In his essays, Uroš Zupan, with the calm step of a unique and lonely walker, leads us to thinking about books and, above all, about reading. Almost unwittingly, since this splendid poet and essayist is really just sharing his thoughts, we start to follow his reading passions and paths. With refined and measured gestures, he depicts those masters of words: Tomaž Šalamun, Aleš Debeljak, Švabić, and shares anecdotes, while in the background echo the poems that marked the decades of the past. Zupan again proves that he knows how to reveal the soft glow of the past and subtly listen to life, be it life that is realistic and real, or that between book covers.
An obligatory read for all book lovers and all those who remember with nostalgia that they once were book lovers.
In the Eighties it was widely said that the Serbian poet Vasko Popa had only two moods and that these switched and appeared in line with a strict timetable. Popa was supposedly depressed for half a year and then for half a year he slowly approached a state of elation. The question of course arose: did he also achieve a state of extreme elation? And the answer: certainly not. I have a feeling that he came within touching distance, and that always before the fateful October day when the Swedish Academy, as it did every year, announced the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Then the light was extinguished for him and the gradual descent into darkness began. As a matter of fact, Popa was a kind of human equivalent of the changing of the seasons and their tendencies connected with the giving of light. A reflection of sorts. He was seen as a perennial candidate for the award, which however evaded him every year. For his wish to be realised, he was willing to play different roles. For instance: he was ready to declare himself to be a dissident, although he was about as much a dissident as was the Slovene communist ideologue Edvard Kardelj, although of course without the mysterious hunting accident that befell the inventor of the system of socialist self-management. Every year, Popa once again expected the final blessing of the wise men of the Swedish Academy, but the wise men of the Swedish Academy were unwilling to grant that blessing. Perhaps he was still not enough of a dissident and so the telephone rang in other homes. Including those of greater dissidents.
There are of course fundamentally more cheerful peripeteia connected with this precisely defined October day: Joseph Brodsky received the news in London, Seamus Heaney on a Greek island (in both cases, if my memory serves me right) and Czesław Miłosz I don’t know where. I mention this because Brodsky had the idea that all his poet friends would receive the Nobel Prize: Miłosz, Heaney, Derek Walcott, Mark Strand and Les Murray. And it’s true that this came close to happening. Miłosz got it in 1981, Brodsky in 1987, Heaney and Walcott in the Nineties, when Brodsky was still alive, and perhaps that notion from the poetry of Adam Zagajewski, that Brodsky had an agent in every town and every port, was not so far-fetched. Strand was already dead, but Murray was still around and in the running, and Brodsky could still almost completely satisfy his wish. Although he would be looking at the whole thing from the other side, or to be more precise: from the poet-s purgatory.
AUTHOR TONE HOČEVAR
On the way to Havana – during another move – I stopped off in Mexico. I did not want to continue the journey without stopping in the country where we spent some wonderful years. I went to the new centre for foreign correspondents – the old one had been destroyed by an earthquake. We had a long chat and a tequila or two. A few days went by in a shot. My old comrades were still there, but afterwards they were all slowly replaced.
