December 2006, No 20
Editor: Hella Rottenberg
In the 1980s, the Romanian urban landscape, “coloured” by endless queues for food, home utensils and fuel, was completed by long queues in front of bookshops. The hunger that was haunting the country was “garnished” with a thirst for reading. Books were in fact the only entertainment of that time. After the revolution of 1989, the Romanian book market was invaded by commercial literature and by books that had been forbidden before. A title written by Sandra Brown or by Emil Cioran was sold in 100.000 to 300.000 copies. This was also the case with books by Barbara Cartland and Mircea Eliade. Although the variety of titles at the beginning of the 1990s was rather narrow, the number of copies was very high. The situation changed within several years. If in 1990, the first year of its existence, Humanitas Publishing House (one of the most important Romanian publishers) issued 29 titles with an overall of 2.7 million copies, in 2004 the output reached 321 titles printed in 798 thousand copies. The average print run decreased gradually to 2.000 copies. Since then, together with the improvement of the economic situation, the number of books sold has increased slowly, but steadily, too.
Today, 4.200 publishing houses are registered in Romania. However, only two or three hundred are active on the market, while only a hundred of these carry on significant trade. The Romanian book market value is estimated at 30 million euros. Compared to 2004, the turnover in 2006 increased by more than 25 percent.
In 2005, the total profit of the top eight publishers (Polirom, Corint, Teora, Niculescu, Paralela 45, All Beck, Aquilla 93 and Humanitas) reached almost 3 million euros. The information made public by the Ministry of Finance shows that in 2005, Polirom had a turnover of 3.7 million euro (a 37% increase compared to 2004), with a net profit of 766 thousand euro. The profit made by Corint was 708 thousand euro, while Teora earned 536 thousand euro.
By the end of 2005, seventy percent of the Romanian book market consisted of domestic production. Scientific and technical titles are at the top, followed by schoolbooks, fiction, and youth and children’s literature. Without taking schoolbooks into account the schoolbooks, the year 2005 registered 10.000 published titles with a total print run of 27 million copies.
The fiction market is dominated by foreign authors; the most successful writers of the last two years are considered to be Paulo Coelho and Dan Brown. “Zair”, which appeared last year, has been sold in more than 80.000 copies, “Memories of a Geisha” by Arthur Golden in more than 50.000 copies, while “Da Vinci Code” has exceeded 100.000 copies. But the average number of copies in which a translation is usually published is between two to three thousand.
Books written by Romanian authors are published in a thousand to two thousand copies, but there are exceptions. For instance, the storybook “Why we love women” by Mircea Cărtărescu, had a print run of more than 100.000. More than 30.000 copies of the “Guide of the Thick-Skinned” by Radu Paraschivescu have been sold. Books by Andrei Pleşu, H.R. Patapievici, Gabriel Liiceanu have also exceeded 30.000 copies. One of the recent sales record was Aurelia Marinescu’s “Code of good manners”, which reached 300.000 copies. In the past two years, publishing houses have started to run advertising campaigns in order to promote their authors, especially Romanian ones – who, it’s worth mentioning, are becoming more and more appreciated by the public.
Publishers inform the booksellers about their newly published books through catalogues and special letters. But there is no overview of what is available in print. Distribution is a problem. There are only 400 bookshops in the country, ninety of which are owned by three chains. The largest, Diverta, owns seventy bookshops, the publishing house Humanitas fourteen, and Carturesti six. These have pleasant locations and are prominent in the cultural landscape. The rest consists of austere and dusty ex-communist bookshops, still owned by the state, and small private shops.
The books are distributed directly to the bookshops by publishers. The commission requested by the bookshops ranges between 30 to 45 percent of the price of a book. Some bookshop owners are not interested in a large variety of titles. Poetry suffers the most in this regard. Books are considered to be expensive in Romania. The medium price varies between 5 and 7 euro, while the average income in Romania is 200 euro per month.
Only one million Romanians, out of a population of over 21 million, buy books, but this number has doubled compared to ten years ago and continues to rise. Even though the comparative data of other countries in Central and Eastern Europe (for instance Hungary and Poland) are to Romania’s disadvantage, the evolution of the country in the last years and the predictions give enough reason to hope for improvement.
By Robert Şerban
In the wake of the Slovak project run in 2000–2002 by the Index Association of Independent Publishers in cooperation with the CEEBP, Index has been supporting campaigns for the promotion of reading, publishing of children’s books, book journals, participation of publishers in international bookfairs, and a loan programme for publishers to help them overcome a lack of investment capital. The programme is financed from income from the Slovak reproduction rights fund, and from the proceeds of the sale of the Index book catalogue.
The short term interest-free loans, payable within five months in monthly down payments, help publishers to finance the printing costs of specific titles. The publisher signs a contract with Index together with his distributor, who guarantees the down payments from the book sale. Since its launch in 2004, the Index loan programme has made possible the publication of fourteen books.
