client I should speak as little as possible and ask only about the risks that the agreement may involve. Each comment gives the other party an opportunity to have more arguments for selling their product. So, the fact that he specified the existence of the spider left me wondering whether I should ask for more. I had never heard of such an element, and just as I was about to question his importance in the contract we were to sign, he hastily added:
-You don’t have to worry about the spider. He comes tomorrow. He stays only three months, from June to late August, because of the heat and then he leaves. He usually stays in the shower cabin or in the bathtub, so move him with style when you have to use any of the two.
I was about to if he was poisonous, but while I was considering his argument, I did not find the question necessary. All in all, he specified the duration, the reason, the cause, and the place of stay. He might be poisonous, but this does not mean that he would bite me. Every deal has its downsides, and if they come to happen – my bad luck.
-He is silent. With that, he ended the discussion on the spider and went straight to the question whether I would take the house because there were other people asking for it. I didn’t make it long. I said I liked the apartment; it was close to my work and the price was reasonable for the space and the conditions it provided. The agreement was concluded with a signature from both sides, a security payment in case of any incurred damage, and the handing out of the keys. I moved in the next day, the same day as the spider. It was the first of June and since that day my life changed radically. Such days are forewarned by the signs that existence itself gives you, but I have never been given to these things. They seemed excessive and sometimes as excuses that people used to feel good about their failed lives.
The only thing that struck me was how I would spend my days with the spider. Generally, I am e loner. I have tried several types of cohabitation and none have worked so far. Perhaps due to the fact that I’m a woman full of dichotomies when it comes to sharing my world with others. I feel misunderstood, unread and above all unappreciated for what I represent. I don’t know if this is because I was born ugly, but to be honest I have always felt comfortable. What I mean is that women like me are naturally ugly, others are artificially beautiful, so at this point, inferiority to them doesn’t exist. I feel bad if I’m less intelligent than those around me, but the last thing that impresses me is my appearance. Perhaps that’s why I wasn’t so curious about my new cohabitant, but I resented him without even meeting him. He will not be paying anything for sharing the apartment with me, although to be honest, living in a shower cabin is not that interesting.
The first day I didn’t even meet him. I just sorted out my stuff and went to bed. I love water, but I take a shower only once in forty-eight hours. I go to the bathroom once in the morning and once in the evening for my needs. Our first official meeting took place on the third day of my moving in. I saw him standing on the shower head by the bathtub. That day I did not intend to take a bath, so I did not speak to him at all and went straight to the shower. After I took a shower, I noticed that the spider was in the same place. I didn’t bother to say good night. I just turned off the bathroom light and laid down. I usually fell asleep with wet hair and woke up with a bunch of curls. This was one of few things I complained about. If I had a normal hair, I would probably be less ugly.
My life had taken a normal course. Probably because I was far from anyone I knew, and I knew no one would turn their head to see me. No one was going to talk to me, and I really liked that. That’s how I’ve always been. I even didn’t talk a lot to the two men I had lived with. Daily life comments about work and perhaps some planned trips for the weekend would usually suffice.
It’s not that I don’t like to talk, but I often think that my words are gone with the wind. I have never met anyone who really wants to hear my thoughts from beginning to end. Perhaps because all my conversations revolve around books, death and loneliness. I am hopeless when it comes to other topics. I don’t even dare to talk to myself often because I don’t want others to think I’m crazy. No one would hire such a person.
When I took a second shower at my new home, I was forced to ask the spider to move because he was already in the cabin. I told him he could stay in the bathtub, I rarely used it really, so he wouldn’t bother me there. He remained silent. I don’t think he even took my warning seriously. The moment I stepped into the cabin and turned on the tap, he got scared and climbed through the glass to get out. He went to the bathtub, the same place as the first time. As the water poured on me, I saw that he was moving something with his feet. He was playing with a thin chain which was hung to the stopper used to drain the bathtub. I laughed to myself.
-Move, I said. Don’t worry about me. You don’t bother me.
He raised his antennas and moved his head once again. Then he started to play with the stopper again. I didn’t understand why.
When I went to sleep, I had a strange dream. It was as if the spider was sleeping next to me. He had wrapped his pillow in white powder and had fallen asleep. It didn’t look like a dream. It looked like some memory, from a life that didn’t belong to me, but I was in it.
When I woke up, I looked around, everything was in place, like the night before. I went to the bathroom and the spider was standing there. He had wrapped the black stopper around him and was sitting on it, as if he were sleeping. I brushed my teeth and let him rest. He laughed. Who knows what he was dreaming about! I could tell by the way he stood on the stopper. I noticed his ankle joints, antennae and his eyes. Unlike me I think he felt accepted, calm and appreciated in his dream. The serenity of peace gave such an impression. I left him alone. In our day and age, sleeping peacefully is a luxury that few people have.
-Everything fine? – I asked him while I was getting ready to leave for work.
-I’m thinking, the spider replied coldly.
-I was thinking about ugly women.
-Have you met any lately? – I said turning to him.
-Ugly women are everywhere and I’m not just talking about their appearance. No. They are ugly in every way, in the way they look, the way they dress. They are beings without a portrait. Their souls are filled with jealousy, wickedness, and ignorance. They are empty. You can see in their eyes the absence of a heart, or blood flowing in their veins. Women who produce hatred. You can feel it in the air around them. Everything is vague, scary. You don’t feel like touching them. It is as if you’re getting in touch with cancer itself. They don’t know how to do anything. They don’t know how to work. They have no sense of humor, they laugh for no reason, going after other people just to not feel alone.
The spider stopped talking and looked at her cohabitant. F.K. turned to him as if wanting to continue the interrupted dialogue.
-You are right. They have no personality, or joy in their souls. They would sleep with any man, no matter if he was fat, ugly, criminal, because they are aware that a man with reason would not dare to touch them. They would do anything to feel desired. Women who have no self-respect. No. They would ruin families, because for them this word does not make sense. If any of them has children, you could see how much they hate them. They blame them for the cruelty of their lives. Is it because they were born that everything went to hell? But there are moments when they repent. These are rare moments and that is because they fear they will be alone forever.
The spider listened silently and added.
-You are right. They are everywhere. Sometimes they are in front of you. If you ever meet such a woman, get out of there. There is nothing more horrible than being with a woman that no one wants.
F.K smiled. She finished dressing up and left without saying goodbye to the spider. His words remained in her mind throughout the day. She worked very little that day because she was looking around to see if she would find such a woman or a man. Of course, the other side is not be excluded. But the ugly men were even worse. Because a woman would put a little make up and look decent, an ugly man would be just that. Insecurity, lack of self-confidence appeared in every inch of their being and this made their reality even more disgusting. So, there are ugly people in this world. They are everywhere, sometimes you can be one of them.
A mailbox for death – PREFACE
Ever since F.K. came to life and became aware of her existence, her father informed her that she should not rejoice too much in the idea of breathing. There was nothing beautiful or interesting in this whole process, for one simple reason. She would die. No one knew when or how, but it was certain that death would come to take her to its bosom. There was no need to be sad, because it was a tax imposed the moment one is conceived in this world. Such a fate was billed to every living thing in this world, including F.K.
Such words would frighten any child or at least cause them anxiety about the future, but it did not bring any change in her life. She behaved as if death would never come to her or to the people around her. To some extent she considered it a lie told loudly by adults, to scare children before they go to sleep. Of course, this was not a normal behavior for a parent. What kind of father is he whose first conversation with his daughter is about death?
F.K would surely answer “one of the types of fathers to be found in the universe”. Taking her word for granted, so as not to create any prejudice about the man who brought her to life, we can say that F.K’s father was a man who lived every day as if it were his last and did not worry about anything. He led a completely illogical life, accompanied by a pronounced dose of irony about people who were very concerned about work, paying taxes, or the importance of raising a child.
Their whole life together went awful, but apart from the neighbors’ calling the police every time he broke anything, no one else bothered. They wouldn’t actually bother were it not for the sake of the little girl. They came to Utai when F.K was only four years old. The running away of his wife did not impress anyone. And who wouldn’t want to run away from such a man?
The father and daughter life went on at the same pace until one day the least expected happened. Death came to her father and took him away, while F.K was left alone, in a half-ruined house, where every drop of rain got in as if there was no roof. That day something changed inside her. Death took a form, a portrait, a dark reflection, for which she could not find an explanation. She was fourteen years old. Her mother abandoned her at birth. Nobody liked her. No child her age in the neighborhood approached her. At school she had very poor results and as a result, she led her whole life with a man who thought that every day was his last day, but it is not that he would go out to seek death. He stayed at home waiting for it. He did some small work here and there, enough to have something to drink and nothing else. No one cooked in their house. They did not know what it meant to have an organized life, and worst of all they did not bathe because they had been cut off from water supply for a long time.
F.K grew up alone, at the mercy of the people around her, who spared a slice of bread and a plate of food for her. At times, she would express her gratitude by helping them with something they needed, but it’s not that this thing brought them any positive feelings. It was just some kind of tax one had to pay. She hated school, not because she had any specific assignments or readings. She just couldn’t stand her teachers. Most seemed unprepared and she always ridiculed them. For this, she would get poor results, but while her father didn’t care, why should she? She was a child brought to life with no specific purpose. She breathed until the day death came to take her. This was enough for her and she never asked for more. What happened between the breathing and its end was an insignificant process that sooner or later would be given a name by everyone. Some called it life, others called it opportunities to discover yourself and as for F.K it was just a big spider web which would be torn at some point.
Ward 256 – PREFACE
The universe is a web of energy scattered in infinite directions without any purpose of existence in itself. From every spot thousands of threads surge looking for power to fill the void. Their infinity creates tangles, and the tangle gave birth to the only species that can survive in this quagmire, the arthropods. Species divided into two simple categories, predator and prey. At least that’s how it’s always been. But what if the prey decides not to be part of the web anymore? Will the system be able to keep only predators in it? What if the predator is also a prey? What if the pray is also a predator?
This is a simple story of arthropods looking to discover their identity. To understand this occurrence, you only need the following information. Don’t feel bad about anything you read. The curse is mutual, so it is not right for me and others like me to be the only ones to know this information. I apologize in advance for the dissolution of this web. It is not in my mental capacity to control this information. Perhaps it won’t be in your capacity either. So long!
Location: Country of Truth
Population: 250.006 inhabitants
Composition of the parliament: Twenty-seven Geniusships
Parliamentary elections: Every four years
Head of State: His Godship
Participation in the last elections: 250.005 inhabitants
Age at birth: Four years old
Right to vote: From birth
The most serious crime: Suicide
State Hospital: Insignificant remnants after The Great War
Border line: Iron curtain
Neighborhood: The insignificant
Division of population strata:
1. His Godship
2. Geniusship 7. Murderers of Faith
3. Bankship 6. Dependence of Thought
4. The Janitor 5. The Uncountable
5. The Head Nurse 4. The Unnamed
6. The Director 3. The Sensed
7. The Guard 2. The Historians
8. The Blessed People 1. Ward 256
It was the first day of autumn when an unusual notice came to my office, which terrified us all. It was shorter than all the other notices, but I believe it was due to its compromising nature. For the first time since the opening of the “Hospital of the Insignificant”, in “Ward 256” there had been no patients. I was shocked when I read it. I don’t know what terrified me more. The fact that in our country there were still crazy people of this category or that we would have to deal with such a dangerous man.
What scared me the most in the letter sent was the lack of information about the patient. It read briefly:
“The citizen named “Patient 256” to be sent to “Ward 256″‘. It is important that the transfer of this individual is made only by the most trusted people of the hospital director. She will be fed three times a day, will drink water five times a day and can only go to toilet twice. She is not to be brought out in the afternoon to mix with others. She is more different than the different”.
I reread the letter, but my fears grew even more. All the while I was thinking that the patient, we were waiting for was a man. All those belonging to this category were men. When I read the notice, I was frightened even more by the idea that for the first time this ward would open for a woman. Not that other wards were not previously opened for women, but usually they ended up in other wards associated with their role in society.
I stopped thinking. I wasn’t paid to think. I was paid to carry out the orders from above. I called the head nurse, the guard and the janitor of Ward 256, who is the hospital’s first employee. I briefly informed them that for the first time after The Great War, a patient would come to our hospital in the forbidden ward. For a moment none of them made any specific reaction although I felt some kind of liquid desire to know more. After I gave them proper instructions, I was asked to keep this between us because our country had entrusted us with a madman of this nature, unlike everyone else, and we had to study this as a good opportunity to find answers. They left without asking questions, waiting for the day of her arrival.
From the day the notice came I knew it would be a nuisance for us. I just didn’t understand at the time what they meant by “she is different from the different”. Different patients had different diagnoses, but I could not imagine why our country had sent her to this ward. I gave up the questions. I did not deal with this issue at all and waited for her to come and find out what was wrong with her.
THE HEAD NURSE
When the director of the hospital gave us the news that the first patient was coming to my favorite ward that day since after The Great War, I felt good. We all know this is a special sector in our hospital, but no one knows why. It is assumed that “different” patients will be hospitalized here, but I do not know what could be different from what I had seen. The hospital is divided into seven main wards according to their importance.
The first ward is the “Murderers of Faith.“ These are all patients who have lost faith in our country. Losing faith in its power and claiming that there is something greater than us on this earth is the most pathetic thing one can ever think, let alone say it out loud. This is the “Country of Truth” which lifted the iron curtain. It protects us from the war and the horrible life that others have outside our borders. It protects us from all evil. It follows that those who have lost faith in our country do not believe in themselves. People who do not believe that their power is directly related to that of their country are weak people. The link that needs to be eliminated from society in order not to infect others with their empty and meaningless thoughts. This is the most populated ward, to be honest. Despite the perfect genes of our nation, after the war some of the women and men of other countries had stayed here leaving us their genetically flawed cells. Unfortunately, these genes ended up in the fertilization plant and these are the results.
The second ward is called “Dependence of Thought“. This ward is about as populated as the previous one, but here are all those patients who are genetically flawed. They depend on their thoughts and believe that thanks to these thoughts we can build a more perfect world. They even consider themselves more intelligent than the rest of the country and often claim that if anyone had listened to them, this hospital would no longer exist.
The third ward where I started my career hosts “The Unnamed“. They don’t have a specific character. Although the number of patients in this ward is relatively small, it is very difficult to cope with them. They have a problem that I still don’t know how to solve. They see things that the rest of us can’t see. So they say, because of course we know there is no such thing. They believe that there is a series of sounds that intertwine with one another and create divine music. And these are very close to us. This is their madness. Of course, I know that the only music that exists is what we hear every day when we sing the anthem of our country.
The fourth ward hosts the “The Uncountable”.The patients in this ward are even crazier. They believe that in this world numbers have a function and there are more numbers than the number one thousand. We all know that this is the last number on earth, but they fight like crazy to prove they’re right. They claim that we do not know how to count, that is why we do not understand them. The words they repeat the most are:
“There are 999 units in our country with 250 inhabitants each, and the last unit with 256 inhabitants. This means that there are numbers greater than one thousand, and of course the last unit is the most special because it has six more inhabitants. These are us. Don’t you understand?” They even say with conviction that there is a science in the world called “mathematics” and that it is the most perfect thing in the world, even more perfect than us. Meaningless logic. I deal very little with these. They are very aggressive and we don’t take them out.
In the fifth ward there are only five patients. Very soon only four will remain because one of them is very old. They are called the “The Sensed.” The unit of measurement of their existence is feeling. They have different feelings from us. We can feel mostly cold, fear, anxiety, irritability and nervousness, but other feelings are also part of our program. According to them, there are other feelings in the world. Things like love, friendship, respect and gratitude. We used to laugh because these feelings do not exist and do not make sense according to the logic of any of us. They get food on iron plates. One day they will say that even iron has feelings. They are mad. They also have another uncontrollable genetic problem. They can dream. They said that when they talk, they often see visions with open eyes. They see dreams. They even predict the future.
The sixth ward hosts the “Historians“. These are the funniest of all. They believe that our country has had a different political approach in the past. They believed that we have another version of history that no one has told us and even we are part of this history. They say that world is still out there, but we are not allowed to look at it. According to them, our ancestors were people many times smarter than us, but most of them died during “The Great War”. This is how they call it. In our history it is just a war. In our perfect educational system, we have the history book of our nation, the most powerful nation in the world. It was written by our country and no one is smart enough to discuss “state affairs.”
The last ward, the seventh one, which is being populated for the first time since the War, is the most undeciphered of all. Unlike all the wards that have names, this one has a number – “Ward 256“. It is separated from all the other wards and no one enters except the janitor and the guard, who are not able to give many details about the ward. It’s just a room with a toilet. There is no yard, trees, belongings or bed. It is all painted black, even the window glass of the ceiling. It is a perfect seven-meter cuboid room with only a small toilet compartment. Unlike all other wards, which have one thing in common. They are not allowed to see their feces. For this reason, this process takes place only during the time set by the country and in our presence.
I have never seen the seventh ward. These are the details that the doctor who designed the room explained to me. He was the Minister of Health in our country and happens to be my father as well. This is the specific reason why I was chosen as the caretaker of “Ward 256“. Only perfect families like us can save our almighty country from being different. They are genetic mutations which unfortunately remained here after the war. And yet we managed to isolate them the day we opened the “Insignificant” hospital, the thousandth unit of our state.