EVALD FLISAR, born in 1945 in Slovenia, then still part of Yugoslavia, is an iconic figure of contemporary Slovenian literature. Novelist, playwright, essayist, editor, globe-trotter (travelled in 98 countries), underground train driver in Sydney, Australia, editor of (among other publications) an encyclopaedia of science and invention in London, author of short stories and radio plays for the BBC, president of the Slovene Writers’ Association (1995 – 2002), since 1998 editor of the oldest Slovenian literary journal Sodobnost (Contemporary Review), he is also the author of 16 novels (eleven of them short-listed for kresnik, the Slovenian “Booker”), two collections of short stories, three travelogues, two books for children (both nominated for major awards) and 15 stage plays (eight nominated for Best Play of the Year Award, three times won the award). Winner of Prešeren Foundation Prize, the highest state award for prose and drama, and the prestigious Župančič Award for lifetime achievement. Various works of his have been translated into 40 languages, among them Bengali, Hindi, Malay, Nepalese, Malayalam, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Turkish, Greek, Japanese, Chinese, Arabic, Czech, Albanian, Lithuanian, Dutch, Icelandic, Romanian, Amharic, Russian, English, German, Italian, Spanish, etc. His stage plays are regularly performed all over the world, most recently in Austria, Egypt, India (three different production in two months alone), Indonesia, Japan, Taiwan, Serbia, Bosnia, Belarus, USA and Mexico. Attended more than 50 literary readings and festivals on all continents. Lived abroad for 20 years (three years in Australia, 17 years in London). Since 1990 he lives in Ljubljana, Slovenia. His novel My Father’s Dreams, published in 2005 by Texture Press in New York and in 2015 by Istros Books in London, UK, has earned him a place at the European Literature Night, an annual event at the British Library that features 6 of the best contemporary European writers. Another of his novels, On the Gold Coast (published in English by Sampark, Kolkata, India and nominated for the Dublin International Literary Award) was listed by The Irish Times as one of 13 best novels about Africa written by Europeans, alongside Joseph Conrad, Graham Greene, Isak Dinesen, JG Ballard, Bruce Chatwin and other great literary names. In June/July 2015 he completed a three-week literary tour of USA, reading at the Congress Library in Washington and SUA convention in Chicago, attending the performance of his play Antigone Now at the Atlas Performing Arts Center in Washington, speaking at the Slovene Permanent Mission at the United Nations … In January 2016 he was one of the speakers at the largest literary festival in the world (Jaipur, India), together with Margaret Atwood, Colm Toibin, Colin Thubron, Aleksander Hemon, Stephen Fry and other illustrious names. Following the publication of his novel Three Loves, One Death in England, he attended promotional events in London, Bristol and Dublin. In January 2017 he spent three weeks touring India, lecturing at three renowned institutions (National School of Drama in New Delhi, Rabindranath Tagore University in Kolkata, Malayalam University in Kerala), attending productions of two of his plays in Bengali and promoting translations of three of his books in Kerala, Bangalore and Kolkata. In 2008 he visited Kathmandu to present his collection of short stories The Price of Heaven: Travel Stories from India & Nepal. One of the best-organised promotional events in his literary career was the eight-day promotion of two of his novels in Polish translation in May 2017 (Warsaw, Katowice and Krakow). New productions of his plays are due in India, Indonesia and Mexico. In 2018 he presented the German translation of his novel Words Above the Clouds in Berlin and the English translation of his novel A Swarm of Dust in the European House in London. His international success is truly astonishing: speakers of languages into which his works have so far been translated represent half of the world’s population.
AUTHOR EVALD FLISAR
Rights sold to: USA, United Kingdom, Polan, Bulgaria, Turkey, Slovakia, Romania, Ethiopia (Amharic) and India (English and Malayalam).
Lost in the imaginary landscapes of novels and films, 22-year old Simon Bebler learns that he is terminally ill and has at best a year to live. Now the young student wants to cram everything life has to offer into this radically reduced lifespan. Inclined to see himself in the roles of fictional heroes, he begins to live out all the stories he has read or seen on film and experience every mental and physical state a man can experience – good and bad, moral and immoral. He refuses to die feeling he has been robbed of life, so he decides to enact it with real dramatic suspense. But once the drama is set up, it quickly escapes his control and he is faced with the question of whether he can remain the hero of his adventures or sooner or later become their victim. He finds himself amidst unusual happenings in New York where he meets extraordinary people, among them Al Pacino, Woody Allen, Uma Thurman… Are they real or simply doppelgängers? The narrative merry-go-round of this philosophical thriller poses questions faster than Flisar’s characters can handle, let alone answer…
It’s in the little boxes that we should be able to find the key to this novel which speaks of the emptiness of the world that has turned us into blind prisoners of traditional as well as contemporary rigid beliefs. To open the boxes we need only a bizarre introductory moment: in Auster’s case a wrong telephone number, in Flisar’s case a wrong diagnosis... Flisar has proved once again that he is a master of storytelling and of sudden twists that frequently disrupt the world around us but often happen only in our heads, where we have too many secrets and not enough information... Milan Vincetič, VEČER
The apartment at the top of the seven-storey building looks across Central Park to the west. Although the sun has not yet moved far enough to shine through the big windows, the large rooms are lit as if by the glow of an invisible light. The rugs are thick and soft; the antique furniture in the living room is massive and comfortable; the paintings look as if they are portraits of reputable ancestors. The bathroom is so spacious that it could hold ten fat Americans. The Jacuzzi is bordered with tiles, each one different, each mosaic square followed by a rectangular one, each composed of a different combination of colours. The mirror behind the four sinks covers the wall up to the ceiling. A fleeting glance in the mirror gives Simon the feeling that he has caught a thief; he quickly retreats into the hallway. The kitchen and dining area is completely white, modern, clean, sterile, furnished with all the newest appliances. The refrigerator is so tall it almost touches the ceiling. A crystal vase filled with fresh red roses stands on the table. A yellow envelope is propped against the vase. On it are written the words OPEN IT.
