May 2002, No 11
Editor: Hella Rottenberg
In the post-communist world in transition there are people with too little to do and people with too much to do. Ion Bogdan Lefter is definitely in the second category. He is a writer, literary critic, cultural and political analyst and in addition the director of the Bucharest literary weekly Observatorul Cultural. Observatorul Cultural started to appear some years ago as an attractive, modern alternative to the somewhat outdated România Literără.
In a literary world that is still in chaos, this weekly journal is one of the few places where you find reliable information. During our talk about the book market in Romania, Lefter was answering phone calls, sending faxes and e-mails all at the same time.
Fortunately for our conversation he is assisted by his editor-in-chief Carmen Musat.
Leaving popular reading to one side (‘love stories’, as Lefter calls them), a category of book which sells remarkably well in Romania, he stressed the importance of the so-called remembrance literature. Books that try to bridge gaps in Romanian history. Books that contain personal experiences from the totalitarian times. ‘In many ways our culture is still trying to recover from communism’, says Musat. ‘To repair all the moral damage done.’ A good example of a successful book in this category is Ion Ioanid’s Our Everyday Prison about the 1980s in Romania. Another example is Stelian Tănase’s At Home They Whisper.
There is an acutely felt need for personal stories from the communist days, say both Lefter and Musat. At that time you could only express yourself in hidden ways. In fact, the longing in Romania for anything that is personal and honest also made Mircea Cărtărescu’s diaries a bestseller, although they deal with the conception of two of his novels in the first half of the 1990s, after the demise of communism.
A remarkably successful book – due to the search for truth – was the diary of the Romanian Jew Mihail Sebastian that reveals the massive anti-Semitism in the 1930s. The subject was unknown to the Romanian public, even to a substantial number of intellectuals. Sebastian’s diaries might have sold ten or even twenty thousand copies, but this is an unusual print-run, says Lefter. Romania is crippled by huge inflation.
Publishers want to sell all copies of a print run in the first month. The next month the price of the book might have become ridiculous and then the publisher looses large sums of money. The logical consequence is that publishers keep the print run of books small. As a consequence, books easily go out of print.
Romanian poets meanwhile are happy to get published at all. If there is one category of books it is hard to sell in post-communist Romania, it’s poetry. Romania used to be a country where poetry was published in print runs of 60 thousand copies. The modern literary market is for most Romanian poets nothing but a nightmare.
In comparison with the post-communist countries in Central Europe, Lefter identifies two differences. Firstly, the big German publishing houses do not yet dominate the Romanian market. Secondly, compared to Poland or Hungary, Romania is still a country of many small, fragmented activities. Many titles, many translations, but small circulations.
Everybody is doing his own thing. There is a lack of control. So it happens that the same book appears in two different towns with different publishing houses. At this moment there is a court case between Romania’s most prestigious publishing house Humanitas and a publisher from Cluj in the northwest of the country. Humanitas owns the copyright to all of Heidegger’s work. But suddenly some titles that are still due to appear with Humanitas have become available in Cluj.
A three-year program for improving the Croatian book market was launched in April. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, CEEBP, the Open Society Institute and the Croatian government are financing the project. This program is launched at a moment when – after ten years of destruction, isolation and nationalistic passions – the independent professional association of Croatian publishers is attempting to create a healthy and varied book market. The project seeks to establish a reliable information system about published books, to create an extensive and well-functioning distribution network, to facilitate the opening of quality bookstores in smaller towns, to improve the marketing and business skills of publishers and booksellers, and to enlarge the market in Croatia and across the borders through regional cooperation.
The project includes material support for a book information system, a distribution centre and the equipment of bookstores, a pilot market research project, training and internships, and a mobility fund for contact and cooperation across borders. For further information you can contact the coordinator of the project Milena Benini, e-mail: Mbenini@soros.hr
In April 2002, the CEEBP awarded 35 grants to publishers in Bosnia, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Yugoslavia. Grants were allocated for 21 books, 5 periodicals, and book publishers received nine grants for equipment and websites. The Internet magazine, Transitions on Line based in Prague, received a grant for an electronic book review section. BalCanis, based in Slovenia, is a co-production of editors from Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia and Serbia and has an Internet version as well as a print magazine.