Translated by Qerim Ondozi
Vladimir Arsenić (1972) was awarded M. A. in Comparative Literature by the University of Tel Aviv and M.A. in Literary Theory by the University of Belgrade. He is a staff writer of the Serbian web portal xxzmagazin.com and the Croatian web portal booksa.hr. He has published articles in portals, journals and magazines such as Beton, Quorum, pescanik.net, proletter.me and versopolis.com. He has acted as a mentor within the project Criticize this! In collaboration with Srđan Srdić he conducts Hila creative writing workshop, and co-owns publishing house Partizanska knjiga. He is a regular contributor to the literary festival Cum grano salis in Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina and is a member of the Bosnian PEN Center. His texts have been translated into English, Albanian and Slovenian. He translates from English and Hebrew. He is a member of the editorial board of the literary magazine Ulaznica issued in Zrenjanin, Serbia. In 2019. his first book of collected essay on Montenegrian literature The Ethics of Narration has been published. He is a Tottenham Hotspur FC fan.
Dasa Drndic and the post-truth politics
It is self obvious fact that we are living in post-truth world. The very notion designates that the truth is in a way unobtainable, that it is somehow beyond our reach, and not only because it is hidden, or mysterious, but by a simple fact that there are instances which are very much concerned with putting the factual truth out of our sight. Factual truth, the one that can be crosschecked through evidence, and put under scrutiny of proofs is nowadays very often changed with the post-truth, the emotional one with which the power and the community are blackmailing its subordinates and/or memebers. For instance, if you are a Serbian citizen it would be expected of you not to talk about the genocide, but about mass murder and organized crimes of large proportions that had happened in the region of Srebrenica in July of 1995., in spite of the International Court of Justice ruling from 2007. This appeal is emotional in several reasons. Firstly, because one wouldn’t like to connect ones homeland with most disgusting crimes. Secondly, by doing so one would endanger Serbian prosperity because the state would have to pay compensation. Finally, the role of the government would be investigated, and that would not be nice for everyone was involved one way or the other, actively or passively. So unless you are very interested in facing the past and finding out what really happened and one can do that rather easy, you will accept the official interpretation of the truth, the one served through the official media in Serbia, the emotional one, the post-truth that stands instead the factual truth.
Serbia is not unique example. Quite the contrary, the whole world is drowned in post-truth poltics and that is yesterdays news. But what is the role of the literature in these circumstances since the truthfulness of art according to Aristotle’s Poetics is universal, and not particular. To quote: „But they differ in this, that the one speaks of things which have happened, and the other of such as might have happened. Hence, poetry is more philosophic, and more deserving of attention, than history. For poetry speaks more of universals, but history of particulars.“ Let me argue that it could be exactly the field in which we might look for reinvention of the role of literature in todays society, in which the media are corrupted and particularized and vulgarized, and the social networks are taking over the space of public debate which is, in turn, becoming exactly like them, according to old McLuhan’s teaching – medium is the message. It is very personal, very non argumented, and very emotionally intense – one could not expect anything else from Twitter or Facebook. The factual truth, on the other hand, should not be like that – it should be objective, proved, measured, and calm.
The field of literature is changing. Or to be precise it has changed forever right after the invention of internet. The times are fast and furious, they can not stand anything that takes time. And literature does take. A lot. But that is why there is a chance to be calm and objective, and measured, and proved. One can put into literature things that once should have been in media. Of course not in the same way, not by turning fiction or poetry into newspapers, or opinion pieces, but exactly by being truthful. I know it sounds silly, but let me give you an example.
One of the most acclaimed Croatian authors abroad is Daša Drndić. Her novels have been translated into more than 20 languages and received very positive critical response all over Europe and in the States. But she have not won any important literary award in her homeland. She had been shortlisted several times but that os all. One may ask why, and the only truth is that she is writing about things that are not very pleasent for the ears of those in power. She is writing without any restraint about the rise of clericalism, nationalism, very harsh and rude capitalism, in other words about the things that are occuring in Croatia and elsewhere in the Balkans and Europe. She is not dealing with any emotional truth as one would expect from the point of view of literature, and not with, or not only with the things that might have happened, but with very specific and precise truths about some of the crimes that had happened during the nazi or ustaša regime. That simply means that her novels are well documented and subjected to research that led to the construction of the plot. For her books are novels in the strict sense of the word, they are fictious, the protagonists are not historical characters, but the scenery and historical circumstances are thoroughly researched. Daša Drndić has readership and no one can deny her success, but the establishment is silent because they are concened with the post-truth poltics. She and the likes are not welcomed in todays Croatia in which, as in Serbia, the role of partisan movement in the Second world war is questioned, murderers and war criminals are restored, and factual truth about our past and present is very often blurred and changed with the emotional one.
Daša Drndić’s work is just an example for what I am proposing here – a slight change of roles. Because they usurped the media, we should turn back to literature, to art as conveyors, among other things, of factual truth. It is not as fast as the internet, radio, TV channels or even newspapers, but there is another advantage, it lasts forever.
Translated by the author, edited by Ana Schnabl.
Natasha Sardzoska (Skopje, 1979), poet, writer, essayist, literary translator, interpreter (FR, IT, ES, EN, PT, CA), anthropologist, has lived in many European cities, among which Milan, Lisbon, Paris, Brussels, Stuttgart. She holds a PhD in anthropology from the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen, Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris and University of Bergamo. She is Affiliated researcher at the Center for Advanced Studies South East Europe in Rijeka in Croatia and Assistant professor at the Institute for Anthropology and Ethnology in Skopje.
She has published the poetry books Blue Room, Skin, He pulled me with invisible string, Living Water, Coccyx, essays, short novels and stories. She has published poetry books in the USA, Italy, Kosovo and her poems are translated in more than 15 languages in various international anthologies and literary reviews. She has translated more than 50 authors from Italian, French, Portuguese, Catalan and Spanish languages, among which: Pasolini, Saramago, Carnerio, Montale, Boyunga, Margarit, Sanguineti, and others. She has won the prize from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Italy for best translation of the book Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi. She attended the literary and translation residency in the Institute Ramon Llull in Barcelona.
Her poetry readings are with performative and interactive character, combining vocal experiments, music and dance. She has performed at many international poetry festivals and literary venues: Ars Poetica Festival in the National Gallery of Bratislava: International Poetry Festival in Genova in the Palazzo Ducale; in the Museum Revoltella in Trieste; at the Macedonian Cultural Center in Sofia; at the Academy of Arts in Berlin within the Poetry Festival of Berlin; at the Sha’ar International Poetry Festival in Tel Aviv performing with sax, contrabass and contemporary dance in Yaffa Arab-Hebrew theatre; as well as many literary readings across many cities in the Balkans (Belgrade, Plav, Tirana, Rijeka, Struga etc.)
In Skopje with the French Institute she organized the poetic soirée Les rivages de l’exil for the francophone poetry on exile; with the Italian Embassy in Skopje the Italian poetic-musical evening Il vino è la poesia della terra where she has performed poems in Italian language; and the poetry reading For a World Without Walls in collaboration with the International Poetry Festival of Medellin. Her poem Doll on Strings has been published in English and Spanish in the International Poetry Anthology against child abuse. She is part of the European poetry platform Versopolis.
Her poetry intertwines sensuality, reminiscence of the flesh, exposes inner pain, exile, homelessness and reveals spiritual freshness. Her poetic memory has performative character capturing the dramaturgy of the chamber space of the human existence.
TREE OF WINTER
Cold fire in the forest
Rough rinds on the edge of this window
I see, I burst shivering without thinking
in a burning interzone
That restores me and glows and wriggles my bones my womb
And yelps without my name without your recognition
A fish from a northern sea
You give me
Grasp of wheat and you spit a bit of wine in my mouth
You are my race, my unease
uprooted dry layers
LACE AROUND YOUR EYES
Four men in you I saw
And when you came in I felt you were searching for me
And everybody shut up and the world around fall apart
And all movement turned slow and blind
The clock was beating with the sound of a home
Green leafs and red female tongues were burning
Hungry for your thirst you pulled up my head
With a silk string you pulled me proud to you
All those women that made you lonely reached me
Grasping my feet
But my hamstrings and cartilage were bursting into pieces
And my ankles were calling you voiceless
I do not understand why this night washes me away as wine
From where you are yowling elegantly and softly
You eject a wolf cry weaved with opal
You hit me with your tongue through your open leg
I am not afraid that I will not have you
Nor do I go away from your exit gate
I have thrown on your eyes a veil weaved with my hair
So you can see me better in the middle of a burning forest
A nomad lost in the void of his own sea
I pronounce mutely your name
I call inclement your skin
I caress you slowly in my mouth
Beauty deeper than all sensual thoughts art you
Dark knight bewildering white horses
Soft node leather rein translated into rhythm
You are coming from distant cities powerful
You are swelling down the boulevards deaf for any other luxurious inquietude
You are expelling sparkles underneath your leather shoes
While you are boiling steaming in the coffee cups of my silver mornings a
A balcony red wine raw meat and livid sunset you sip in me
whirlwind pine trees
in my womb
DOLL ON STRINGS
Walking down the blacktop
While wild rabbits are screaming in boiling water
And at each step I take I inhale blood
fragile leaves in a Japanese garden are caressing my lips
while I am laying down in the gush of blood and thousands of bewildered flowers
flowing in my hair
You and I
Tokyo and Home
Incalculable steps of the flesh
And again those animals are screaming as if they were the forgotten pot of boiling
And I wash your feet so you can lie down underneath my skin
To become a city like any other city that we walked
And we did not know
And we did not know each other
And we did not know
When all those energies were fermenting in us as in bewildered rabbits
slaughtered but alive in the vertiginous water
The tongues of the dead kites to tell us to tell you
I am here
I follow you from each airport pathway and I know when I hear your name
It is music with unknown rhythm
And nobody knows that music
But I tremble from your gaze and I lost my voice when you came to me
And my skin was becoming darker after each bewildered step that you were taking
towards my chests
Growing nipples burning lips in winter
I knew we were one same city one same shadow one same rain and same skin
And the night before I met you I was crying like a child because all crazy plans crashed
And before you came in the Japanese garden
In me I could hear screaming all the slaughtered animals
And I was growing shamelessly mute
With open legs underneath you
As a layer of fertile wheat in your overwhelming whispering
humble and perverted
you arise above the eradicated overcoats of the purple passion
ONE SAME CITY
Something begin to grow and beat
Unclear and innocent
While we were drinking wine with strange girls
I could hear you smiling in the rhythm of an African candombe
When they serve you with a glass of wine
I weave myself around one moment imprisoned in confused kernels
I spit seeds
I stay awake at every dawn to feel your beats
How can one fear to grasp the night and then to throw it away?
The violet flowers with morning dew and the mad recalcitrance were not enough?
Leave I cannot
I come to you without knowing if this path has an end
But I know wild berries are flowing in my blood
And I weave a spider’s nest with black spit
A layer of tiny boats
is your promise to me
when you are not here
you are present as never
and your silence is hurting
louder than a cup of black tea breaking through the white wall
you are in my kernels a fish bone valves interstices in between my teeth
black sperm on someone else high heels
night porter that knows all my secrets
strange angel that does not talk but says it all
that on this soil someone else’s blood is boiling
I close the venetian blinds
And the closet full with socks so sad miserable and weak
Reflections of this and each and every city
Where we are not but we could
We could, but in this world there should be a balance
Blood and vein that explode
And all those violins should promise peace
And you will take a bow
And your head will bend down
As if you were sucking blood from a finger
As if you were soaking up
As if you were pulling out a nail from alive meat
IN THE RHYTHM OF HIS HEART
I got air stuck in my throat at each alarm signal
because you strangled me.
You came into my dream secretly
You twisted my spatial dimensions
You pulled me as a servant to your decision
You thread me in your leg
You stamp a burn-mark against evil thoughts
You discovered me in the middle of the screaming mouths and evil eyes
You slip me up as a woolen sock in the middle of war times
I was shambling around your neck like a goat on a hill
Very lonely chewing wild grass cracking my teeth
And I am holding on my vision and my breath in one fixed point every time I see you
You are splashing around vertiginous cognitions
And so I stopped counting down the illusions
And as an act of rebellion I decided to miss all my flights
To wait, to grow my hair pale, to darken my skin
To impel myself as a hyena on your sex
Translated by the author, edited by Sinead McMorrow
Iztok Vrenčur (1985) was born and grow up in Titovo Velenje, town renown for coal mining and heavy industry located in the central-north Slovenia, part of former Yugoslavia. After Gymnasium, he moved to Ljubljana, where he studied Archaeology. He continued his postgraduate research at Filozofski fakultet Zagreb and Freie Universität Berlin and defended PhD work focused on Iron Age Archaeology of Eastern Alps and Balkans in 2018. He published two novels: Odrekanje svetlobi (2013) and Urnebes (2016); several pieces of short stories, poetry and an illustrated book of archaeological fairytales for children. He’s singer and guitarist for 2nd bsx murder.
Father’s voice is muted as if he has just woken up. It can often happen that the whole family glides into a collective dream. I suspect my parent is drunk again and is calling me without even knowing the real reason. This is always happening. A lot of my mornings are ruined like this. But now I get the impression my father knows what he’s talking about, though he’s not sober. He asks:
“How quickly can you come?”
“What are you talking about?”
“About speed, my son. It’s all about the day and what we make of it, before the night falls and everything goes to hell again. So, how quickly?”
“I have to wake up first.”
“You can wake up later. Or as far as I’m concerned never if you want. A quick reaction is what I need now.”
“Oh, it is?”
“Very much so. Don’t be stiff, please, just come running, do as your father asks!”
“So I won’t brush my teeth, I’ll just wash my face, I won’t drink my coffee, just a glass of water, and I’ll be there.”
“That’s the word, son. You’re the pride of the family.”
“Am I really?”
“Definitely. Our only pride. There’s no other. So, you’re coming?”
“On my way, dad.”
“Great. You know where to find me. Try to make it before dawn.”
I know where to find him. How do I know that? How can a man know anything at all? It’s freezing cold. I see the world in a negative. The remains of the snow are black patches. It could be an evening or a morning – there’s fog everywhere and everything’s grey. There’s no real light yet. A walk down a macadam road. By the stream. Crabs are whistling quietly. Like the voices in your head, humming slowly; they’re difficult to hear. I whistle myself and answer them with their own melody. The creaking of boots on limy gravel reminds me of walking.
A black Mercedes with open windows drives down the road. Three grim mobsters are sitting in it. Two are in front, one who is totally pale, almost translucent, is seated in the back. The driver stops the car. He’s smoking. He lifts his gaze from the steering wheel and looks straight into my eyes. A stranger in these surroundings. He’s got the stern and cruel face of a bully, one who doesn’t think much when there’s a person who has to be served with pain. I know his type well. I expect he’ll ask me for directions or something even more unpleasant, but instead of doing that, he speaks in verse. He pronounces the words slowly and with an unusual accent.
“The world is a range of vanity,
a field of the passage of time and ruin,
all paths lead to nowhere, life is unbearable
vigilance, mercy spent,
a nervous habit.”
Afterwards, we look at each other for a few seconds. The man is frowning, wrinkling his forehead as if he’s worried I didn’t get the point.
“Oh, I see”, I say. “And what should I do with this?”
“Nothing”, he says. “Just remember it. You are now me. If you don’t believe me, just wait for a bit. You’ll see what I’m talking about.”
He clears his throat ceremonially, spits on my trouser leg in an elegant arc and drives away. I have no idea what I should think about all this. We’re all crazy here.
I carry on walking, and I think about the weakness of my own body. It keeps diminishing, more rickety by the day. Something is twingeing in my lower back and in my upper left leg. It must be sciatica. I spend too much time sitting in cafes. It looks like my kidneys are ok today, but it’s not too late for them to get worse anytime later. The pain is here to remind me. The world is a range of vanity.
I can already see my father’s donkey. Through the veil of mist, it looks like it’s the only one left of its species. There is frost on its mane and on the hair of its back. This donkey must have been standing still for some time. A hemp rope fastens it to a wobbly wooden fence that leads through the village to a church. God’s house has fewer holes in its roof and façade than the rest of the buildings in this hamlet. Where there was a mosque some years ago, there is now a parking lot and a small stand made of orange plastic. The devil is selling chewing gum, hot dogs and cigarettes at the stand.
Father never had enough dough to buy a real horse. The donkey is a stylish alternative; you have to admit that, like it or not. The animal is standing still; it’s not young anymore; somehow we all expect it will die before the winter’s over. Or maybe it won’t. It’s still chewing and drooling abundantly. It has some teeth. You can find out what’s going on inside it by the colour and taste of its saliva, they say.
The bench is made of a spruce tree trunk, split in half. It looks good next to the roughly squared table where fragments and chips of wood can still be seen. A litre-bottle of spirit is half empty. There’s a smell of spruce resin and tobacco in this fresh air.
“Good morning, son.”
He’s as drunk as a lord. There are dark bags under his eyes. He hasn’t slept all night. He’s drunk just enough rakija to make him feel bored on his own so he wanted to have a debate with someone who is not just a voice in his head.
“Have you eaten breakfast?”