AUTHOR EVALD FLISAR
Rights sold to: USA, Finland, Serbia, Croatia, Egypt, Czech Republic, Austria, Indonesia, India (Tamil) and Albania.
Is this a novel? Yes. Is it an adventure story? Definitely. Is it a love story? No, it’s a story about a complicated yet dangerously beautiful friendship. Is it a philosophical novel? Yes, but it’s accessible even to the average reader. Is it suspenseful? It is a page turner! Is it a book dealing with spirituality? Definitely, but not in the usual way. Is it Paolo Coelho? Far from it. Is it a serious novel? Very much so. Is it a work of art? Most critics claim that it is. Is it a work of imagination or a report of real events? Both. Is it a book about the meaning of life? Most readers say that it is. Is it the sort of book that readers keep on their bedside table? Most of them do, for a number of years. Is it the book that tries to answer the question “Who amI?” Yes, but with surprising results. How popular is The Sorcerer’s Apprentice? In Slovenia, a Central-European country of two million people where the novel was first published, the sales of ten editions have reached more than 85.000 copies. In terms of population and prospective readers, that would mean over 11 million copies in the USA, 2 million in the UK, 2 million in France, 2 million in Italy, 3 million in Germany, 4,4 million in Russia, 10 million in the Spanish speaking world, 40 million in India, and over 50 million copies in China! Worth reading? See for yourself.
A literary presentation of the totality of the world ... Dr. Tomo Virk, The Journey is Over, the Way Begins
At the end of the canyon the old man drew my attention to one of the snow bridges that abound in Kashmir. Each winter, snow fills deep ravines and riverbeds to the brim and freezes over, while underneath water digs a tunnel and flows through it invisible, inaudible except to a trained ear. On top, one can cross the bridge without fear of crashing through its frozen layer. But in late spring, as the snows start to melt, the water tunnel grows steadily larger and the snow span above it thinner. Finally, a gap appears in the middle. Before it widens, one can leap across it, but towards the end of July this becomes hazardous. At the end of September, before the onset of winter, only a fool would venture on to one of those structures. »Each of us carries his winter with him,« pronounced my companion. »And his snow bridge. And his gap.« These were startling words for an old mule-driver who had offered to take me to Amarnath Cave for less than half the usual fee. But he was right. All of a sudden I saw my journey as a symbolic attempt to leap across such a gap in my soul, and my recent life as a series of such attempts, of jumps undertaken to reach the other side, of vertiginous falls; of attempts to find a less dangerous crossing point, where the gap would not be so wide.
AUTHOR EVALD FLISAR
When the main character, a successful writer, experiences writer’s block, he withdraws from his malign fate to Berghof, a Swiss clinic. A number of famous names in world literature are already receiving treatment there, from Martin Amis, Graham Greene and Saul Bellow to J. M. Coetzee. But is Berghof really what it purports to be? And what role does the dumb Scheherazade play in the novel?
My Kingdom is Dying is not just a hybrid of the genres of confession, detective story, memoir and fictional biography, but also a unique combination of fiction and metafiction, literature and meta-literary reflection. Readers follow a gripping story in which unusual events unobtrusively mingle with meaningful reflection and deep insights.
If we look too keenly for a common thread in our life, we may miss life itself or at least a good part of it. This novel speaks of you, of every one of us.
