Saturday, 12 December 2009

Macedonian snapshots: a fractured view of a disparate country

Well, I have now explored the Republic of Macedonia, courtesy of the short story anthology: "Change of the System".

I have to say, as expected, that this was a mixed bag of literature - coming from contemporary native writers writing both before and after the 1991 declaration of independence.

Co-translator Richard Gaughran states, quite correctly, in his introduction that "It is certainly true that if you want to know something about a place, you should read its fiction" - that could actually be the mission statement of this blog/website!

However, I could not help but feel a certain sense of exclusion whilst reading many of these stories... and I believe that is because a number of them are highly allegorical, no doubt due to the political climate of pre/early 90s Yugoslavia. The result of this is that whilst I enjoyed many of these stories, I felt that I was only appreciating them on the surface, and not understanding the deeper allegorical references. Examples of this would be "The Mole" by Petre M. Andreevski (a humorous tale of the battle between a man and a mole plaguing his garden, with strong oral folktale traditions in its telling), and "Sunday Dinner" by Vase Mancev; a very disturbing account of the battle between a rooster fleeing for its life and a determined farmer. Both stories were enjoyable to read but, for me, tempered by the feeling that I was not - as a foreigner - able to appreciate the deeper meanings of the tales, on a social, political or cultural level.

Elsewhere, to be honest, some stories were allegorical to the point of inpenetrability (such as Kim Mehmeti's "The Moonflower"), although works such as Ermis Lafazanovski's "The Half Rainbow" and Jadranka Vladova's "A Face to Lend" are satisfying in being well-written and giving a degree of cultural/social insight into Macedonian society.

Where this anthology really comes into its own for me, however, is in the final author's two works: "Nothing Especially Happens" and "The Death of a Fox" by Igor Isakovski. These are by a young and developing author and are notable in their focus on realism and personal experience rather than allegory and fable, and represent both a useful insight into modern Macedonian life and an exciting taster of a new, representative Macedonian literature. Isakvoski is writer to watch out for in future European literature!

I should point out here that, in finding a printed work of Macedonian literature translated into English, I struggled... and even having identified this book, I found it very difficult to track down (it is not on Amazon, and even the co-translator Richard Gaughran was unable - although not unwilling! - to help find a copy).

I finally got lucky through a secondhand book store, but if you wish to explore modern Macedonian literature further I cannot recommend highly enough the Macedonian literature website:

This is managed and produced by the aforementioned Igor Isakovski as a forum for literature in the area, and features an online English translation of his short story collection: Sandglass

(I would have used this to represent Macedonia if I did not have my stipulation of printed books for my travels).

So, to sum up, this work is a curate's egg:- i.e. good in parts - and I sincerely thank the book's producers: Richard Gaughran and Zoran Ancevski, without whom there would be no published representation of Macedonia on my travels!

And so on to Albania. I shall be travelling from Struga to Tirana at around 11-11.30am. The bus ride should be around 6-8 hours, through beautiful countryside, getting dark by the time I reach Tirana through Durres on the Adriatic, with a wait of about an hour or two at the border crossing.

Once in Albania, I shall be travelling by taxi to the remote mountain town of B.... in a book called "Spring Flowers, Spring Frost" by Ismail Kadare, which explores the conflicts and contradictions left over from the old Albanian regime. "People are disappearing never to be heard from again. The secret police appears to remain in place and operating in the shadows. The blood feuds of the ancient rule book, the "Kanun", are rumoured to being revived. And the stories that the ominous secret state archives are hidden in vaults in the local area won't die..."

See you soon!

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