“You know very well I haven’t. There was supposed to be a hurry. What do you want from me?”
He’s poking around his coat and then around his faded bag.
“Wait. There was a half of a roll here.”
“It’s ok”, I resist. “I’m not hungry.”
“Just you wait, I’ll find it. Unless… Unless I ate it myself.” “Never mind, I’m really not hungry.”
“I’m sorry, son, I just remembered I ate it last night. All the same. When you’re hungry we’ll eat the other half. Would you like it now?”
“Thanks, I don’t feel like it. I don’t eat bread in the morning anyway. So tell me, why did I come here?”
“You came here because I told you to come, ha ha ha. But why are you so impatient, the day hasn’t begun yet, and we have plenty of time. Before the whole thing ends, everything will be crystal clear. Then you’ll understand what’s going on. I suggest we don’t hurry; that was never our family’s way; we should take it slowly. A man has to have a system.”
He pours two glasses, hospitably, drinks his in an instant and meaningfully puts mine on a gnarl in the table. He rolls a cigarette and expects me to drink bottoms up. I take my time; I want to show him I don’t drink as immorally as he does. And especially not before nine o’clock in the morning. But my father’s unspoken command and our family instinct take precedence. As in a dream, I grab the little glass and pour it into my mouth. I swallow half of it immediately, and slowly roll the rest of it around my teeth. The plaque on the dentine melts. The clapper beats hollowly against the bronze in the stone belfry. It’s a quarter to six in the morning.
The alcohol fires up my cerebellum. Damn it. Where did the old man find such excellent spirit? The cheap poison that usually puts him to sleep is alright for cleaning various dental things at most, and spells certain death for you and me. It doesn’t do any harm to the old man; it seems the spirit makes him even stronger and insightfully meaner with the years. His body is capable of transforming the alcohol into sugar in an instant. Maybe the poison has dried him up a bit, you could say that. But he’s still well enough to sit on the bench before sunrise and sip this first-class spirit. Where did he get the money? Could it be that the madman called me just to show me a half-emptied bottle and brag about the quality of his morning aperitif? I think it’s called aperitif.
My dad waves a freshly-folded piece of paper in front of my nose which makes things even more mysterious. Even though his hand is shaking, I still notice the writing is suspiciously similar to his. Thin, unevenly backward-sloping letters in cursive, with some occasional scribble caused by delirious ticks. I can see the building company Balkanasfalt watermark on the edge of the paper. I don’t know anyone working for the company, but I’ve heard about it, of course, who hasn’t? You’ll hear about it soon too if you haven’t already. But didn’t Balkanasfalt go to the dogs? Most likely. Every company in the world is on its way there. The paper has been torn out of a notebook or a calendar, the kind that’s printed every December in ten thousand copies by big companies. I know my father doesn’t use this kind of thing. There’s only one sentence written.
“I took your money and took the fuck off across the border.”
What a lie, I think to myself. This stinks to high heaven. Haven’t we already seen something like this? So he’s out of money, that’s what he’s trying to tell me this fresh morning. This is no news of course, more like a normal condition. Sometimes, when he gets a bit of a money, my father switches into his abnormal state. He’s staring at me like somebody who is planning revenge, and is totally convinced about being right and keeps on agreeing with his own ideas all the time. He’s just an old, drunken man. Nothing more. He speaks in a weepy voice:
“My son! Did you see what this bastard has done to us this time? He destroyed us! We’re done!”
He crushes the paper with an outraged movement into a ball and throws it at random over his shoulder.
“Do you know who it was?”
“Who else? Our arch-enemy. Oh, what have we done so wrong for God to punish us with such a cruel enemy?”
He looks up into the sky with an accusation; then he looks towards the church and drinks out of the bottle twice under the weight of his sorrow.
“There is no God, dad. There’s just a lot of unclear and contradictory voices that confuse us even more.”
“You’re wrong, son. There is God. There definitely is. He hates us and wants to exterminate us.”
“So we are ruined.”
“That’s right. But we’re still going to fight! An exciting life is the best life. We’ll catch the devil today. Tonight or never. Are you with me?”
I think it might be best to clear things once and for all. Enough is enough. There has to be an end to these constant thefts. There is nothing left, and the poverty has totally worn us out.
“I’m with you, dad. Let’s go hunting.”
“That’s the word; I knew you are my son. I’m sorry to wake you up, but as you can see, the situation is dangerous. Catching this devil is more important than sleep. After we cross the border and find him, the dog will be finished. We’ll break his bones and cut off his dick, nose and ears. We’ll punish him for his past sins and prevent future ones make sure he can’t commit any more.”
“Let’s go, old man. I can’t sit still any more.”
He cries with excitement. He puts out his fag and slips the bottle deep into a pocket of his dirty coat. He lifts a finger into the air:
“There’s one crucial thing to do before we set off.”
“Weapons?” I read his mind.
“Re-vol-ver”, he spells out with satisfaction. I nod, even though I don’t believe him. Flakes of fog are falling lazily from the sky and hovering over the fields. Let’s arm ourselves for whatever may come.
my father’s revolver
He steps in first. I fill my lungs with air before I follow him. The log cabin is dark and stuffy. They don’t waste money on paraffin. It’s getting harder and harder to buy it lately. Like everything else. Except for coal, milk and eggs.
I’ve known humpback since childhood. He’s very ugly and very mean. These are his main characteristics worth mentioning. You feel a little pity for him, you feel a bit of disgust, this is how it is with him. And with all that, you can’t figure out whether he’s mean because of his hump or he’s ugly because he’s mean. He doesn’t like seeing us here. He spits on the ground in disgust when father tells him in his drunken voice that he wants a revolver and he wants it on loan. He doesn’t have any money with him because the criminals have stolen it again, but he will repay and return everything as soon as he gets back everything that’s his, with the revolver of course. He needs it to send a bullet into the thief who is robbing and hurting his family over and over again. I stand quietly beside him. The humpback’s mute wife is standing in the back of the shop, wildly shaking her head. She’s sitting on a cupboard swinging her legs in the air. I can see her figure in this semi-darkness. As far as I know the whole family are midgets. Midgets and mean. Who knows, maybe they’ve figured out this is the only way they can survive among us, the wild ones.
It’s no use; the humpback doesn’t want to give the revolver for free, despite the passionate persuasion. He says he’s not stupid and that my father hasn’t paid any loan back in his whole life. I have to agree with the freak on that.
The negotiations fail. It seems as if father has given up. He comes up with material arguments. Determined, he pokes around his coat, and secretly gives the salesman something into his hand so that I don’t see what it is. The eyes of the humped freak sparkle in the halflight. A satisfied growl. Suddenly, he’s in a good mood, I think he’s even smiling a bit, but it’s hard to tell from his permanently frowning face. His midget lady purrs as if her husband had given her some especially rare satisfaction. She slips off the cupboard; we hear a hollow sound while she’s rummaging somewhere in the dark below. Then she approaches on tiptoe, and without any further hesitation we see the thing father came to get. The revolver looks huge in her tiny hairy hands, and the barrel unnaturally wide. She whispers respectfully:
“American stuff. Best quality. Careful.”
“You be careful of the fire!”,
hisses father and quickly hides the gun. “You and your home!”,
I shout, then we quickly step out of the stuffy shack.
During our negotiations in the store, the fog has frayed. The revolver is shining, glittering in the sun like some kind of fucking diamond. It’s brand new and greased. I’m impressed. Not only have I never seen my father with anything so beautiful, I’m totally serious when I say my young eyes have never before seen anything more beautiful than this. It’s a completely different kind of weapon than the rusty old double-barrelled shotgun, which is really a single-barrelled shotgun, that hangs on my back even when I sleep. It hurts me, but I never take it off, I’m such a militant.
Father sticks it proudly under his belt so that the barrel is resting nicely parallel to his cock. That’s how a real man carries a cold weapon. He walks with a swagger and I follow, absorbed in my own thoughts. I’m mesmerized. What did my father give the humpback for this revolver? Secrets. I’m racking my brains, but I can’t guess. First, quality spirit, then the weird note and now this. There’s no money, yet there is. But still, there isn’t, that’s why we’re going to get it. It’s a beautiful revolver that now belongs to my father. The secrets are multiplying faster than Kosovars under a warm blanket.
The excerpt from the novel Urnebes, translated by Dolores Malič and David Lythgoe.
Jasmina Topić is a Serbian authoress mainly focused on writing poetry, but she is also established as an occasional short prose and essay writer; literary reviewer; editor/editor in chief of two significant projects. She started a contemporary poetry edition called “Najbolja” (“The Best”) with another poet from her hometown Pančevo in 2012 and is in-charged in (co)editing as well as book design. She cooperates with the Youth Center in Pančevo as editor-in-chief of the publication “Rukopisi” (“Manuscripts”) since 1998 – a collection of young poets and short-prose writers from former Yugoslavia, published annually. Jasmina Topić has six sole-authored poetry books and several stories printed in journals and specialized thematic books (listed below). Furthermore, she has been continually publishing articles, columns and essays for journals (paper and online) throughout the ex-YU region. From 2000 until 2009, she worked as a freelance journalist. Her poems are translated into several languages and she is included in some major selections of the Serbian and ex-Yugoslavian poetry (the latest: Cat Painters, Dialogos, New Orleans, USA, 2017). Her poetry is often presented in a multimedia context and she managed to present it through video-works in a DVD called “The quiet renewal of the summer” (2008) and also with audio CD “Languages of Poetry”, in several languages – prepared for the final exhibition of the AIR program in Graz, Austria (2014) (available on Soundcloud).
Jasmina Topić had the opportunity to be called on a few Artist in residence programs: the “Milo Dor” stipend from KulturKontakt (Vienna, Austria, 2008), Kamov residency (Rijeka, Croatia, 2012), “Tirana in between” (Traduki program, Tirana, Albania, 2013), RONDO residency (Graz, Austria, 2014) and Create in residence (Baltic centre for writers and translators, Visby, Sweden, 2014). At the end of 2019. she was a resident in Krems, Austria, as a part of the writers exchange project between Austria and Serbia.
She won several prizes on literary contests, and two for her poetry/poetry book: “Duškovićeva zvona” (Pančevo, 2002), “Matićev šal” (Ćuprija, 2003 for the book “Pension. Metamorphoses”), respectively. Her latest poetry book “Beach Insomnia” was short-listed for all major poetry prizes in Serbia in 2017.
Topić, Jasmina. Plaža Nesanica / The Beach Insomnia. Kulturni centar Novi Sad. Novi Sad. 2016.
(the book was nominated last year as short-listed for three most significant poetry prizes in Serbia: “Vasko Popa”, “Đura Jakšić” and “Milica Stojadinović-Srpkinja” (female poets) )
Topić, Jasmina. Dok neko šapuće naša imena / While Someone is Whispering our Names. UKKPP. Pančevo. 2012.
Topić, Jasmina. Tiha obnova leta / The Quiet Renewal of the Summer. Povelja. Kraljevo. 2007.
Topić, Jasmina. Romantizam / Romantizism. Alfa – Narodna knjiga. Beograd. 2005.
Topić, Jasmina. Pansion. Metamorfoze / Pension. Methamorphoses. Centar za stvaralaštvo mladih. Beograd. 2002.
Topić, Jasmina. Suncokreti. Skica za dan / Sunflowers. Portrait for the Day. Udruženje književnika Pančevo. Pančevo. 1997.
Topić, Jasmina, et. al. Čiji grad – književni protest. Kontrast. Beograd. 2016.
Topić, Jasmina, et. al. Grenzverkehr III. A new beginning – but where is it leading?.
Kultur Kontakt & Drava Verlag, Vienna. 2012.
Topić, Jasmina, et. al. Kod srpskog pisca. Službeni glasnik. Beograd. 2011.
Topić, Jasmina, et. al. Leksikon božjih ljudi. Službeni glasnik. Beograd. 2010.
Topić, Jasmina, et. al. Projekat Kortasar. Povelja. Kraljevo. 2002.
EXAMPLES OF WORK:
first translator: Novica Petrovic (SRB)
second translator: Biljana D. Obradovic (US)
third: author and Lara Jakica (AUS)
order of poems:
Serbian > English
Bili smo tihi. Kao one kržljave ptičice
nesvesne ovog sveta.
Još uvek zlovoljni.
Moje telo pored tvog uvek blago dehidrira.
Tvoje telo je mekano i cedim
iz njega svetu vodicu svojih nedostataka.
Vodu koja mi uvek nedostaje.
Mehuri sapunice i mehuri deterdženta,
dva proizvoda sa istog odeljenja, to
smo postigli u traganju za idealom.
Letimo po ovom stanu kao perje
Očerupanih golupčića spremljenih za dobru supu.
Svako za svojim kompjuterom,
U video igrici postiže cilj. Na sledećem sam nivou.
Pregovaramo o Second life-u.
Ko izgubi iznosi parčiće slomljenog
na veliko gradsko smetlište.
Nakon svega znam da ćemo postati još tiši.
Ulegnuće u krevetu raste kao i svako predgrađe.
U taj stan se nismo uselili.
Sve je toplije i uskoro će leto.
we were ljuiet. Just like those tiny skinny birds
unaware of this world.
we are still morose.
My body always dehydrates slightly next to yours.
Your body is soft and I sljueeze
from it the holy water of my shortcomings.
The water that I always lack.
Soap bubbles and detergent bubbles,
two products from the same department, that’s
what we achieved straining to attain the ideal.
we fly around this flat like the feathers
of plucked pigeons ready to be made into a good soup.
Everyone sitting at his or her computer,
achieves his or her objectives in video games. I’ve reached the next level.
we are negotiating on Second life.
The loser gets to take broken fragments
to the great city dump.
I know that when all’s said and done we’ll become even ljuieter.
The dent in the bed grows like any suburb.
we did not move into that flat.
It’s getting warmer and summer will be upon us soon.
vse moje izkušwe
grejo naravnost v literaturo
Iskustva iz figurativnog ranca
idu pravo u poeziju
I po kiši dosadnoj i uopšte rečeno groznoj
može se pisati –
Taj maleni napor trošenja hartije,
u igri šaha ili solitarea s dosadom,
a i kreativnom besparicom
naglost, adrenalin (tim redosledom ?!)
kao gledanje sportskog susreta
to je podgrejani nacionalizam paprikaš
džepni izdavač instant saznawa
pesma je sada gerilac
guram kolica naravno prazna
igram igricu koja bi se takođe i od stiha
za mladost buduću
tu je pevanje ostalo pred vratima
iskušenje s iskustvom
za stan u koji sutra nećeš moći da uđeš
jer si švorc
Onda muziku ugasiš
jednoličan ritam ambijentalnog haosa
i sitne, sitne, još sitnije kao
pirinač za sirotinju –
Kiša je jedino konstantno iskustvo
koje će upravo postati literarno.
all my experiences
go straight into literature
Experiences from the figurative sack
go straight into poetry
Even in boring rain, which is dreadful generally speaking,
one can write –
This small effort aimed at using paper,
warming up your fingers
playing chess or solitaire with boredom,
and with creative pennilessness
rashness, adrenalin (in that order?!)
watching a sporting event
heated-up nationalism stew
a poem is now a guerrilla fighter
I push the cart, empty, of course
I play a game that could also be animated
for future youth
there’s singing left in front of the door
an ordeal involving experience
on account of a flat where you won’t be able to move in
because you’re broke
Then you switch off the music
the monotonous rhythm of ambiental chaos
and tiny, tiny, even tinier, like
rice for the poor –
The rain is the only constant experience
that is to become a literary one.
NE SPAVAM CELU NOĆ
Iz čistog nezadovoljstva. Mislim kako se grad
prepun mogućnosti neprestano sužava.
Nešto malo pre toga, tog predvečerja,
bakuta šeta s štapovima u rukama, samo što ona nije skijaš,
i sneg skoro neće pasti. Nedelja je i nema graje.
Zato je noć idealna za nesanicu.
I dok odmiče… nemam ni časovnik koji će
odbrojavati nezadovoljstvo ili prebrojavati ovčice.
Nasmejem se u gluvo-doba-noći tako da to
niko ne čuje, pa na trenutak zastanem,
da udahnem i izdahnem.
Ne klopara li neko zavojitim stepeništem
i nije li sad već na mezaninu!
Čisto fizičko zadovoljstvo osetim kada jagodice prstiju
dotaknu tastaturu projektovane nesanice.
Kada me već sasvim obavije čista runska vuna postrizanih ovčica
iskrsnu fotografije, lice u kreču, glini ili prahu,
ne razaznajem baš najbolje.
Tada, nalik čudu, krv sama potekne iz kažiprsta i vene na vratu
nabreknu nalik boraniji u zelenom omotaču. Trenutak živosti.
Kažem naglas da rasteram što je preostalo: Mi smo stvarni!
Iz čistog nezadovoljstva.
I DON’T SLEEP ALL NIGHT
Out of sheer discontent. I think of how a city
Overflowing with possibilities is constantly narrowing.
A little before that, before that dusk,
A granny walks with sticks, only she’s no skier
And it won’t be snowing anytime soon. It’s Sunday and there’s no clamour.
That’s why the night’s ideal for not sleeping.
And as it unfolds… I don’t even have a clock
To tick away discontent or count sheep.