By Albert Marenčin
In November 2006, the CEEBP awarded grants for 22 books and one special grant. The grants for books were awarded for thirteen West – East translations, eight East – East translations, and one original title. The special grant was awarded for matching funds for participation of Central and East European publishers in the Rights Directors Meeting at the Frankfurter Buchmesse.
- H.G. Adler, Theresienstadt (Vol. III), German – Czech translation by Lenka Šedová, Nakladatelství Barrister & Principal, Brno
- Robert Audi (ed.), The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, English – Bulgarian translation by Vladimir Todorov Stoychev, Trud, Sofia
- Ádám Bodor, Vissza a fülesbagolyhoz (Back To The Long-Eared Owl), Hungarian – Polish translation by Tadeusz Olszański, Czarne, Wolowiec
- Andrei Codrescu, A Bar in Brooklyn. Novellas & Stories 1970-1978, English – Romanian translation by Rodica Grigore, Ideea Europeana, Bucharest
- Sigmund Freud, Zur Psychopathologie des Alltagslebens, German – Albanian translation by Edit Dibra, Rexhep Hida, Tamara Gjikondi, Fan Noli, Tirana
- Walter van Gerven, The European Union: A polity of states and peoples, English – Bulgarian translation by Stanislava Milanova-Leontieva, LIK, Sofia
- Fazil Iskander, Sofichka, and Dumaiushchij o Rosii i amerikanietz (A Thinker about Russia and an American), Russian – Albanian translation by Nikolla Sudar, OMBRA GVG, Tirana
- László Kontler, History of Hungary. A Millennium in Central Europe, English – Croatian translation by Draženka Kešić and Silvije Devald, Srednja Europa, Zagreb
- Adolf Muschg, Was ist europäisch? Reden für einen gastlichen Erdteil, German – Romanian translation by Dan Flonta, Paralela 45, Piteşti
- Philippe Nemo, Qu’est- ce que l’Occident?, French – Polish translation by Piotr Kamiński, Warsaw University Press, Warsaw
- Karel Palek (ed.), Kritický sborník (literary samizdat journal Critical Miscellanea) 1981- 1989,selection (original language), Triáda, Prague
- Orhan Pamuk, Benim Adim Kirmizi (My Name Is Red), Turkish – Albanian translation by Drita Çetaku, Skanderbeg, Tirana
- Orhan Pamuk, Yeni Hayat (The New Life), Turkish – Czech translation by Petra Sedmíková, Agite/Fra, Prague
- Orhan Pamuk. Istanbul, Hatiralar ve sehir (Istanbul: Memories and the City), Turkish – Serbian translation by Mirjana Marinkovic, Geopoetika, Belgrade
- Jan Patočka, Kacířské eseje o filozofii dějin (Heretical Essays in the Philosophy of History), Czech – Russian translation by Pavel Prilutskiy, Logvinov, Minsk
- Rainer Maria Rilke, Duineser Elegien, German – Romanian translation by Nicolae Breban, Ideea Europeana, Bucharest
- Rainer Maria Rilke, Tagebücher aus der Frühzeit, German – Romanian translation by Bogdan Dascalu, Ideea Europeana , Bucharest
- Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory, English – Czech translation by Petr Pálenský, Argo, Prague
- Eginald Schlattner, Der geköpfte Hahn, German – Hungarian translation by Farkas-Zoltán Hajdú, Koinonia, Cluj-Napoca
- Sasha Sokolov, Shkola dlja durakov (A School for Fools), Russian – Bulgarian translation by Zdravka Petrova, Fakel, Sofia
- Nenad Veličković, Konačari, Serbo-Croatian – Slovak translation by Tomáš Čelovský, PT Albert Marenčin, Bratislava
- Christoph Martin Wieland, Geschichte der Abderiten, German – Serbian translation by Branimir Živojinović, Alexandria Press, Belgrade
- Matching funds for Central & East European publishers’ participation in the Rights Directors Meeting at the Frankfurter Buchmesse
The Czech publishing house Barrister & Principal has published the translation of Wer nicht mit dem Wolf heult, the autobiography of Gottfried Wagner, a great-grandson of the 19th century composer Richard Wagner. The author, born in 1947, is an opera director, historian of music, and writer.
His book tells an uncompromising, disenchanted story about the Wagner family’s post-war repression of its contribution to Hitler’s rise to power, and the hold of the Wagner tradition on German cultural and political life before, during, and after the Second World War.
At the same time, the book recounts the grip of the family tradition on the storyteller himself, his discovery of the close family relations with Hitler, his loneliness and his loyalty to his parents as a child, his fear of being excommunicated from the tribe, and his own growing awareness, learned through painful encounters, to a full recognition of the role of Richard Wagner’s cultural and political thinking in national-socialism.