The grants for books were allocated for seventeen West-East translations and four East-East translations. The CEEBP matched funds for Romanian translations of books in the field of European History and Integration with the Fundatia Concept from Bucharest.
- Maurice Agulhon, Democracy in Europe, Romanian translation by Andreea Doica, Polirom, Iasi
- Svetlana Alexievitch, Chernobyl (Chernobylskaja molitva), Russian-Czech translation by Milan Jungmann, Doplnĕk, Brno
- Pino Arlacchi, La mafia impendritrice: l’etica mafiosa e lo spirito del capitalismo, Italian-Czech translation by Hana Lhotáková, CDK, Brno
- Simon Blackburn, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, Estonian translation by Bruno Mölder, Vagabund, Tallin
- Andrej Blatnik, Menjave koš (short stories), Slovenian-Hungarian translation by Judit Reiman, JAK Books, Budapest
- Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom, Romanian translation by Hans Neumann, Polirom, Iasi
- Svetlana Broz, Dobri ljudi u vremenu zla (Good People in a Time of Evil), Croatian-Polish translation by Dorota Jovanka Ćirlić, Czarne, Sękowa
- Bora Ćosić, Uloga moje porodice u svetskoj revoluciji (My Family’s Role in the World Revolution), Serbo-Croat -Polish translation by Danuta Ćirlić-Straszyńska, Czarne, Sękowa
- István Deak, Tony Judt (eds.), Europe on Trial. The Politics of Retribution in Europe. World War II and its Aftermath, English-Romanian translation by Luminita Cioroianu, Curtea Veche, Bucharest
- Daša Duhaček and Obrad Savić (eds.), Captives of Evil: Legacy of Hannah Arendt, The Belgrade Circle, Belgrade
- T. S. Eliot, selected poems, Slovak translation by Ján Buzássy and Zuzana Hegedüsová, Studňa, Bratislava
- Ernest Gellner, Encounters with Nationalism, English-Bulgarian translation by Evelyna Vatova, LIK, Sofia
- Stanley Hoffman, The European Sisyphus. Essays on Europe 1964 – 1994, Romanian translation by Andreea Rosemarie Lutic, Curtea Veche, Bucharest
- Miroslav Hroch (ed.), Collection of essays on nationalism, translation by Jana Ogrocká (English), Petr Šafařík (German), Marie Černá (French), Jiří Ogrocký (Polish), SLON, Prague
- Mark Mazower, The Balkans: A Short History, English-Serbo-Croat translation by Jasmina Tesanović, Alexandria Press, Belgrade
- Ezra Pound, The Cantos, Czech translation by Anna Kareninová, Atlantis, Brno
- Paul Ricoeur, La Mémoire, l’Histoire, l’Oubli, French-Slovak translation by Andrej Zathurecký, Agora, Bratislava
- Hagen Schulze, Staat und Nation in der europaeischen Geschichte, German-Romanian translation by Hans Neumann, Polirom, Iasi
- Brendan Simms, Unfinest Hour. Britain and the Destruction of Bosnia, Servo-Croat translation by Vladimir Pavlinic, Buybook, Sarajevo
- Karen E. Smith, The Making of EU Foreign Policy. The Case of Eastern Europe, Romanian translation by Hans Ulrich, Trei, Bucharest
- Béla Vago, The Shadow of the Swastika: The Rise of Fascism and Antisemitism in the Danube Basin (1936 – 1939), English- Romanian translation by Sabina Dorneanu, Curtea Veche, Bucharest
- BalCanis, multilingual cultural magazine, 5 x per year, Ljubljana
- Kultura Weekly, Cultural Space Foundation, Sofia
- Fakel, bi-monthly, Fakel Express, Sofia
- Revista 22, Romanian weekly, Group for Social Dialogue, Bucharest
- Transitions Online (TOL, www.tol.cz), Book review supplement, Prague
- Alexandria Press publishing house and review, Belgrade – computer equipment and website improvement
- Dilema publishing house, Bratislava – computer equipment
- Fragment F.R. & G. publishers, Bratislava – equipment and website
- Lege Artis, publishing house in humanities, Sofia – computer equipment
- LIK publishing house, Sofia – website
- RENDE publishing house, Belgrade – website
- Trištvrte Revue, cultural quarterly, Atrakt Art, Bratislava – website
Hagen Schulze, Staat und Nation in der europäische Geschichte, C.H. Beck, München, 1994 and 1999, 376 pp, ISBN 3-406-38507-9
Publishing house LIK in Sofia issued the Bulgarian translation of this already classic interpretative history of the formation of European states and nations since the Middle Ages, which links their development to the fundamental industrial, political and cultural changes. The eminent German scholar Hagen Schulze traces the origins and evolution of nationalist ideologies, elucidating differences in nation-building and in state-building in Western and Eastern Europe, as well as the implications of both the recent rise of nationalism and the attempts to impose unity in Europe.