I smile in the dead of night so that
No one gets to hear it, then I pause for a moment, to inhale and exhale.
Is that someone rattling up the spiral staircase
and isn’t he in the mezzanine already!
I feel pure physical pleasure when the cushions of my fingers
Touch the keyboard of my projected insomnia.
when I am entirely enveloped in the pure new wool of fleeced sheep,
Photographs crop us, a face in lime, clay or dust,
I can’t make them out very well.
Then, like a miracle, blood flows out of the forefinger of its own accord
and the veins in the neck
swell like French beans in a green envelope. A moment of liveliness.
I say aloud to dispel what’s left: we are real!
Out of sheer discontent.
NE ŽIVESMO OSIM ČITAJUĆI
Izgubila se u prostoru jedne knjige,
pratile me reči pesme na nepoznatom jeziku,
toplog mediteranskog melosa, kao zajednička
bivanja na ostrvima gde uvek treba obnoviti radost.
I dva prostora, oivičena senkama i muzikom,
potirala su me; U istu ravan dovodila
s linijom nepovučenom,
na dnu lista, izvan fusnote.
Tamo gde je pripadnost zamirala
izbijala je strast za napisanim, jednim
od mogućih svetova što so ih ispere
kao štamparsku grešku.
A prostor knjige menjao nam je oblik
lica, dodeljivao namenu. I bila sam. –
Zaistinski priljubljena za stihove, za slike
kao za nekadašnje rame,
sanjajući o severnim morima tako živahnim,
iz pisama prelomljenih u stihove.
Osluškivala kada će zlatne bubice hlebne
mileti mojom kožom, drhtureći. Boravila
pod polarnim svetlom, nadohvat drugosti
drugog, realnog života…
Ali ne živesmo osim čitajući, odmeravajući
ono pre i posle napisanog dok su tvoje oči,
male orahove ljuske na liniji imaginarnog,
Bile i more i nesanica.
Sada tako lagano klizim pored glečera čija imena,
a i namene ne prepoznajem.
I kao u dubokom, najdubljem snu ispod santi,
poneki glas me doziva iz svetla
u kojem se ne da više boraviti.
Ovog jutra, od jutra do mraka.
WE NEVER LIVED EXCEPT WHEN READING
I got lost in the space of a book,
the words of a poem in an unknown language followed me,
warm Mediterranean ethnic music, like joint
stays on islands where joy is always to be renewed.
Two spaces edged by shadows and music
annulled me; they brought me down to the level
of a line not drawn,
at the bottom of a sheet, outside the footnote.
where belonging was dying out
the passion for writing emerged, for one
of the possible worlds washed out by salt
like a misprint.
And the space of the book changed our facial
form, gave us a purpose. And I was. –
Truly attached to verses, to pictures
the way I was to a shoulder of bygone times,
dreaming of northern seas so lively,
from those letters arranged into verses.
I listened, waiting for gold bugs
to start milling across my skin, trembling. I resided
under polar light, within arm’s reach of the otherness
of another, real life…
But we never lived except when reading, sizing up
that which preceded and followed the writing while your eyes,
tiny nutshells on the line of the imaginary,
were both the sea and insomnia.
Now I slide slowly by the glacier whose names
and purpose I do not recognise.
And as if in a deep, deepest dream under ice floes,
occasional voices call out to me from the light
in which it is no longer possible to reside.
This morning, from dawn till dusk.
Translation from Sebian into English
by Novica Petrović
Polako, leto se završavalo pljuskom kiše.
Uvek, na kraju, mora biti taj pljusak.
Zamišljena međa između lakoće i ozbiljnog –
Završili smo svoja putovanja,
željni sunca i igre – svega!
Još jedno leto iza nas, i more,
veliki sentiment, u kojem bi se mogli udaviti.
Napuštali smo naše zimske kaveze,
kao obavezu održavanja plamena u peći,
drhtavicu smetova, svet u snu.
Završili smo s pejzažima,
kroz prozor autobusa u suncu,
svetlucavoj vodi zalaska.
Dok putem isplovljavamo
ka dobrim starim sobama vidim nestvarni su…
Gradovi, kao preslikani, na vodi.
U noći, dok duša spava otvorenih očiju.
Gradove u kojima smo mogli poživeti,
daleko od svojih, vraćajući se sebi.
Isprali nakupljenu kišnicu otrova.
Na trenutak odložili maske.
Patetika roni iz vozačevog kasetofona,
U istoj sobi počeli, u istoj okončaćemo,
S ponovnom slutnjom zime.
Prisećajući se lakoće,
stvarnosti svojih udova…
U senovitom kutu sobe ta maska čeka.
Slowly, the summer ends with a rain shower.
Always, in the end, must come that rain shower. Here
on the imaginary border between the light-hearted and the serious—
we’ve ended our travels,
eager for sun and fun—for everything!
Another summer lies behind us, with its big sea,
a large feeling, in which we could have drowned.
we left our winter cages behind, as if
under an obligation to keep the furnace firing,
for shivers of snowdrifts, a world in a dream.
we’ve finished with landscapes, fading away into the distance
through the window of the bus , gleaming over water in the sunset.
As we rise above the water on the road
towards home sweet home, I can see the vistas are unreal…
Cities, appear in silhouette above the water.
At night, like ghosts we sleep with eyes open.
In cities where we might have lived
away from our loved ones, we return to ourselves.
we have washed away the poisoned rain.
we have put our masks aside for a moment.
Pathos emerges from the driver’s cassette player,
towards our homeland.
we began in the same room, we’ll end in the same room,
but now with a new foreboding of winter.
Remembering the lightheartedness,
the reality of our body parts…
In the corner of the room, in shadows, that mask awaits.
Translated by Biljana D. Obradović
ZRENJE U NEPOMIČNOSTI
Odrastam (– odrasla!) među senkama leta,
u tajanstvenoj kretnji asfaltom, ka dosadi.
Kao da još uvek traje: zrenje, slatkoća zrelog,
U kolima, putevima u krug, prija povetarac,
iznenadan smeh – kao prah odnet u senku.
Skupljeni na istom mestu, zatvoreni u sobe
naših strahova, već prodati u bescenje.
Tek nekolicina, drugara, zaista budna.
Priče se isprepliću…
Ne putujemo nikuda. Odredišta su kao luke
na sedmoj strani sveta, isijavajući iz tv aparata.
Nužne obmane, da se u sebe vraćamo
jedva okusivši užitak. Slobodi da se bude svoj,
ipak u tajnosti. Tu u mraku, gradskoj mitologiji,
između svega što nam neće dati da budemo,
još jedna tura: penušavca i iskamčene sreće.
Vodi se simulirana strast.
Pamtićemo se po mirisima kože.
I vidim, poređani kao svetiljke autoputa,
i u ludilu smo, i u dosadi.
Šta je ispred, nego mrak.
GROWING UP IN STANDSTILLNESS
I am growing up (–grown!) among summer shadows,
in the mysterious movement on asphalt, towards boredom. Though
it’s still happening: growing up, with the sweetness of being ripe,
In the car, circling the roads, a breeze soothes,
with a sudden smile—as if dust taken in by the shadows.
Gathered in the same place, locked in the rooms
of our fears, already sold into pricelessness.
Only a few, friends, remain truly awake.
Our stories are intertwined…
we don’t travel anywhere. Destinations are like ports
on the seventh continent of the world, only emitted from the TV.
Necessary deceits, that we might return to ourselves
barely having trusted life’s pleasures. Free to be ourselves,
still in secret. Here in the darkness, lost in the myth of the city,
lost among all things that won’t allow us to be,
yet another round: of the foaming liljuid,
of the happiness that comes from begging.
A simulated passion takes place.
we’ll remember each other by the smell of our skins.
And I can tell, from the line of lights along the highway,
we are enveloped in madness, and in boredom.
what else is ahead of us, but darkness.
Translated by Biljana D. Obradović
OSTRVO, PLAŽA, PIVO,
I palma u pozadini! Dodatak fotografiji,
pridružena razglednica nekome tamo, u domovini,
koju nikada nećemo poslati.
I tamne fleke po pitomom moru.
I tresetnica lako pada preko oblih kamenčića.
Biće razbacani posle po kutovima sobe,
kao idoli morskih noći, kao zalog tih dana.
Ritual spuštanja na plažu, ritual poniranja
u vodu, oživljavanje one boje
koja je život u punom sjaju.
Sa obaveznim kartama, bez keca u rukavu,
i zveckavim novčićima, svetlucavim sunašcima
za koja se može dobiti popodnevno pivo.
Na fotografiji videće se jasno,
i koju marku piva pijemo, mokre kose…
A u pozadini palma!
Jesmo li svi, koji ovde boravimo,
privid nas samih, ili ostvareni snovi tela
u odblesku na vodi?!
Obavezno je nekoliko SMS poruka
prijateljima i inima. To. Da smo na plaži.
Da pijemo pivo. I, uopšte, nije loše.
živimo mali poetični privid. Plavu čistinu.
I ova pesma je kao i fotografija.
Uvlaenje u triko uplaćenih deset
all inclusive tretmana.
I da, na plaži merkamo, kako da zaboravim,
bludnog, divnog sina: Kavafija. Eto
je i poezija.
ISLAND, BEACH, BEER,
and a palm! An additional note to the photograph
on a group postcard for those back home
in the homeland, a postcard we’ll never mail
And those dark spots on the calm sea.
Heat easily falls over the rounded stones.
They will be scattered afterwards all over the room’s corners
as icons of sea nights, as souvenirs from those days.
The ritual of our descent to the beach, of diving grandly
into the water, of reviving that color of life in full splendor.
with the obligatory cards games, with no ace up your sleeve,
and the clink-clank of the coins, those small, shiny suns
with which one can buy an afternoon beer.
A guaranteed mirage.
In this photograph, you can clearly see,
even the label on the beer we are drinking, wet haired…
And in the background, a palm!
Are we all, we, here on vacation, all
a mere illusion of ourselves, or a dream realized in our bones
by our reflection in the water?
Must we send a few text messages
to friends and family; tell them how we’re at the beach?
How we are drinking beer. And, how it’s not bad, overall.
we are living a small poetic illusion. Under a clear blue sky.
And this poem is like a photograph:
of me sljueezing into my leotard
after ten, all inclusive treatments.
And yes, on the beach we eyed, how could I forget
that promiscuous, marvelous son: Cavafy! Now,
vijena – beograd via budimpešta
Budimpešta promiče u noći
kao svetleći jo-jo. Cena na etiketi da padneš u nesvest;
bečki žirovi, ušteđeni, grče se na dnu kofera.
Odavno nisam videla svetleću stvar.
Zvuk njegov čujem još samo kao eho reklame koja
Tako isto ne mogu da se setim ni Budimpešte
jer je nemam u sećanju.
njene zašestarene površine i odmerene milimetre
imaginacije dok panorama klizi
pred staklom noćnog voza –
moja lampa za čitanje nasuprot svetlima
prigrađa. Kao hrčak u transportnoj laboratoriji.
Mišomor za varvarina.
Prebacujući se s desne na levu i leve na desnu
Ravnoteža je ključna reč pesme. Panorame. Pogleda.
Za bivstvovanje i prelazak preko granice
iz civilizacije u ono što je iza njenih rubova:
15 minuta kasnije voz usporava
i sećanje na jedno drugačije postojanje briše se
kao i prostor načet mirisom prepoznatljivih krajolika.
Hor u slušalicama na crno kupljenog mobilnog telefona
zapevaće nedefinisano Haleluja!
raspad. slagalice 30-godišnjeg bivstvovanja.
u pauzi između Budimpešte i nastavka
dugog puta kroz noć… zvuk zrikavaca
Prekinut ponovnim noćnim slikom
i kloparanjem šina.
Vienna—Belgrade via Budapest
Budapest passes during the night
like a flashing yo-yo. The price on the tag, for you to faint;
Viennese acorns, saved, stuffed at the bottom of the suitcase.
I haven’t seen anything for awhile now.
Its sound I only hear as an echo of that billboard that has survived
the falling apart,
In the same way, I cannot recall Budapest
since I don’t have her in my memory.
Her clearly marked center and measured space
purely left to imagination, as our panorama
slides by, in front of the night train’s tinted glass—
my reading light reflected against the lights
of the suburbs. As if a hamster in a lab on wheels.
Or a mousetrap for barbarians.
Moving from right to left and left to right
along my hip—the regulator.
Balance is the key for any poem. For the panorama. The view.
For existence and going over the border
from civilization into that which is just past it:
Fifteen minutes later the train slows
and the memory over a different existence disappears
as if a room filled with the scent of familiar places.
The choir in the earphones of my brand new black mobile phone
will soon start to sing indiscriminate Hallelujahs!
The collapse. The riddles of the last thirty years.
The war. Everything.
In the rest stop between Budapest and the continuation
of our long trip through the night…the chirp of crickets
is broken again by the long obstacles of darkness,
and the clatter of tracks.
Translated by Biljana D. Obradović
ONA NEĆE. NIJE ONA OFELIJA.
Ona otvara prozore i spušta kapke,
Dan je savršeno zimski miran i nijedan vetar
neće poremetiti pauzu između dve praznine:
One u kojoj je zatečena i druge u koju leže.
Ispod kapaka vri nemirna zenica koja
samo želi da pogleda, da vidi uvek, samo još jednom,
neki mogući put. Ono drhti nemirno kao ptičija krila,
nervozni cvrkut na čistom plavom,
na jasnom pogledu kroz otvoren prozor:
Ona je budna pod niskim nebom tavanice,
ali njeno telo ne želi pokret u svet.
Svet je igralište oivičeno rubovima kreveta,
Dok ispod kapaka, dok pod njima kapka,
splin unutrašnjih mapa, drugačije opisanog grada:
Prošla je prva izmaglica prošlo je toplo telo,
Leto je proteklo kao pesak odnekud pod zubima,
Lomljen u buduće kamenolome –
Ona pevuši tiho, ona jeste tiha, ništa joj ne može
nijedan glas razuma, niko je ne može dotaknuti
Ona spušta kapke i rukama napipava novouspostavljeni mrak
Ona dolazi, ona ostaje, ona odustaje
I neprestano kaplje u dodiru sa svežim zrakom.
SHE DOES NOT. SHE IS NO OFELIA
She opens the windows and closes her eye-lids,
The day is in a perfect winterly peace
and no sound can disturb the pause between two emptiness:
The one she finds herself in and the one
she is about to lay down in.
Beneath the eye-lids, a restless pupil is boiling
its desire to look, always to see, just one more time,
a possible path. It trembles without peace like a bird’s wing,
a nervous twitter on the clear blue,
on the bright view through the open window:
it won’t look ahead
it won’t fall asleep
She is awake under the low sky of a ceiling,
but her body does not want to move into the outside world.
The world is a playground wired with the edge of the bed,
And behind the eye-lids, the lids are melting in drops,
a spleen of inner maps, of a differently described city:
it won’t look ahead
it won’t fall asleep
The first haze is over, the warm body has gone by,
A summer slipped like sand, out of nowhere, between her teeth,
Crushed in the future ljuarry –
She sings a ljuiet song, she is ljuiet, nothing can get to her,
not a single voice of reason, no one can touch her anymore
it won’t look ahead
it won’t fall asleep
She closes her eyes reaching for a newly discovered darkness
She comes, she stays, she is giving up
And continuously melting in drops when in contact
with the fresh air.
(from the book “Beach Insomnia”, Cultural centre Novi Sad, 2017)
Translated by the author and Lara Jakica
Jutrom se oslanjala na senke plavlje od izmaglice,
kroz prozor uvale dok otvara čistotu sveta izbrisanog
u velikom zamahu; a noću taj isti svet sužavao se na nebo
iznad terase, uvale, iznad mora.
Dole u luci, brod Marin susretao je gospa Snježnu,
plavo za dečake, crveno za devojčice, i njihova tela ukotvljena
ispred povremeno bučnog kamenoloma.
Nije moglo bolje ni u sevdalinci, jer su im se kljunovi
uvek nežno mimoilazili, i jer je ona odlazila, ali se i vraćala.
Sloboda se kupovala, na sitno, u oštrom kamenjaru
i predvečernjoj bonaci, u nijansama koje ne traži reči,
ali traže pogled i radost sagovornika.
Pila se vina, uvek izrazito žuta, normalno divlja,
jer ne idu bez sunca; dovoljna za opijanja i potrebne fatamorgane;
Na plaži, bilo je i previše sati što stoje, čak i u bučnom motoru
lokalnih barki, dok prevoze, od vode, do vode –
I telo se neprestano radovalo, jer je telo samosvoje.
Misao popodnevne senke četinara, nemarno je bežala nad njim,
a noću iznova golicala telo prahom što zvezda sipa nadole,
dok je radost tražila mlečnu pȕt, da prekrije dnevne opekotine.
Nije bilo ni meso ni mesto ovo što traje u nama, ili prolazi pored nas,
Ni nesigurni odraz što nas je terao na odjeke u drugima.
Tek slučajni miris i soli, pojedena sardela, ili poziv da se odvoji
od upravo obrisanog velikog sveta, ovde, na ostrvu –
Kao tajni kod, jer podne oslobađa senke, sunce briše razloge,
kamen upija toplotu sigurnih povrataka, a
Ostrvo je tiho disalo svoju i sve slučajne prošlosti.