As a child, the author discovers in carefully sealed rooms Nazi paraphernalia, documents and family photographs with Hitler, who – apart from the ideological closeness – since the 1920´s used the Wagners to become acquainted with members of the upper classes. In his adolescence the author becomes a rebel, organising clandestine rock’n’roll parties in the family’s Wagner music temple Festspielhaus, and secretly collecting evidence of his family’s history.
The author traces how the family has been cultivating the glorification of Richard Wagner and his music, while combining fierce antisemitism and warm feelings for Hitler with ostentatious philosemitism when expedient for the Wagner music festival business in Bayreuth.
It was only in 1992 that the author became painfully aware that “Wagner’s antisemitism cannot be separated from his personality or from his music”. The undeniably self-centred character of the book has been all too often used in Germany to discredit the discovery of this unpleasant truth.
By Karel Markus
GRADAC – David Albahari
The Serbian literary magazine Gradac, edited by Branko Kukić, devoted a special issue to the novelist, short-story writer, and translator David Albahari. And when one reads this fine selection of excerpts from his writings and analyses by leading critics, both foreign and from the region, one can only be grateful that it did.
Born of Jewish origin in Peć in 1948, Albahari was a leading writer, editor, and translator in the former Yugoslavia. In 1982 he won the Ivo Andrič Award (named after the Nobel Prize winning author) for his book Description of Death. In 1996, the autobiographical Bait, about the narrator’s mother, her past, about emigration, the nature of story-telling and writing, won both the prestigious NIN Weekly Award and the Balkanica Award for the best novel in the Balkans that year. In 1994 he accepted a writer-in-residence position in Calgary, Canada, where he still lives, writing in Serbian. Among his books translated into English are: Words Are Something Else (1996), Tsing (1997), Bait (2001), Gotz and Meyer (2003), and Snow Man(2005). The highly acclaimed Gotz and Meyer about the Nazi destruction of the Jews of Serbia, was described by the critic Jason Thomson as follows: “At once a novel, fictional biography, history and meta-fictional commentary, Götz and Meyer, composed in a single hallucinatory paragraph without space breaks…”
In what is not so much an interview as a conversation with his friend and fellow-writer Mihajlo Pantić,Gradac first introduces us to David Albahari himself. They talk about writing, literature and translation, of course, but also about Albahari’s family history and its impact on his work, his early interest in rock ’n roll, eastern philosophies and alternative states of mind, his work as chair of the Federation of Jewish Communes of Yugoslavia, where he was active in helping to evacuate the Jewish population from Sarajevo in the early 1990’s during the war in Bosnia, and his move to Canada in 1994. As he says, “my life is a kind of constant search”.
Having met the man, we are then given a taste of some of his writings. His “documentary prose”, as the writer Svetislav Basara describes it, gives us insight into David Albahari the writer, whose economical and concise use of language and precision of thought permeate every line. The writings selected here cover such subjects as family (Two Photographs), mentors (Piotr), music (Rock ‘n’ Roll One More Time), letters (Correspondence with the literary magazine editor and writer Aleksandar Tišma) and a wonderful story which carries the name of his birthplace (Peć) but which, like contemplating the white spaces between the print, looks at the spaces that frame his accidental place of birth.
Leading critics and writers from the region, including Svetislav Basara, Milan Djordjević, Muharem Bazdulj, Marijana Milošević, discuss David Albahari’s work. Here we see how, while editor of the literary magazine Književna reć, he nurtured young prose modernists such as Basara and Dragan Velikić and launched Mezuza, the Jewish magazine for the arts. There are also extensive analyses of some of Albahari’s major works: Vladimir Tasić takes an in-depth look at his novel Snow Man, described as a key turning-point in Serbian post-modern history; Jelena Angelovski examines female characters in his novels; Ivan Radosavljevic gives us his reading of The World Traveller and Tatjana Rosić and Saša Cirić analyse The Leech.
A translator himself (of Nabokov, Saul Bellow, John Updike, Robert Coover, Thomas Pynchon, to name but a few), German, French and English translations of David Albahari’s works are reviewed and examined by the likes of Andreas Breitenstein, Patrick Rengger, Naim Kattan, Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet Charles Simic and others.
At the end of these 130-odd pages the reader walks away with a sense of both the man and the writer that is David Albahari. If writing is interpreting the world, then David Albahari is a translator of the world around him. He asks: “Is there at all any point in recording the indescribable? Is there any point in searching for words that describe what words cannot express, what is happening outside the words?” The answer must be a resounding Yes.
By Christina Pribichevic Zorić
- Allianz Cultural Foundation, Munich
- European Cultural Foundation, Amsterdam
- Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, The Netherlands
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Netherlands