25 years – that’s a quarter of a century…

chwilaIn just a few weeks time, it will be 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

That’s a quarter of a century… makes a girl think.

If you, too, wear glasses from reading too much small print, you will have an opinion about what books inspired the world since that day in November 1989. World Literature Today is collecting votes on the matter for its special on Central European literature. You can only pick 3 from a pre-determined list, so I chose:

Art Spiegelman’s Maus: A Survivor’s Tale (1986–1991) goes back to how Europe was divided in the first place, and it was written just as the iron curtain was rolling up. Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things (1997) looks at class struggle from a very different perspective. And Ian McEwan’s Atonement (2001) shows how something small can make things go badly wrong.

But none of these (and not many on WLT’s list) are written by Central Europeans!

So here’s my top three by Central Europeans, all Nobel literature winners:

Wisława Szymborska, Chwila / Moment (2002) is a bilingual edition, and translated into English by Barańczak and Cavanagh, both excellent reasons to read it. As the cover says “When I pronounce the word Future, the first syllable already belongs to the past.”

Czesław Miłosz, New and Collected Poems (2001) spans seven decades of poetry by the man who defined The Captive Mind.

Kertész Imre, Fateless (1992) or, in Tim Wilkinson’s translation, Fatelessness (2004). Sorstalanság was written in 1975 but only translated into English after 1989. I read the whole trilogy in Christina Viragh’s excellent German translations – Roman eines Schicksallosen is the first of a trilogy by this Holocaust survivor from Budapest.

You have until 21st September to cast your own vote.




Translator, editor, writer, reader

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Posted in history, international, literature, poetry, translation

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