In the morning, she relied on shadows bluer than the mist
through the window of the bay revealing the pureness
of the just erased world,
with a massive momentum; and by night that very same world
narrowed down to the sky
above the terrace, over the bay, above the sea.
Down at the harbor, a ship Marin met lady Swežna,
Blue for boys, red for girls, in a periodically noisy ljuarry.
It could not have been better, not even in a serenade, as their prows,
always gently miss passing, as she was always leaving,
always to return.
The freedom was bought for small coins, in sharp rocky surroundings
and the evening calm waters; in the shades that seek no words,
yet seek a glance and the joy of a companion.
The wine, here, is specifically yellow and normally wild
because it can’t be without the sun; Enough for getting drunk,
for indispensable mirage;
So little time to spend, and too many hours to stand still,
Despite the roaring engines of the local boats,
from water to water –
And the body is in endless rejoice because the body is only its own,
although this hand is just a thought of an afternoon conifer’s shadow,
carelessly running away
The body is tickled by stardust falling over and over again
and the joyfulness hopes for the milky way to cover-up
the daily sunburn.
It was neither the flesh nor place, that what endures within us, and that which passes by,
Nor was it a vulnerable reflection that was driving us to echo in others.
Just a random scent, the salt, a small anchovy, or an invitation to hive off
from the freshly evanished big world, here, on the island –
Like a secret code, because the midday rids you of any shadows,
The sun erases reasons,
the stone absorbs the warmth of the safe returns,
And the island was ljuietly breathing its own and all other coincidental pasts.
(from the book “Beach Insomnia”, Cultural centre Novi Sad, 2017)
*the island in the Adriatic sea, in Croatia; shares its name with the island Corfu in Greece, and the name was given after the nymph Kerkyra, from Homer’s Odyssey
translated by the author and Lara Jakica
ne pomeraju stvari
Danas sam uspela da sastavim
prvi sa šezdesetim minutom
U otkrivanju grada
Zabavila mišiće vežbanjem
čaj od nane
pa onda sipala pivo
I odakle sad želja
da se još nešto kaže
dodirne još jedna
koje uporno sabijam
u 4,8 posto tirana
a nije dovoljno
ni za šta.
Hoće li me sutra
da je već kasno
da je kafa skuvana
i da me čeka.
Ponoć je konačno
IT IS MIDNIGHT
finally don’t move
their belongings anymore
I have managed to pull together
the first walking minute with the sixtieth
Discovering the city
Had my fun practicing muscles
with common sense
then poured myself a beer
It is silent
to say something
from where does it comes now
to touch one more
of the inner sceneries
in which I pour in
4,8 percent of Tirana beer
but it is not enough
Will I be awaked
with the touch
of a familiar hand
that is already late
how coffee is made
and it awaits.
Midnight is finally here
translated by the author
Senka Marić writes poetry, prose and essays. She has published three collections of poetry: Odavde do nigdje, To su samo riječi and Do smrti naredne, and the novel Kintsugi tijela. She has won several literary awards, including the European Knight of Poetry Award in 2013, the Zija Dizdarević Award in 2000, and the 2019 Meša Selimović Award for the best novel published in 2018 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia and Montenegro. She is the editor of the internet portal for literature, culture and art strane.ba.
Body Kintsugi – Senka Marić
The summer of 2014 was shaped by three events.
On 17 June, just a few days after that afternoon you’d spent sitting on your king-size bed in which the two of you hadn’t slept together for over a year, in silence interrupted by the odd weary word, your husband packed his clothes into two large gym bags. You brought him one more from the store room and packed two sets of single bed linen, a pillow, a terry blanket, three small and two large towels. As you zipped it up, you thought about the coming winter. You returned to the store room, where you spent five minutes looking for a big plastic bag in which you stuffed a quilt. The hall was blocked with things. A few times he made to say something. Each time he changed his mind the moment he saw you arms akimbo, breathing deeply. He managed to pick up all three bags. Eyes cast down, hurrying down the stairs to the taxi that was already waiting for him in the street. After that you sat long in solitude in front of that bare wall and slowly realised that he hadn’t left behind a feeling of emptiness, only a sense of defeat.
On 15 July your left shoulder started to hurt. It hurt the most at night. You couldn’t sleep, so you sat on the bed and cried. It turned out you had calcific tendonitis – a jagged deposit of calcium which sores the surrounding tissue, causing an inflammation. The doctor said the only thing to do now was to take painkillers and wait for it to cease. And you hated waiting. And you hated medications. They were at odds with your need to control everything, with your inability to trust anyone enough to ask for help. You kept reducing your dosage. You took half the prescribed quantity. That sweltering July there was nothing in your world but pain. It was the dust settling on your time which refused to pass. You wore a shawl around your neck. To sling your left arm in. Lest it move. To make it hurt as little as possible. You could only think about how you were stronger than the pain. More tenacious. It will pass, I will remain. For a bit you thought about how unlucky you’d been, how bad things had been coming in a succession for years now. Incessantly. Maybe it was because you thought you could take it, you were stronger than all of that? If you’d screamed: Enough! would everything have stopped? Would the wheel grinding everything in its path have gone off the collision course with your life? It was night. It was hot. Kids were asleep. The moment was perfect for crying. For screaming: Enough! Enough, all right! But deep inside you didn’t believe. You knew you could take more.
It is 26 August. It hurts a bit less. You even manage to sleep. You have to be very careful whilst you lie in bed. A single wrong move could send you into agony. When you turn from your right to your left side to fix your shoulder in place, with your left hand you grab yourself firmly below the right armpit. A part of your palm lies on your right breast. As your body turns, slowly, over your back and onto your left haunch, your palm glides back. Your fingers, pressed into your flesh, move across your right breast. And then you feel it. There, to the side, on the edge of your breast, almost hard by. Like a pebble that found its way into your bathing suit top.
You lower your hand. You’re lying on your back. Staring at the ceiling. You don’t feel the pain in your shoulder, just your heart beating in your throat. You sit up and touch it again. It’s still there, moving slightly under your fingers. You remove your hand again and lie on your back. You can’t close your eyes. You don’t even blink. They are agape, swallowing the ceiling. The house changes shape and size. It bends. Flows into your eyes. And with it the city, the surrounding hills, the river trying to flow away from the city, the sea, mile after mile of land, the entire continent rolled up like a paper cone full of hot, sooty chestnuts, till there’s nothing left but the dead, black sky.
But I must’ve got it wrong!
You sit up and feel it again. Your breath fills the room. Bounces off the walls. Breaks the summer night into the day. The round lump withdraws under pressure (the feel of it is forever imprinted in the memory of your fingers). The panic is mud. It fills your mouth. The night swallows you.
You decide to smash the image. Like a mirror hit with a stone. It leaves behind nothing but a smouldering sense that you’re not yet even aware of what has been taken away from you.
Your breathing slows down, becomes inaudible. You say: Now you will sleep. You won’t think of anything. It’s easy. Your thoughts are too scattered anyway. You’re in a place that is above words, their meaning and sense. You distinctly feel only your skin, a membrane you share with the world. You sleep, never so deeply, never so completely, until the next morning, when you discover that the lump in your tit has supplanted the pain in your shoulder.
How does one begin to tell a story that crumbles under the tongue and refuses to solidify?
You knew you would get cancer on the day your mother was diagnosed sixteen years ago, didn’t you?
Since the day your mother was diagnosed sixteen years ago you’ve been convinced you would never get cancer, haven’t you?
Both statements are equally true. The dots falling in place to capture that moment which transpired so long ago are two sequences that form a perfect oval shape, parsing the linear logic of time. Two parallel realities, one of which becomes real only when it reaches its destination. You knew you would get it and you were convinced you never would. The present retroactively renders the past true. You are imprisoned in a reality which refuses to admit that it could have ever been otherwise.
So, you were a sad child? Seems that way now. You had everything, but you could never escape the feeling that everything was a bit off, that there was something dark and oppressive lurking in all things. Still, all that time you thought you knew you’d be happy someday. Because you were meant to be happy. In a world in which happiness doesn’t exist.
Is it possible to pin down the point which cuts into the flesh of time, setting the trajectory which leads you to this moment?
You’re little. You’re sitting under the desk in your granddad’s study. You don’t remember if you’re trying to hide. You don’t know what happened before or after. You’re wearing a red-green plaid dress and thick tights. You feel dirty. Bad. The tights are white. Traitorous grey stains can be seen on the feet. Your hair is brown. Now you’re not quite sure, but it may have been greasy and clumpy. The image melts into the image of a cat emerging from a dark cellar. You wouldn’t want to touch it. Yet, the girl under the desk (is it really you?) is longing for touch. Granddad’s room is on the ground floor. The kitchen and the sitting room are upstairs. Everyone is upstairs all the time. Why are you downstairs, alone? Especially seeing that you’re afraid of the Gypsy man who will come to steal you. He looks like Sandokan, and he’s monochromatic. He’s a strange black-and-white figure which sneaks into your house, hides behind the screen under the stairwell, waiting for you. From Granddad’s room you can hop out straight onto the stairs. Sandokan the Gypsy can’t reach you. You run upstairs. Nan is up in the kitchen. The pressure cooker hisses. Pots clatter. Heavy aroma of food. You don’t want soup. You don’t want anything. Nan moves swiftly, juggling pots and plates. She’s twirling in her blue sleeveless dress. She can’t see you. But her presence makes you feel better.
In your memory, of the whole house, only the kitchen stands untouched. Like a spire atop a magic castle. One entire wall is glazed. Light glares. You’ll never forget the silence and darkness raging down below. You’re even dirtier in the light.
You didn’t open your eyes immediately. You lay there. You waited. You thought if you kept them shut everything would just go away. You could hear birds and you thought you were happy it was summer and the window panes didn’t sequester you from the world. You got up, went to the bathroom and showered a long time. At first the hand steered clear of the spot. You thought maybe it wasn’t there, maybe it was all a mistake. You would phone your friends. You would go for a morning coffee. You would drink wine instead, or whisky, or cherry liqueur, doesn’t matter. You would toast loudly. Laugh at the stray bullet that whizzed just wide of your head.
The lump is still there. Unyieldingly present. More supple than last night. Dancing under the wet skin.
You take a violet dress from the wardrobe, one of your nicest, strapless, no shoulders. It flows over your beautiful, firm breasts all the way down to your knees. You tie your hair in a ponytail. You put on make-up. You think that you’re beautiful. You look at the kids sleeping, drunk on the August heat, calmed by the serenity of the early morning, and you go to see your GP.
When you start to speak you realise you’re speaking too fast. Or not fast enough. The day seems too thick to admit your words. You slide down your dress top. You keep silent as he feels your breasts. He purses his lips, raises eyebrows. He nods slowly, lowering his gaze. Your stomach feels heavy. You should’ve been sent back from that initial stop. You counted on that place to be the point where life would flow into a familiar riverbed. Into a telephone invitation for a coffee that isn’t quite a coffee. A celebration of a bullet dodged. A moment of crystal clear awareness of everything you’re doing wrong, a decision never to make the same mistakes again. You would love those deserving of your love. You would eat healthy. You would practise yoga. You would feel every day.
The doctor wrote a referral note and sent you to hospital.
There were two doctors there. One, who wasn’t quite sure what to make of the multitude of black and white dots making up the inside of your breasts under the ultrasound scanner stick. And another, sent for by the first one. He applied a coat of cold gel onto your breasts again and circled round with the stick. They agreed you were fine. The other doctor told you to bring the report from your regular check-up six months ago, where findings were normal, and schedule a mammography in twelve months.
You stepped out into the street. Maybe you knew already and your hands were shaking. You felt like crying but you didn’t want your mascara to smudge. You still wanted to be pretty. You told yourself to be quiet, though there were no words in your mouth. You told yourself: Don’t jinx it! Don’t stare into the darkness. Turn your back to the abyss! You got in your car and drove, although you didn’t know where to.
Then you saw him in the street, the radiologist you’d been entrusting with your tits for years now, determined to forestall, by going for regular check-ups, the illness that had ravaged your mother’s body. An hour before that you’d looked for him in the hospital corridors, but they told you he wasn’t in. Now you stopped your car in the middle of the road, in a sea of speeding cars, and you ran after him. You told him that you knew you were crazy, and that you were sorry for pestering, his colleagues having told you were fine. But you knew, you felt that stone under your skin, the cry of the tissue sick and tired of the pain you’d been swallowing like bites of a bland dinner at a stranger’s house. He smiled and told you not to worry. He would expect you at his surgery at three. You would check everything. And everything would quite certainly be fine. You knew he had no way of knowing that. But you felt reassured because he wasn’t going to send you home, tell you to come back in a year and stop thinking about you.
When you entered his surgery, on 15 September, he said: Did you really come alone? Four days prior he’d run MRI and biopsy. The results would take two weeks. When he acquainted himself with your lump via the ultrasound, on the day when you ran after him in the street, he was convinced it was nothing. It looked benign. Six months prior, there was nothing there. But, on account of your family medical history, we will do MRI and biopsy. Don’t worry. Looks fine! You would wait for the optimal moment, the period between the seventh and the twelfth day of your menstrual cycle, and perform both procedures.
When he scanned you on the MRI four days ago, he said nothing. He didn’t want to look you in the eye. He muttered that he was snowed under. That he didn’t have time. That he would let you know as soon as the biopsy results were in. You’d seen him walking into the MRI room examining your scan report. For five minutes. After that, as he was performing biopsy sticking the needle with which he extracted bits of the lump from your body (o, what a brutally dull, final sound), you talked about your daughters, who were the same age, about yoga, and the waning summer. You kept silent about everything else as you breathed deeply, lying on the narrow bed, covered with a green sheet. Over the following four days you didn’t think about anything. You were in no hurry to be scared.
On Monday at ten in the morning his nurse phones you and asks you to be at his surgery at eleven. Minutes are slowly dripping excess of eternity. You dress slowly. You put on make-up, long and carefully. You fix your hair. You put on your ring and earrings. You get in your car and drive to the hospital.
– Yes, I really came alone – you even smiled.
– We have bad news, but also good news – he said, finally looking you in the eye.
– Let’s start with the bad news – is what you said.
That wasn’t courage talking.
– Cancer it is.
– OK – you say – OK.
Something in you wants to whimper, cry. But all those things, the room on the ground floor of the city hospital, the great big desk behind his back with the giant computer screen showing about twenty images of the inside of your breasts, the big black chair on which he moved a bit to the left, then a bit to the right, you on the low sofa opposite, one hand holding the other on your knees, the strident blue sky seeping in through the interstices of the window blinds and the squeaking of somebody’s rubber soles on the linoleum floor in the corridor outside, all of that seems insufficiently true, like a glitch in reality that’s going to be corrected any moment now. And all things will return to their proper place.
– But, we’ve caught it on time – that was the good news.
– Good – you say – good.
For a moment, the room wraps itself tight round your neck. You think you’re going to burst into tears. The next instant you realise how pointless that gesture would’ve been, how unnecessary. Redundant. You lean forward. You listen to him attentively. He says a surgery is to be scheduled. He should see with the surgeon if the entire breast is to be removed, or just the section with the tumour. And a number of lymph nodes. The surgeon will decide how many. He says nothing about what happens if there is tumour in the lymph nodes, too. He talks about how good the prognosis is when cancer is caught so early on.
– This is certainly very early, certainly in good time.
The words are an anchor stopping reality from dissolving.
Translated from Bosnian by Mirza Purić
Photo: Radmila Vankoska
Faruk Šehić was born in 1970 in Bihac. Until the outbreak of war in 1992, Šehić studied Veterinary Medicine in Zagreb. However, the then 22-year-old voluntarily joined the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in which he led a unit of 130 men as a lieutenant. After the war he studied literature and since 1998 has published his own literary works. The literary critics regard him as the voice of the so-called mangled generation.
His debut novel ‘Knjiga o Uni’ (2011; tr: Quiet Flows the Una) was awarded Meša Selimović prize for the best novel published in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Croatia in 2011, and European Union Prize for Literature 2013. For his book of selected poems in Italian and Bosnian language ‘Ritorno alla natura / Povratak prirodi’ he received XXXI Premio Letterario Camaiore – Francesco Belluomini 2019 (Premio Internazionale).
His books have been translated into English, Turkish, Slovenian, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, German, Bulgarian, French, Spanih, Dutch, Arab, Romanian and Macedonian.
He work in respected political magazine BH Dani as a columnist and journalist. Faruk Šehić lives in Sarajevo.
Nađa is a kid. Greta is an elderly woman. Nađa goes to secondary school, she’s not quite a kid but that’s how I refer to her. From time to time, her friends visit our refugee home. One of them has a fair complexion, blue eyes. I sometimes think she eyes me furtively, but I pretend not to notice because I am a soldier, a grown man, although I am only about twenty. Then again, it’s not proper for kids to fall in love with young adults. I’ve no time for love; I’ve devoted myself to other things. Amongst them war, but I’ve mentioned that more times than one. Comradeship with other soldiers, friends, acquaintances, rakia and weed, but I’ve mentioned that, too. One might say it’s a case of fraternal love between young men, but that’s quite beside the point now.