“The story of the Kingdom is sometimes a river and sometimes a torrent. One moment it moves in a contemplative flow, the next moment it comes to life with immense, destructive narrative power, washing up some unexpected bizarreness or a witty piece of sarcasm.”<br /> Alenka Urh in the afterword
The Carer and me
Often, I admitted to the Carer, I am overcome by a wave of astonishment at the fact that I am not someone else, for there were billions of possibilities that I would perhaps be born as a poor child in sub-Saharan Africa or as the son of a royal family, perhaps even as a girl who as a teenager began to make a living from prostitution, or as a serial killer who killed for fun, or as the dictator of a minor country, whose people rebelled and hung me on a square in the main city, then celebrated, drunk with delight, until I was replaced with another dictator. And why not as a psychopath who did not know he was a psychopath, although he was at least hazily aware that he was different (that he wanted to be different) from the majority of “normal” people. These waves, more common with each passing year, included thousands of possibilities, including astonishment that I hadn’t been born as a girl who in her adult years had become her, my Carer, and who would, by chance or the will of fate, take care of me as a writer who through his own stupidity had suffered a serious accident.
The waves of astonishment which sometimes completely disable me, I told her, also involve questions that do not deny, but rather even confirm, that in my head everything is not in its right place. Often, and with the years more frequently, I am astonished by the fact that nothing in the world fundamentally changes, except the climate, which we are changing ourselves, with all the consequences that we impassively listen to or read reports about, almost without any sense of disturbance; as if it was a story that we had got accustomed to. It doesn’t seem necessary to us, in answer to the question Granny, why do you have such big eyes? to reply Because I’m not granny, but a wolf. The most necessary shifts in our head do not seem necessary to us. My attacks of astonishment, which from time to time become bewilderment, also include the facts that most of the people who know about them have accepted. That the universe is infinite. That it was born out of Nothing with the Big Bang. That galaxies are travelling away from each other with ever increasing speed. The majority of people are convinced that man was created by God and evolution at the same time, and no religion is able to acknowledge that, if God exists, he is only one and that in his name, and in the desire that he is only “theirs”, it is a sin to kill innocent people.
The waves of astonishment also leave me astounded at how frighteningly stupid humankind is not to be aware of this, and this fills me with the greatest fear. Are we here in the endlessness of space to entertain the Creator in a special way with the evil that we do, just as we entertain ourselves by watching stupid television programmes before going to bed?
AUTHOR EVALD FLISAR
Rights sold to: USA, Egypt.
In 1969 a young Slovenian painter Vili Vaupotič arrives in London with the great hope that within two years his masterpieces will be exhibited in the Tate Gallery, while he himself will be invited to the annual Queen’s tea party for successful immigrants. (Sir William Wowpotitch?) Tea with the Queen is a bitter-sweet tale of lost illusions, rich with unexpected reversals and (self)reflections. The external narrative is merely a means whereby the author creates in front of the reader’s eyes “a stream of those aspects of reality that most people, because of their trivia-laden minds, no longer register”. The novel’s admirable flow is interspersed with “a cacophony of aggressive sounds” forcing their way into the minds of the characters from outside, revealing that “the outside reality is kinder than the reality of our souls”. Tea with the Queen is thus a luxurious, vibrant story about eternal human fallibility, about our blindspots and hopes, mistakes and sorrows; in other words, as universal as a story can be. Thanks to the author’s exceptional feeling for nuances, dialogue and dramatic fabulation even such a long novel is a pleasure to read. In terms of narrative mastery, Tea with the Queen surpasses even the author’s legendary Sorcerer’s Apprentice, in the past 30 years the most widely read novel by any Slovenian author.
Flisar’s latest novel is a bitter-sweet tale of lost illusions, rich with unexpected reversals and (self)reflections. The external narrative is merely a means whereby the author creates in front of the reader’s eyes »a stream of those aspects of reality that most people, because of their trivia-laden minds, no longer register«. The novel’s admirable flow is interspersed with »a cacophony of aggressive sounds« forcing their way into the minds of the characters from outside, revealing that »the outside reality is kinder than the reality of our souls«. A welcome addition to everyone’s library... Milan Vincetič, VEČER
The next day we placed notices in five newsagent’s shops announcing that “a writer and painter will be guiding tourists interested in culture around the artistic quarters of London: cheap, intense, funny, and unforgettable.” Oddly enough, on the first day some twelve people were already gathered at the appointed meeting place under the statue of Nelson in Trafalgar Square, mostly American, retired couples, a few younger Japanese people, and a handful of hippies from various European countries. Solouhin’s Rasputin-like appearance had so excited them that they even appeared willing to forgive his impossible accent, especially after he explained that he was a Russian writer who had escaped the Siberian gulag and had become a slave to the idiotic desire to scrape out an existence in the free world; that is, until his magnificent trilogy would be published and his own house would belong among London’s most notable residences. “You can call me Dostoevsky,” he said casually to the group. After a moment, he introduced me as a painter whom Tito had banished from Yugoslavia because I refused the order to depict his wife as less fat than she actually was in an official family portrait. I did muster a modest measure of patriotism by being prepared to reduce the lady’s mass by five kilograms, but not by the twenty that was demanded of me. That was the reason that I, like him, now resided in this brave world where freedom was so absolute that the authorities couldn’t care less if we freely collapsed from starvation as we struggled for our five minutes of fame that would come when the fashion-driven gallery owners discovered my genius and subsequently elevated me to the status of most recent wonder of the world.