The book, written in a masterly way that makes the subject matter accessible to non-specialised readers, will also be published in a Romanian translation by Polirom as a part of the series ”Making of Europe”.
Galician Tales (Opowiesci Galicyjskie) by the Polish writer Andrzej Stasiuk, published in Hungarian translation by JAK Books, contains short stories about the inhabitants of a few small villages in southern Poland, near the border with Slovakia. In a wonderful style Stasiuk mixes journalistic reportage with a poetic exploration of reality. He portrays a forgotten part of Central Europe where after the downfall of communism life is disintegrating. An old woman, unable to walk, sits at her window still watching her six daughters walking out to the fields. In an unheated room, a man looks at a picture of his wife and dreams of Warsaw.
Stasiuk describes the dilapidated kiosk that sells toothbrushes, pictures of the Pope and cigarettes; he recounts stories that he hears in taverns, shops and at bus stops. With a few strokes he sketches his heroes and their personal tragedies, evoking their lives without ever commenting on or explaining what is happening to them.
Stasiuk (1960) grew up in Warsaw. He was active in the peace movement in the early 1980s, deserted from the army, and spent a year and a half in prison. He contributed to ‘underground’ magazines. With little tolerance for literary salons and officialdom, he moved from Warsaw to a house in the provinces, from which he mails his texts to the most popular and prestigious newspapers and magazines, including Gazeta Wyborcza and Tygodnik Powszechny. He is one of the most successful Polish authors. Galician Talesappeared in 1995 and has since been reprinted many times. The book, originally issued in 1998 by the Polish publisher Czarne, will also appear later this year in German, published by Suhrkamp.
In Bucharest, Humanitas published a Romanian translation of Eginald Schlattner’s Der geköpfte Hahn (The Beheaded Cock). Schlattner was born in 1933 in the Transylvanian town Arad and grew up in the foothills of the Carpathians. He is the first author to write about the Nazi entanglement of Romanian-Germans during the war.
The autobiographical novel gives a lively impression of the town Fogarasch (today: Fagaras), in which Romanians, Hungarians, Gypsies, Jews and German-Saxons lived together. Before the war, the relationship between all those ethnic groups was relaxed. But as the Second World War slowly and imperceptibly takes over people’s life, chauvinism and hatred penetrate the atmosphere of the town.
The author describes the events that took place on August 23, 1944. The story is told by a sixteen-year-old boy from a bourgeois German-Saxon family. While he is waiting for his friends and classmates to celebrate high-school graduation, he looks back to the past and realizes how much he has been infatuated by Nazi rites and slogans. The day that he comes of age and distances himself from the poisonous racist ideology is the day that fascist Romania, with the rapid approach of the Red Army, makes an about turn and sides with the allies.
The title of the book refers to the beheaded cock as a symbol of the permanent threat that eventually becomes reality. The book was originally published in 1998 by Zsolnay Verlag in Vienna.
- European Cultural Foundation
- Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds
- Salomon von Oppenheim Stiftung
- Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, The Netherlands
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Netherlands
- Stichting Het Parool
- Rotary Sloterdijk
- Meulenhoff & Co bv
- Weekbladpers Groep bv
- Boom Uitgeverij bv