I soon forget about Nađa’s friend, for one must press on, one must be mature as long as there’s a war on; I’ve no time for by-the-ways like love. Love, at the moment, is a bit stand-offish towards abstractions such as homeland or nation. There is, however, such thing as true love for things quite concrete and tangible, like home, street or town. Here I mean the lost home, the lost street, the lost town. The town has lost us and we are alone in the universe. It’s not the town’s fault, and it isn’t ours, either.
I don’t know what Nađa is thinking about and I don’t take her seriously. Nađa spends time with Greta. The two of them live in a world of their own. Greta raised Nađa, she is like a second mother to her. Greta is an elderly woman, very wise and knowledgeable. Nađa and Greta play patience and listen to Radio Rijeka on a set connected to a car battery. Greta is a passionate smoker, she loves crosswords but there aren’t any in wartime. Inside the radiobox Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman sing Time to Say Goodbye.
It’s as though Greta and Nađa were two dispossessed noblewomen. Greta, of course, is a countess, Nađa her right hand. They have now been expelled from their county. Nobody knows them; the faces in the street are strange. None treat them with due respect. In turn, the two of them don’t much care what people in their new town think about them. Greta and Nađa listen to the news, remembering the number of shells that have fallen on such and such town on a given day. They remember the number of dead and wounded, because we all do. It’s an informal sport of sorts, it may become an Olympic discipline someday, and it consists of a radio speaker informing us in a distraught voice that such and such number of howitzer, mortar and cannon shells were fired on town XY during an enemy attack on the very heart of the town. Greta and Nađa are able to tell howitzer and cannon shells from one another, because the former fly a lot longer than the latter and you have time to find cover. They learnt this from our father. At times, radio reports made mention of surface-to-air missiles, which are used – ironically enough – not to shoot down aeroplanes but to destroy our cities and towns. For nothing is the way it may at first seem in war. The missiles have poetic names: Dvina, Neva, Volna. The surface-to-surface missile Luna has the prettiest name. One missile landed near our house, the blast lifted a few tiles off the roof. Dry snow seeped through the hole in the roof onto the concrete steps carpeted with varicoloured rag-rug. The cold falls into our home vertically.
Greta & Nađa remember all that. Nađa goes to school. Greta stays at home with our mother. Father and I are on the frontline all the time. The radio-sport of remembering the body count and the destruction of towns and cities spreads to every house without exception, be it inhabited by locals, or by refugees. It goes without saying that we, being refugees, couldn’t have possibly brought our own houses along on our backs like snails can and do, so the houses we’ve moved into have become the way we are – homeless, with few possessions and many human desires.
Suada, our mother, is the barycentre around which all things and living beings in our home orbit. Apart from Greta & Nađa, there is also a little tomcat, as well as a dog that has survived distemper and twitches a bit as he walks. His name is Humpy Horsey, after a character from a Russian fairy tale. Father and I are optional subjects in our refugee family portraits, as we are seldom home.
Suada looks after our civilian lives. Every year she takes a horse cart to a remote village where she plants spuds. The yields range from 500 kg to 700 kg. This guarantees that we won’t starve, in case we also don’t die in some other way, and the ways to die are many, and they form part of life.
Once I was detailed to spade up a patch of the green behind our house. I was at it until Mother saw me toiling and moiling, my face flushed, pushing the blade into the hard soil with the sole of my boot. She snatched the spade from my hands and did the job herself. I was dismissed, and I could go out, where my mates were, were the alcohol was.
Suada procured not only victuals but also articles of clothing to meet our modest needs. Thus I was issued a terry robe with an aitch emblazoned on the chest, and I called it Helmut. A kind-hearted Helmut donated his robe and helped me feel a bit like a human being. It’s not advisable to feel like too much of a human being though, lest your being assume an air of haughtiness, and you become toffee-nosed, as they say in the vernacular. A being could get all kinds of ideas into its head. It might lust after this or that, and there is neither this nor that to be got in the new town. Unless you have a lot of money. Still, even with money, many pleasures remain out of reach, and all they do is feed our fancy and lend us faith in a future better than counting shells and remembering body counts.
That is the main sport in our County. It’s just about to go Olympic.
Nađa grows and goes to school. Greta is always the same. Patience, news and Radio Rijeka playlists shape their time. They have a room of their own – they may have been expelled from their lands, but they’ve retained some trappings of nobility. Greta sends Nađa out to survey the prices of foodstuffs on the black market, things such as oranges, juice, chocolate. Nađa returns and briefs Greta, who decides what will be purchased. Sometimes Nađa fetches ingredients and Greta bakes a cake. This happens when Greta receives money from her relatives in Slovenia. The two of them have a special nook in the wardrobe where they stash their goodies. Inside the radio, the blind Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman sing Time to Say Goodbye.
Suada looks after the house and all the living beings in and around it. The little tom is becoming less and less little. At some point I can no longer remember what happens to him, he vanishes into a mysterious feline land, far from the radio reports, far from the laundry soap with which we wash our hair, far from the bath tub mounted on four bricks, far from the cold tiles of the toilet in which I often see my face, distorted with weed and alcohol because it cannot be otherwise. It is the same bathtub in which Mum washed the shot-through blood-encrusted camo vest I strutted about in during nocturnal piss-ups, flaunting my spoils. I’d stripped a dead Autonomist, as if I was about to wash him and wrap him in a white shroud for funeral. But he remained lying on the melting crust of snow on a slope overgrown with stunted conifer. Almost naked, in his pants and boots with socks showing. He lay there for a few days before somebody thought we should bury him, then dig him up again to swap him for victuals. For we were made by nature, and to nature we shall return, naked like the day we were born.
Nađa goes to school, and school, like war, drags on forever. Greta plays patience, feeds Humpy Horsie, feeds the tom who pops down from the mysterious feline land every now and then because he misses us (at least I like to think so), and the birds, for Greta loves all living beings.
Suada picks pigweed in the dales and meadows. She is a pigweed gatherer, in pigweed dwelleth iron, and iron we need to keep the blood red. Greta and Nađa may well be blue-blooded, what with that room of their own, whilst Mum, Dad and I sleep in the sitting room. The tom slept there, too, before he broke away to live a life of roaming and roving. When he was little he would stalk me, and when I blinked in my sleep he’d give me a brush with his paw. Humpy Horsie is growing up and twitches less and less. Prognoses are good for Humpy, even the end of war may be in sight, but we cannot afford to have such high hopes, we are not accustomed to such luxury. Therefore we cannot allow ourselves to entertain fancies and reveries about a better world that is to come. We are wholly accustomed to this one, like a lunatic is used to his straitjacket. Although all fighters are wont to declare that they would get killed on the frontline eventually, deep inside I believe I will survive, but I don’t say it because I don’t want to jinx myself.
Smirna is a pal of mine. She works as a waitress, rumour has it she moonlights as prostitute, which is of no consequence to me as I’m not interested in rumours, even if they’re true. I’m interested in human beings as such, and Smirna is one, and so am I. Majority opinions don’t interest me, I don’t cave under peer pressure, I rely on what my heart tells me. The only difference between the two of us is that she isn’t a refugee. Smirna likes to read, I’ve lent her a copy of Mishima’s novel The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea. She’ll likely never return it, there’s a war on, who would remember to return a borrowed book in times like these? I remember the closing sentence: Glory, as anyone knows, is bitter stuff.
Zuhra, known as Zu, is a friend of mine. We’ve known each other since before the war. When you say since before the war, it’s as though you remembered that you once used to live in a lost kingdom, the same one in which Greta & Nađa had been noblewomen. In the days of the Kingdom of Before-the-War, Zuhra worked at a video rental, I rented tapes at her shop. We listened to the same music, we patronised the same regal café. She once sent me a beer with a dedication note to the frontline. Zuhra is young and combative, she doesn’t lack optimism. We listen to grunge music, we drink beer and rakia. It makes us happy. Although we are young, we know full well that there’s something missing. Someone has taken something from us and refuses to give it back. We don’t know what that something is called, or what it looks like, but we do know it’s something very important for our young lives. Older adults feel the same way, they, too, have had something taken away from them, they, too, don’t know what it’s called or what it looks like. When someone takes something like that away from you, it’s too late for common sense. The only thing you know is that there’s a hole that’s getting larger and larger and there’s nothing you can fill it with.
Zuhra is strong enough not to think about these things. That’s what we’re both like, that’s why we’re friends. We’ve known each other since the days of the Kingdom of Before-the-War. We like to spend time together because it makes us feel that the hole in and around us is shrinking, if only by a smidgen.
Azra, too, is strong and upright. She is tall and beautiful in a special way. I was on a perilous line once, beech and hornbeam trees outside were crackling with cold, Azra phoned me via the brigade phone exchange. One flick of the switch on the switchboard, and we were transported to a realm of magic where nothing was impossible. She was at home, her civilian receiver in hand. I was in a dugout, holding the olive-green receiver of a military field phone. I keep it away from my ear; the phone is prone to tiny electrical surges that zap the ear-lobe. During my stint at that line on Padež Hill I wore Azra’s turquoise scarf. It held the smell of her skin and the swoosh of unknown seas, a memory of all the kingdoms we lost, and all the ones we might someday regain.
I envy her for the fact that her family home is intact. All things inside are in the same place all the time: the photographs on the wall, the telly, the sofa, the armchairs, the tables, the doors, the shelves above the basin in the bathroom. Immobility is a virtue. When you get uprooted from your pot and forcefully transplanted into another one, all you want to do is strike root and stay put. Books gather dust as if the war never happened. Azra’s house keeps the memory of a bygone peace. It is peace. When I come over and talk to her parents I feel like a phantom. As if I’m making things up when I say that we, too, had a house and a flat before the war, a family history of our own, that is now undocumented, since we no longer have any photos.
Azra works at a café, I’m constantly on the frontline. Sometimes, on leave, I drink at her work and I don’t pay. With her wages she’s bought a pair of Adibax trainers, and we admire them, although the brand name betrays a counterfeit. Matters not, the trainers are new, fashionably designed, worthy of admiration. Sometimes she buys a Milka chocolate and a can of proper coke for each of us, and we give our mates a slip. We hide behind the wooden huts where smuggled consumer goods are sold, and we greedily eat the chocolate and drink the coke. That is also how we make love, furtively, in places secret and dark. Azra keeps me alive by loving me. I have a higher purpose now, something loftier than bare life and the struggle for survival.
Dina is a strong, brave young woman. She has a child with the same name as me. I used to see her around in the Kindom of Before-the-War. I was younger than her and we were never formally introduced, the great generational gaps that existed in that realm were difficult to close. Black-and-white was the kingdom, it was the eighties, films with happy endings, New Wave.
Dina works in catering, like Azra and Smirna, due to the circumstances. We’re sitting in the garden of her refugee house. We’re drinking instant powder juice from jars: glasses are superfluous in war. All glasses are broken, all hands bloody. As Azra and I kiss feverishly, our bodies intertwined like in the sculpture Laocoön and His Sons, Dina’s son darts towards the road wanting to hug a car, but Dina catches him in the nick of time and my little namesake is safe. Azra and I were charged with keeping an eye on him, but our kisses took us far from reality. We drink Step Light instant juice from pickles jars, because we’ve been expelled from our empires, and now we can be barbarians if we jolly well please. We’re entitled to all kinds of behaviour, and getting a-rude and a-reckless is just our style. We all fight in our own way. Women’s war is invisible and silent, but it is of vast importance, though we men on the frontline selfishly think we matter the most. There are women medics and women fighters on the frontlines. I can never forget a young female fighter I once saw, and her firm, confident gait. From one of her shins, through a tear in her uniform trousers, jutted out the nickel-plated bars of a fixation device.
Greta & Nađa play patience. Suada manages the planets of our household solar system. Azra, Dina and Smirna work at their cafés. Zuhra waits for her brother to return from the front. She also waits for us, her friends, to return so we can hang about. Somehow, all things grow and eventually collapse, like a great big wave when it finally reaches the shore. Someone in us plays patience, goes to school, does chores, washes up in a smoky boozer, goes to the front, digs spuds, someone in us laughs at us and our lives. We have an ancient life force inside, and it refuses to leave us. The blind Andrea Bocelli and Sara Brightman sing Time to Say Goodybe.
Tranlslated by Mirza Purić, Istros Books, London (2019)
Photo: Yusuf El-Saadi.
Andriy Lyubka, born 1987 in Riga, is a Ukrainian poet, writer and essayist. He graduated from the Mukachevo Military School and went on to study Ukrainian Philology at Uzhhorod National University and Balkan Studies at the University of Warsaw. His books of poetry include Eight Months of Schizophrenia (2007), Terrorism (2009) and 40 Dollars Plus the Tips (2012). He has also published a collection of short stories, The Killer (2012), a German translation of one of his poetry collections, Notaufname (2012), a book of essays Sleeping with Women (2014), and a novel Karbid (2015), which was short-listed in the final selection of the Book of the Year by BBC Ukraine. Its Polish translation was short-listed for the Angelus Central-European Literary Award in 2017. His recent works include a collection of short stories The Room for Sadness (2016), a book of essays Saudade (2017) and the novel Your Gaze, Cio-Cio-san (2018).
He is the winner of the Debut Award (2007), Kyiv Laurels (2011), recently he received literary award of Kovalev Foundation literary prize in the USA and the Shevelov Prize for the best book of essays of 2017 in Ukraine. Lyubka also translates from Polish, Croatian, Serbian, English and is the curator of two international poetry festivals.
Ilija Đurović, born 1990 in Podgorica, writes short stories, poetry, plays and film scripts. His first collection of short stories, Oni to tako divno rade u velikim ljubavnim romanima, was published in 2014. His short story The Five Widows, translated by Will Firth, was published by Dalkey Archive Press in its anthology Best European Fiction 2016. His second collection of short stories Crne ribe (2016) was one of the 2017 finalists for the Istrian literary award ‘Edo Budiša Prize’ for best collection of short stories published in the region of the former Yugoslavia.The manuscript of his first poetry collection brought him the top prize at a Serbian competition for best unpublished manuscripts from the region. As a result of the competition his first poetry collection Brid was published in 2018. He is currently preparing for the publication of his first novel. He lives in Berlin.
Viktoria Khomenko, born 1989 in Kyiv, Ukraine, studied journalism and communication at the Kyiv Mohyla Academy and also completed a CSM course in Cultural Criticism and Curation (2014, Ukraine) and a summer course in Communications and Human Rights at the Södra Vätterbygden Folk High School (2011, Sweden). She was a film critic and cultural columnist for national media as Insider, Bird in Flight, Kraina and Korydor. From 2015 she has been working as an editor at Docudays UA IDFF and as a communication coordinator of DOCU/PRO (industrial platform for film professionals) and producing Ukrainian documentary and fiction films. The first presentation of her literary work was at the Intermezzo Short Story Festival in Vinnitsa in 2015. In the same year she won a special prize for her collection of short stories Crude Earth at a Ukrainian competition initiated by the publisher Smoloskyp.
Mehmet Yaşın, born 1958 in Nicosia, is a Turkish-Cypriot poet and author. His poems, novels and essays are considered part of Cypriot and Greek as well as Turkish literature. He is one of the internationally best-known contemporary literary voices from Cyprus. His first poetry collection won the Academy Poetry Prize in Istanbul in 1985, but was banned by the ruling military junta that came to power after a coup d’etat in 1980. In 1986 Yaşın was deported from Turkey for what was characterized as his ‘subversive’ poetry. He lived between Cambridge, Nicosia and Istanbul from 2002 to 2016 and has since been living in Athens.
Yaşın has published ten poetry collections, three novels, three collection of essays, three anthologies and literary studies of multilingual Cypriot poetry in Istanbul. His work has been translated into more than 20 languages and his books have been published in various European countries.
Photo by Ayşem Ergin
Nora Verde (Antonela Marušić), born 1974 in Dubrovnik, studied Croatian Language and Literature. As a student she published her first poetry collection Sezona Bjegova (1994). She publishes poetry in several magazines and she is the author of the novels Posudi mi smajl (2010) and Do isteka zaliha (2013). Her prose and poetry have been translated into English, German, Slovene, Albanian and Macedonian.
She is one of the founders of the feminist portal Vox Feminae to which she contributes and for which she been an editor since 2011. She collaborates with several Croatian national and regional portals and media on independent culture, literature, music and human rights (Novosti, Kulturpunkt, Proletter, Maz, CroL, LGBT.ba).
Renato Baretić, born 1963 in Zagreb, is a Croatian writer. He used to work as a journalist for newspapers and magazines such as Večernji list, Nedjeljna Dalmacija, Slobodna Dalmacija, Feral Tribune, Globus, Nacional, Autograf, Tportal, Otvoreno more. He also used to compile quiz questions for the TV quiz shows Kviskoteka and Tko želi biti milijunaš. He was involved in the screenwriting for the television series Nova doba and Crnobijeli svijet 2 and the 2005 comedy-drama film Što je muškarac bez brkova. He also lectured at the House for Creative Writing in Split and the Center for Creative Writing in Zagreb. From 2007 to 2016 he was creative director and program editor of the Pričigin Storytelling Festival in Split.
His poems, short stories and excerpts of novels have been translated and published in English, Slovene, German, Macedonian, Italian, Ukrainian and Polish.