AUTHOR EVALD FLISAR
Rights sold to: India, Poland.
“Five Europeans travel through Africa along the trail of the journey described in one of his books by a European writer. With his descriptions so much in their minds that they mistake them for their own observations, they are unable to see the real Africa through which they pass, and because they don’t get involved with each other in any meaningful way they remain like blurred shadows even to each other. They are unable to break free from the perceptions they brought with them – perceptions that were created (and were then fixed in their minds) by the books they had read. Only one character, a young woman Adriana, is aware that what we call “I”, and “I think”, and “that’s me”, is more or less fiction, created by circumstances, and by facts and narrative patterns we have absorbed, and is therefore not fixed but fluid, so it can be to a large extent manipulated. And so she creates different identities for herself, moving from one to the other at will, depending on circumstances, believing that she is fully in charge of herself and her destiny. But it turns out that this is not so. Not only does her behavior affect the destinies of other people, she herself finally realizes that she is in fact filled not with authentic life but with self-created emptiness. An excellent novel about serious questions, using postmodern narrative patterns playfully and with confidence.”
(From an introduction at the launch of the book at the Tata International Literature Festival in Mumbai, India, 2014, by Amitava Kumar, professor of literature at Vassar College, New York.)
»My favourite subject matter is the psychological violence that we visit upon each other because of our fears, ambitions and fixed ideas. That’s why I am interested first of all in the individual, in his or her personal truth, his or her story, and how it unfolds, or runs aground, through relationships with others. Only then does my interest turn to the wider social picture, and to general human conflicts and misunderstandings. I love and hate my fictional characters to an equal degree; they comprise the best and the worst of me, and the best and the worst of most people I know. Most of my characters, caught in the grip of unrealised youthful fantasies, are dissatisfied with things as they are. They tend to shift away from reality to the comfort of imaginary, alternative worlds in which they can be what they want to be. Another characteristic is their paranoia, their fear that they are being followed by someone or something that will reveal their most intimate secrets, their weaknesses, and expose them to the mockery of the world, That’s why they are constantly fleeing from one role to another, constantly trying not to be what they fear they are. Role-playing is in their blood. To call this book a novel about Africa would be misguided. It’s a novel about a group of European travellers in Africa, in Africa of a certain period, in Africa as seen and (mis)understood through their eyes...« The words of the author at the press conference introducing the book, published by Mladinska knjiga, the largest Slovenian publisher, in November 2010
After an uncomfortable drive acrosss the savannah Peter and Sylvia reached Bolgatanga, the first bigger town in northern Ghana. The taxi driver deposited them in front of the Black Star Hotel, where they intended to spend the night. The rooms had air-conditioning. “Except that nothing works,” said the boy at the reception, “the air cooler doesn’t work, there is no electricity.” But when they entered the room they were pleased to find the air-conditioner making a lively noise. The boy had been wrong. Perhaps he wanted to tell them that the toilet didn’t work, for when Peter pulled the chain, the water rose over the sides of the pan and flooded the bathroom as well as part of the room. Being hungry and thirsty, they immediately went to the hotel’s restaurant. It was airless and stifling hot. Ventilators under the ceiling were motionless. The menu was three pages long. Some dishes had wonderfully seductive names. But when they finally chose what sounded most promising, the waiter told them that all they had was chicken with rice. “Right,” they said. “And two orange juices.” The waiter sighed and twisted his eyes towards the ceiling. “All we have is beer, sir, only beer,” he said in the manner of someone who was tired of stupid questions.