Nora Nadjarian is an award-winning Cypriot poet and writer. She has won prizes and commendations in international competitions, including the Commonwealth Short Story Competition, the Féile Filíochta International Poetry Competition and the Seán Ó Faoláin Short Story Prize. She has been widely anthologised and translated into several languages. Her work concentrates on the themes of women, refugees, identity, exile, love and loss, as well as the political situation in Cyprus. Her poems deal with everyday episodes which go beyond reality in their atmospheric concentration, pointing to symbolic interior worlds.
Best known in Cyprus for her book of short stories Ledra Street (2006), she has had poetry and short fiction published internationally. Her work was included in A River of Stories, an anthology of tales and poems from across the Commonwealth, Best European Fiction 2011 (Dalkey Archive Press), Being Human (Bloodaxe Books, 2011) and Capitals (Bloomsbury, 2017). Her latest books are the collections of short stories Selfie (Roman Books, 2017) and Girl, Wolf, Bones (bilingual English-German edition) (2017). The author Anjali Joseph has said of her work: ‘Nora Nadjarian’s distilled short stories are abrupt and intense, as invigorating and aromatic as a double shot of literary espresso.’
Jasna Dimitrijević, born 1979 in Negotin, graduated from the Department of Comparative Literature and Literary Theory at the University of Belgrade. She writes short stories, poetry and reviews. She is a regular contributor to the magazine Liceulice. She is the co-organizer of the first regional short story competition ‘Biber’ on the topic of reconciliation, and the co-editor of the resulting multilingual collection. She published her first collection of stories Prepoznavanja (Recognitions) in 2015. Her second collection of short stories Fibonačijev niz was published in 2019. She lives in Belgrade and works in a bookstore.
Photo by Tamara Zrnović.
Lana Bastašić, born 1986 in Zagreb, is a Bosnian writer. She studied English Language and Literature and holds an MA degree in Cultural Studies. She has published two collections of short stories, a book of children’s stories, and a collection of poetry. Catch the Rabbit, her first novel, was published in 2018 in Belgrade and was shortlisted for the NIN Award. Her short stories have been included in major anthologies throughout former Yugoslavia. She won the Best Short Story Award at the Zija Dizdarević Literary Competition in Fojnica, Bosnia; the Jury Award at the ‘Carver: Where I’m Calling From’ short story festival in Podgorica, Montenegro; the Best Short Story Award at the ‘Ulaznica’ festival in Zrenjanin, Serbia; Best Play by a Bosnian Playwright Award at the competition organized by Kamerni Teatar 55 in Sarajevo, the first award for best unpublished poetry collection in Zrenjanin, and the Targa UNESCO Prize for poetry at the Castello di Duino festival in Trieste, Italy. In 2016 she co-founded Escola Bloom with Borja Bagunyà and co-edits the school’s literary magazine Carn de cap. She lives and works in Barcelona.
Photo by Milan Ilić/RAS
Daim Miftari, born 1979 in Gostivar, Macedonia, holds a Master’s degree in Albanian Language and Literature from Skopje University. He has published a number of books in both Albanian and Macedonian, his poetry has been translated and published in anthologies, newspapers and literary magazines in Macedonia and abroad and has earned him acclaim with literary critics. In 2017 he was granted the POETEKA literary residence in Tirana, Albania.
He lives in the multilingual city of Skopje, where he works as journalist, translator, and teacher.
Azem Deliu, born 1996 in Skënderaj, Kosovo studied Albanian Literature at the University of Prishtina where he was honoured with the prestigious Distinguished Student Award for his first poetry volume The Funeral of Rain (2013). His first novel The Illegal Kisser (2016) became a national bestseller and has already been translated into English. Interest in the author is also growing in other countries. The French press have called him ‘a great author from a small country’ and ‘the new star of European literature’.
Ana Schnabl, born 1985, is a Slovene writer, journalist and literary critic. A doctoral student of Philosophy since 2016, she focuses her research on the female autobiography and confession, and the woman in psychoanalysis. She writes for literary journal Literatura and the online portal AirBeletrina, has collaborated with daily Dnevnik and is the editor-in-chief of the European Review of Poetry, Books and Culture. In 2014 her short story MDMA was the winner of AirBeletrina’sshort fiction competition. Disentangling (Razvezani, 2017), a short story collection, is her first book. Schnabl is currently working on a play and a novel, with the latter delving into the topics of infidelity, illegitimate children and the ‘golden 80s’ in Slovenia.
Tanja Šljivar, born 1988 in Banja Luka, holds both a BA and MA degree in Dramaturgy from the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade, as well as an MA degree in Applied Theatre Studies from Giessen, Germany. She is the author of full-length plays How Much is Pate?, Scratching or How My Grandmother Killed Herself, We Are the Ones Our Parents Warned Us About, But the City Has Protected Me, All Adventurous Women Do, Regime of Love and the short plays Stillborn, Self-Sacrificed and Europe – The Death of a Saleswoman which were published, publicly read and produced in professional theatres in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Albania, Spain, Poland, Austria and Germany (Deutsches Theater Berlin, Schauspiel Stuttgart, Theater Dortmund, Theater Paderborn). She also writes short stories, radio plays, screenplays for short films and texts in theatre theory. Šljivar co-wrote the script for the full-length fiction film The Celts, directed by Milica Tomović. She won several awards for her playwriting, most recently the prestigious Sterija Award for the best contemporary play in Serbia, the MESS Market Co-production Award for All Adveturous Women Do in Bosnia, as well as the nomination for the 2017 Retzhofer Dramapreis for the same play in Austria. Her plays have been translated into over ten languages.
Nikola Nikolić, born 1989 in Podgorica, is a Montenegrin novelist, short-story writer, essayist, journalist and the artistic director of the Podgorica International Book Fair. He graduated from the Faculty of Political Science at the University of Montenegro and his Master’s thesis examined with phenomenon of collaborationism during the Second World War.His published works include the novel Čvor (2011), a second novel Meandar (2014), and a book of short stories Atakama (2016). His short stories have been published in local and regional literary magazines. In 2017, he won the ‘Bihorska Venera’ short story prize
Dijana Matković, born 1984 in Novo Mesto, is a Slovene author, translator, journalist and editor with a degree in Comparative Literature. In 2013 she published her first book, a short story collection titled In the Name of the Father (V imenu očeta) and is currently working on a book of essays and novel. She established and edited Airbeletrina and Državljanska odgovornost (Civil responsibility). She edited and contributed as a translator to Antologija tesnobe (Anthology of Anxiety, 2016), a book on anxiety with essays written by writers from Slovenia and other countries from the former Yugoslavia and was also an editor of Antologija svetlobe (Anthology of Light). As a journalist and author, she has contributed articles to Delo, Dnevnik, Mladina, Literatura, Le Monde Diplomatique, Pogledi, Airbeletrina and others. She organizes public discussions and tribunes about media, culture and society and has translated authors such as Danilo Kiš, Andrej Nikolaidis, Ognjen Spahić and many others.
Igor Angjelkov, born 1974 in Skopje, graduated in Interdisciplinary Journalism Studies and completed his master’s degree in Media and Communications at the Iustinianus Primus Faculty of Law of the Ss. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje. He writes literature, music and film reviews for numerous Macedonian magazines.
In 1996 his first self-published book was published under the pseudonym Angel Gorski. His official debut as a writer was in 2006 with the short story collection Krotki Prikazni, the first domestic author to be published in the Macedonian literary edition PROaZA. His stories have been published in various Balkan literary magazines and his novels Kraj-pat (2010) and Foto sinteza (2013) have been very well received, leading to further editions.
Photo by: Maja Nedeva
Anja Golob, born 1976 in Slovenj Gradec, studied Philosophy and Comparative Literature at the Faculty of Arts in Ljubljana and worked as a theatre critic for twelve years, mainly publishing for the newspaper Večer and has also written around 750 theatre reviews. She has so far published seven books of poetry – three in Slovene, a reprint of all three collections in a single volume, two in German translation, and one in collaboration with Nikolai Vogel. Selections of her poems and other texts have appeared in numerous magazines. Her second and third books were both awarded the Jenko Award (2014 and 2016), a literary prize for the best collection of Slovene poetry published over the previous two years.
She works as poet, writer and translator. In 2013 she co-founded a small publishing house Vigevageknjige, where she is now the chief editor. It specialises in publishing Slovene translations of graphic novels for both children and adults. She also occasionally still works as a dramaturge for contemporary art and dance performances. She lives between Maribor and Brussels.
Portrait by: Ute Helmbold
Marija Pavlović, born 1984 in Leskovac, is a Serbian writer. She has written short stories (American Dream, Discopolis, Disco Inferno, All Is in Line), a theatre piece The Strange Case of Mrs Jekyll and Dr Hyde (performed as an audio-visual performance in the Cultural Center Parobrod in Belgrade), a poetry collection (Imperatives), a book of short stories Horror Stories of Everyday (2014) and a novel titled 24 (2018). Pavlović has participated in regional festivals and initiatives, such as the short stories festival Kikinda Short, the UN project Writers for the Future, implemented in Bosnia & Herzegovina, the Montenegrin Literary Festival and the programme Neighbourhood Bound organised by the association KROKODIL. Her story Rapid Euro Movement has been translated into Hungarian and published in the anthology of contemporary Serbian literature Hogyan legyél mesterlövész? / How to become a sniper?. With the support of the association KROKODIL and the Swedish Institute in Serbia, she participated in the literary residency on the island Gotland in Sweden, during which time her story Memoirs of Ptolemy Tenia Solium III was translated into Swedish. She lives and works in Berlin, where she is completing a PhD degree in Comparative Literature at the Freie Universität Berlin.
Jedrt Lapuh Maležič, born 1979, is a Slovene writer and literary translator of English and French with a BA in Translation Studies from the Faculty of Arts at the University of Ljubljana. She first worked as an in-house translator at an agency, but has been freelancing as a translator since 2007. Among her translated authors are Khaled Hosseini, Julie Otsuka, Jeet Thayil, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., John Boyne, Mircea Eliade, Marie-Aude Murail, Jacqueline Raoul-Duval and many others. In 2016, she published two collections of her own short stories, Težkomentalci (Heavymetallers) and Bojne barve (War Colours). Težkomentalci was nominated Best Debut Book of the year, while Bojne barve was nominated Best Short Story Collection of 2016 at the Novo Mesto Short literary festival. Topics covered in her poetry range from psychiatric hospitals to LGBT issues. Her latest book was published in 2018 and is a novel entitled Vija vaja ven (Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe) dealing with the theme of new-age healers and sects.
Marko Tomaš, born 1978 in Ljubljana, was one of the founders and editors of the Kolaps literary magazine in Sarajevo. He has worked as a journalist and radio speaker and has published extensively across the region. He is a poet of a rare sensuality and emotional refinement with a rarefied bohemian touch reminiscent somewhat of a young Leonard Cohen. His published works include, Hands Under Head (2002), Mama I’m Successful (2004), Life Is a Joke (2005), Marko Tomaš and Other Poems (2007), Goodbye Fascists (2009), Midnight Conversations (with Mehmed Begić) (2012), Boulevard of the People’s Revolution (2013), The Black Prayer Book (2015), The Paper Boat Race (2016), Thirty-Ninth of May (2018).
Vitomirka Trebovac, born 1980 in Novi Sad, has published two poetry books, Plavo u boji (Blue in Colour, 2011) and Sve drveće, sva deca i svi bicikli u meni (All the Trees, Kids, and Bicycles Within Me, 2017). Together with Jelena Anđelovski she edited a book of poetry Ovo nije dom (This Is Not Home, 2017). She works in a bookstore and at the publishing centre Bulevar Books in Novi Sad.
Alen Brlek, born 1988 in Zagreb, won the ‘Na vrh jezika’ Award for the best unpublished poetry collection Metakmorfoze in 2013. His second book, Pratišina, was published in Serbia in 2017. He participates in the Zaron Project where he explores spaces and atmospheres of poetry and music with the poet Darko Šeparović and the musician Emil Andreis. His poems have been published in a number of magazines and translated into various languages.
Ahmed Burić, born 1967 in Sarajevo, graduated in Journalism at the Sarajevo Faculty of Political Science. He is one of the most influential reporters, columnists and intellectuals in South-Eastern Europe. He writes columns with humorous and insightful comments about Sarajevo and the World, published on the of Radio Sarajevo portal. He has published over 4000 articles about cultural and political topics relating to Bosnia and Herzegovina and the rest of South-Eastern Europe. His work has been translated into English, French, Czech and Slovene.Burić is also a poet and has published four poetry collections, Bog tranzicije (The God of Transition, 2004), Posljednje suze nafte i krvi (The Final Tears of Crude Oil and Blood, 2010), Maternji jezik (Mother Tongue, 2013) and Vrata raja (The Gates of Paradise, collected poems in Slovene, 2015). In 2017 he published his first novel Tebi šega što se zovem Donald?.
Ivan Shopov, born 1987 in Skopje, studied General and Comparative Literature at the Ss. Cyril and Methodius University in his hometown.
His first book, Azbukaizalutanizapisi (An Alphabet and Notes Gone Astray) – a diptychally structured cycle of 62 short stories, 4 poems and a newspaper collage – won him the Novite Award for best debut fiction in 2010. He followed this success with Meshenagodinata (Belly of the Year), a collection of neo-surrealistic prose poems described by Macedonia’s leading modernist Vlada Urošević as “remarkable” and “inaugural… of new words and sensibilities”. In 2017 he published a flash fiction booklet, 091 – antirazglednici od Skopje (091 –Anti-Postcards from Skopje), a lyrical commentary on the controversial architectural remodelling of Macedonia’s capital.
Shopov’s poems and stories have been translated into English, Serbian, Croatian, Albanian, Slovenian, Bulgarian, Czech, Romanian and German. He was a board member of the AnOther Story Festival and has moderated the Nights Without Punctuation multimedia artistic event at the Struga Poetry Evenings.
Marko Vidojković, born 1975 in Belgrade, is a Serbian writer. He studied law at the University of Belgrade. He has published several novels as well as two collections of short stories. His stories have appeared in many newspapers and the following collections, Projekat Bukvoski, Podgoričke priče, Pričaj mi o ocu, Priče o Kosovu and Orlovi ponovo lete. His works have been translated into German, English, Bulgarian, Slovene, Macedonian, Hungarian, and Czech.The novel Sve crvenkape su iste (All Little Red Riding Hoods Are the Same) received the Vitalova Award for best book published in 2016, while the novel Kandže (Claws) received the Kočićevo Pero Award and Zlatni Bestseler Prize. Both novels sold over 20 000 copies. His novel E baš vam hvala (2017) was translated into Slovene, Croatian and Macedonian and was shortlisted for Biljana Jovanović Award bestowed by the Serbian Literary Society. It was also short listed for Fric! Award and has sold 23 000 copies since its publication.
Annetta Benzar was born in Belarus but grew up in Cyprus. She completed an MA in English Literature from King’s College London, her Life Writing thesis focusing on sham marriages in Cyprus. Her first book, I-stories (2019), is a non-fiction collection that brings together various migrant and refugee voices from all over Cyprus. She is also a poet and eagerly participates in poetry slams. She has received various literary awards such as the University of Nicosia Young Poets Award for her poem 20 Spaces, and has been published both locally and internationally. She was also a finalist at the annual Cypriot Poetry Slam. Her writing focuses on issues of immigration, feminism, and violence between the individual and their surroundings, the state and regime.
Stefan Bošković, born 1983 in Podgorica, graduated in Drama from the Faculty of Dramatic Arts at the University of Montenegro in Cetinje in 2010. His published works include a book of short stories Transparentne životinje (Transparent Animals, 2017) and a novel, Šamaranje (Slap in the Face, 2014) that was awarded the Prize for the Best Manuscript Novel in Montenegro earlier that year. In 2016, he won the second prize of the Festival of European Short Stories for Fashion and Friends. His short stories have been published in English, German, Russian, Albanian, Macedonian, and Slovene. Bošković also has written the scripts for a feature-length film, several short films, a sitcom serial, and a large number of documentaries. Several of his short plays have been staged.
Kateryna Kalytko, born 1982 in Vinnytsia, Ukraine, is an award-winning writer and translator, a member of PEN Ukraine. She is the author of seven poetry volumes, her most recent being Torture Chamber. Vineyard. Home (2014) and Bunar (2018), both bringing her the LitAccent of the Year Prize. Kalytko has also published two books of short stories, M(h)ysteria and The Land of All Those Lost, orCreepy Little Tales, which won the Ukrainian BBC Book of the Year competition and the 2017 Joseph Conrad Literary Prize awarded by the Polish Institute in Kiev – for “writing that raises actual problems, makes you think and expands knowledge about other cultures”. Her selected writings have been translated into more than ten languages. She won the CEI Fellowship for Writers in Residence in 2015, was a KulturKontakt Austria fellow in 2018 and a fellow in the Reading Balkans program in 2019. She is currently working on her first novel.
Slađana Kavarić, born 1991 in Podgorica, writes poetry and short stories. She has published two poetry collections, Sjećanje (Memory, 2010) and Ljudi niotkuda (People from Nowhere, 2016). Her short story Odlazak (Leaving) was published by the prestigious American magazine World Literature Today and her poems have been published by the British magazine Balkan Poetry Today. She holds a PhD in Philosophy.
Yordan Slaveykov, born 1976 in Vratsa, Bulgaria, graduated in Theatre Directing from the NATFA – National Academy of Theatre and Film Arts in Sofia in 2001. He is a theatre director, teacher, playwright, writer and screenwriter.
His first novel The Last Step was published in 2015. It won two national literature awards in 2016 – the 45th edition of the Bulgarian national contest for debut literature Yuzhna prolet (Southern Spring) and the Pencho’s Oak Award, given annually in recognition of literary contribution to contemporary Bulgarian culture.
Peter Dentchev, born 1986 in Varna, is a Bulgarian writer, theatre director and publicist. He graduated in Drama from the Krastio Sarafov National Theater Academy in 2010, and completed a Master’s degree in Theatrical Arts in 2012. He has been nominated and won awards at various competitions for poetry, prose and drama (New Bulgarian Drama, Contest Ecstasy, Light Stretch Award). He was twice the recipient of the second prize at the National Youth Poetry Competition Veselin Hanchev. His novel Like a Man Kissing a Woman He Loves won him the ‘Razvitie’ Award for Best New Bulgarian Novel in 2007. He has also published a collection of stories Stories from The Past (2010) and the novel The Quiet Sun (2012). He was also twice a guest at the short story festival Kikinda Short in Serbia.
Dentchev Theatrical portfolio includes staged plays by authors such as Edward Albee, Jordi Galceran, Shakespeare and Molière, which have been performed at various festivals in Serbia, Romania, Montenegro and Kosovo and been nominated for various national awards.
Jasna Šamić, born 1949 in Sarajevo, writes poetry, novels, short stories, essays, and theatre plays in both Bosnian and French. She studied oriental languages and literatures (Turkish, Arabic and Persian) at the University of Sarajevo and wrote her postgraduate thesis in General Linguistics and Turkology, obtaining her PhD in 1977. She continued her studies at the University of Sorbonne Nouvelle where she completed her Doctorat d’ Etatès Lettres on Sufism and History in 1984.
Šamić has won numerous prises for her writing, among others the Stendhal French Literary Prize (Lauréate du programme Missions Stendhal) in 2008, the Gauchez-Pillippot Literary Prize in 2014, and the Fundations of Bosnian Publishers’ Award. From 1977 she was living between Sarajevo and Paris, mostly in Paris since the war in the Balkans, and is now a freelance writer.
Jerko Bakotin, born 1984 in Split, graduated in Sociology and Comparative Literature from the University of Zagreb. Between 2008 and 2011 he worked as a full-time journalist at the Zagreb office of political daily Novi list. Since 2011 he has been a freelance journalist, writing mostly for Novosti, the political weekly of Croatia’s Serb minority, the web portals kulturpunkt and Lupiga, as well as other media. He has published several literary reviews, essays and travelogues in culture magazines such as Zarez and Quorum, and has also written for German media such as Neues Deutschland and Deutsche Welle and worked with radio broadcasters in Croatia, creating, among others, a number of radio-documentaries about various countries.
Lidija Dimkovska, born 1971 in Skopje, is a poet, novelist and translator of Romanian and Slovene literature into Macedonian. She lives in Ljubljana but writes in Macedonian. Dimkovska is currently the president of the jury for Vilenica International Literary Award. She has published six poetry collections, three novels and a diary, and has also edited a number of anthologies. Her poetry and novels have been translated in over twenty languages. She received several Macedonian literary prizes, the ‘Hubert Burda Poetry Prize’ in Germany, the Romanian poetry prizes ‘Poesis’ and ‘Tudor Arghezi’. Her novel A Spare Life brought her the European Union Prize for Literature in 2013. Her latest novel Non-Oui was shortlisted for the international literary award Balkanika.
Emina Žuna was born 1981 in Jajce. She has published short stories and essays in electronic and printed magazines in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as neighbouring countries. Some of her short stories and drama pieces have been adapted and broadcast on national radio. Her first novel titled Linija života (Lifeline) was published in 2016 with the support of the FBiH Publishing Foundation. The novel was listed for two regional literary prizes, the Mirko Kovač and Meša Selimović Awards. Her short stories have won prizes and recognition, Bejahad 2008, Radio Federacije 2002, Avlija 2013. Her second novel titled Čovjek iz budućnosti (The Man from the Future) is in the final stages of the publishing process.
She holds undergraduate degrees in Psychology (2005) and Comparative Literature and Librarianship (2006) from the Faculty of Philosophy in Sarajevo, and has earned a MA in European Culture and Literature at Strasbourg, Bologna and Thessaloniki (2011). She works as a psychologist and freelance columnist and journalist and regularly publishes journalistic and opinion pieces on several web portals.
Ognjen Spahić, born 1977 in Podgorica, is a Montenegrin novelist. He has published two collections of short stories, Sve to (All That, 2001) and Zimska potraga (Winter Search, 2007). His novel Hansenova djeca (Hansen’s Children, 2004) won him the 2005 Meša Selimović Prize for the best new novel from Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina. To date, Hansenova djeca has been published in French, Italian, Slovene, Romanian, Hungarian, Macedonian and English.
His short story Raymond is No Longer with Us – Carver is Dead was included in the anthology Best European Fiction 2011 published by Dalkey Archive Press in the US. In 2007 he was a writing resident at the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program. He was also the Montenegrin winner of European Union Prize for Literature for 2014.
Photograph: Anahit Hayrapetyan
Petar Andonovski, born 1987 in Kumanovo, studied General and Comparative Literature at the Faculty of Philology in Skopje. His published works include Mental Space (poetry, 2008), Eyes the Colour of Shoes (novel, 2013, second and third edition 2016), The Body That Has To Be Lived In (novel, 2015, second and third edition 2016).
Andonovski’s first novel Eyes the Colour of Shoes was shortlisted for the Utrinski Vesnik Novel of the Year Award in 2013 and was shortlisted for the European Union Prize for Literature in 2016. His novel The Body That Has To Be Lived In won the Utrinski Vesnik Novel of the Year Award in 2015.
The Body That Has To Be Lived In follows the internal struggles of Brigitte, a sixty-year-old judge at the very end of her career who is suddenly assigned the only challenging and complex trial she has ever undertaken in her working life — a criminal case concerning the rape and murder of a young woman. Before this final case, Brigitte has only ever judged minor cases of divorce and petty theft – a kind of cheap theatre. But now she becomes abruptly aware of the marginal role she has played in the world - and of the opportunity this murder trial offers. The case opens the key for Brigitte’s path of self-realization as she finally assumes the power given to her as a judge – the power of arbitration. The novel follows Brigitte’s internal test of character in parallel with the development of the trial of the young man accused of killing his girlfriend. This internal journey is initiated by her confronting the lawbreaker — confronting the body of the accused, over which society and the law, embodied in herself, will execute its
Ramiz Huremagić, born 1972 in Cazin, completed his undergraduate studies in Zagreb and Sarajevo, and obtained his Master’s degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice from the University of Cardiff in the UK. Over a period of more than nine years, Ramiz worked on organised crime investigations. Together with writer Izet Perviz, he co-authored a script for the feature-length film Tobacco Smoke, that received a prize in 2004 from the Foundation for Cinematography of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The film was also included in the official selection of the CineLink programme for script development at the Sarajevo Film Festival.
His poetry has been published in the Croatian magazines Poezija and Novi izraz, as well as various other portals, magazines and journals. His second book of poetry Čekičanje vremena (The Hammering of Time) was published in 2016. In 2017 it was shortlisted among the best poetry collections at the Ratković Evenings of Poetry in Montenegro.
Yordanka Beleva, born 1977 in Tervel, is a Bulgarian short story writer and poet. She graduated in Bulgarian Philology and Library Management and obtained a doctorate in Library and Information Sciences.
Author of Peignoirs and Boats (2002), The Sea Level of Love (2011), Her (2012), Keys (2015), Missed Moment (2017) and Keder (2018), she has won national awards for both poetry and prose. Her short stories and poems have been translated into various languages and published in numerous anthologies.
She works as a librarian and bibliographer at the Parliamentary Library of Bulgaria.
Lejla Kalamujić, born 1980 in Sarajevo, graduated at the Department of Philosophy and Sociology at the University of Sarajevo. She is the author of the two collections of short stories The Anatomy of a Smile and Call Me Esteban. She is also author of the contemporary, socially engaged drama Ogress, or How I Killed My Family. Her second book Call me Esteban won the Edo Budiša Prize for best collection of short stories and was short-listed for the European Literature Prize in 2015. She has won many literature awards for short stories and was awarded various residencies and fellowships.
Her stories have been translated into English, German, French, Macedonian, Slovene, Polish, Romanian, Albanian and Lithuanian. She contributes prose, essays and reviews to various magazines and web portals in Bosnia and Herzegovina and other countries in the region.
Gabriela Babnik, born 1979 in Göppingen, is a Slovene writer, translator and literary critic. She completed an MA degree at the Faculty of Philosophy in Ljubljana, examining the contemporary Nigerian novel and also translated Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Half of a Yellow Sun into Slovene. She has published literary reviews, commentaries and interviews in various newspapers, magazines and journals in Slovenia. In 2008 she received the main Slovene literary prize for the best debut novel for Cotton Skin and her third novel Dry Season received the European Union Prize for Literature in 2013. The same year she was awarded the Stritar Award for the most promising young literary critic.
Zharko Kujundjiski, born 1980 in Skopje, is a Macedonian short story writer, novelist, essayists, playwright, poet, translator and film critic. He has published 11 books and his short stories, poems, essays and reviews have been translated into various languages and selected for many anthologies, Best European Fiction 2013, among others. His debut novel Spectator (2003) was the first ever novel in contemporary Macedonian literature to be published in seven print run editions.
Kujundjiski has been a member of the Macedonian writer association and of Macedonian PEN Center since 2012. He is the General Manager at the publishing house Antolog Books and one of the co-founders of the BookStar Literature Festival.
Igor Štiks was born in Sarajevo in 1977 and has lived in Zagreb, Paris, Chicago, Edinburgh, and Belgrade. His first novel, A Castle in Romagna [Dvorac u Romagni], won the Slavić prize for best first novel in Croatia and was nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for 2006. It was subsequently published in English, German, Spanish and Turkish. Earning his PhD at the Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris and Northwestern University, Štiks later published a monograph, Nations and Citizens in Yugoslavia and the Post-Yugoslav States: One Hundred Years of Citizenship. His novel The Judgment of Richard Richter, originally published as Elijah’s Chair [Elijahova stolica], won the Gjalski and Kiklop Awards for the best novel in Croatia and has been translated into fifteen languages. In addition to winning the Grand Prix of the 2011 Belgrade International Theatre Festival for his stage adaptation of Elijah’s Chair, Štiks was honored with the prestigious Chevalier des arts et des lettres for his literary and intellectual achievements.
Photograph: Velija Hasanbegović
Marko Pogačar, born 1984 in Split, has published eleven books of poetry, essays and prose, for which he has received Croatian and international awards. In 2014 he edited the anthology Young Croatian Lyric. He is an editor of the literary magazine Quorum and the web-magazine for cultural and social issues Proletter.me. He was the recipient of numerous fellowships such as Civitella Ranieri, Literarische Colloquium Berlin, Récollets-Paris, Passa Porta, Milo Dor, Brandenburger Tor, Internationales Haus der Autoren Graz, Literaturhaus NÖ, and Krokodil in Belgrade. His books and texts have appeared in over thirty languages.
Drago Glamuzina, born 1967 in Vrgorac, graduated in Comparative Literature and Philosophy from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb. From 2003 to 2011 He worked as the editor-in-chief at the publishing house Profil between 2003 and 2011, and since 2011 holds the same post at VBZ Publishing. His poetry, prose and literary criticism have been published in various magazines, newspapers and have also been broadcast on the radio. With Roman Simić he compiled an anthology of Croatian erotic short stories Libido.hr. His publications include Mesari (Butchers, poetry, 2001), Tri (Three, novel, 2008), Je li to sve (Is That All, poetry, 2009) and a book of selected poems Sami u toj šumi (Alone in This Forest, 2011) featuring photographs by Stanko Abadžić.
Mesari won the Vladimir Nazor Book of the Year Award and the Kvirin Award for the Best Poetry Collection, and was translated into German (2008), Macedonian (2004), and Slovene (2011) with selections from it also published in English and Polish. His novel Tri won the T-portal Croatian Novel of the Year in 2008.
Zhivko Grozdanoski, born 1986, has lived most of his life in his home village of Bigor Dolenci in the western part of Macedonia. He attended the American High School Skopje and went on to study Italian Language and Literature at the University of Skopje. He translates prose and poetry from Italian and has published four books (a book of poetry, two collections of short stories, and a novel). In 2006 he presented a short amateur documentary during the International Critics’ Week at the Cannes Film Festival. Grozdanoski most recent book, the novel The Final Name of the Future, 2018) is set in southern Bosnia and Herzegovina where a tunnel engineer from East Germany is sent to work on a site and comes across some life-changing revelations.
Lisandri Kola, born 1986 in Shkodër, studied Albanian Language and Literature in his hometown and in 2010 obtained an MSc in Criticism and Literary Theory from the University of Tirana. In 2014 he earned a PhD in Literary Sciences from the same University.
Since January 2016 he has been a full time Professor of Albanian Modern Literature and History of Albanian Sonnet at the Department of Literature in the Faculty of History and Philology at the University of Tirana and also teaches Theory of Translation at the Department of Journalism and Communication. He has published a number of books of poetry, translations, research and a novel. With his poetry collection Butterflies Die in May (2014), he won the National Zef Pllumi Prize. Kola’s poetry has been published in English and Montenegrin. He is also a playwright.
Aleksandra Saša Savanović, born 1986 in Novi Sad, studied International Relations at the Faculty of Political Sciences at the University of Belgrade and Sociology at the Institute for Sociology of the Freie Universität Berlin. Her stories, essays and articles have appeared in electronic and printed magazines, journals and several anthologies of short stories. She is one of the editors of Zent, a magazine for politics, technology and the arts, and co-author of the recently published book Zajednička dobra i granice kapitalizma (Common Good and the Boundaries of Capitalism). Her first novel Deseti život (Tenth Life) was published in 2018. She works as freelance researcher and project manager in culture and the non-profit sector.
Davor Stojanovski, born 1987 in Skopje, is a writer, poet, playwright, translator and musician. He holds an MA in Macedonian Literature, has worked as a copywriter, proof-reader, and translator from Slovene to Macedonian.
He won the Anne Frank award for his debut theatre play in 2005, the Short Story Award from the daily newspaper Nova Makedonija in 2011, was shortlisted for the Utrinski Vesnik Award for his debut novel Untitled Moonlight Sonata in 2013, and won the same award for Collecting Аshes in 2016. His short stories have been translated and published in Serbian for the Rukopisi Poetry and Short Fiction Anthology of Young Authors from the Ex-YU (2011 & 2012), his short story Requiem has been translated into German and published in Ausallen Richtungen: Karlsplatzierungen (2015), and his poem Bez naslova has been translated into Serbian and published in the Anthology of Macedonian Poetry: IX-XXI century (2015).He is a former member of the Macedonian alternative rock band Foolish Green, with which he released the album Escape in 2013.
Vinko Möderndorfer is a writer, dramatist, essayist, theatre, movie and television producer. His literary works have been translated into several foreign languages. He has received some of the most prestigeous Slovene literary awards, including two for short stories – Županič Award for “Krog male smrti” (1994) and Prešeren Fund Awards for “Nekatere ljubezni” (2000).
Tadej Golob, born 1967 in Maribor, is one of the most unique Slovene authors with a thematically very diverse scope of works. He first presented himself as a writer with the book Z Everesta (From Everest, 2000) where he describes Davo Karničar’s skiing from the highest mountain of the world, a mountain that the writer also ascended. He has written biographies of Peter Vilfan (2004), Zoran Predin (2009), Goran Dragic (2015), and Milena Zupančič (2018), and young adult novels Zlati zob (Golden Tooth) (2011) and Kam je izginila Brina? (Where Did Brina Disappear To?, 2013). His novels for adults include Svinjske nogice (Pig’s Feet, 2009) – won the 2010 Kresnik Award for best Slovene novel, Ali boma ye! (2013), Jezero (The Lake, 2016) – finalist for the 2017 Kresnik Award, his first crime novel that became a bestseller in Slovenia and was followed in 2018 by Leninov Park (Lenin Park) the second novel of what is becoming a series about his fictional detective character Inspector Taras Birsa.
The Lake is a crime novel which has shifted the boundaries of popular fiction writing within the Slovene literary scene, managed to intrigue a wide reading audience and unify literary critics in the verdict that this is a well thought out and extremely skilfully written story. Further proof of this are the three reprints of the book within a short time after it was first published in November 2016.
The novel is set in recognizable Slovenian surroundings, the tourist surroundings of Lake Bohinj and the daily routine of the capital, Ljubljana. The protagonist is a model family man and detective with quite a reputation in his field. He is also a former mountaineer, a sworn recreational sportsman who is sometimes secretive, sometime impulsive, but always thoughtful and amusing.