European studies blog

Exploring Europe at the British Library

Introduction

Discover the British Library's extensive collections from continental Europe and read news and views on European culture and affairs from our subject experts and occasional guest contributors. Read more

29 May 2024

Preservation of Roma historical and cultural heritage in Bulgaria 

Two Endangered Archives Programme projects, one in 2007 and the other in 2009, aimed to digitise collections of material associated with the community and cultural activities of the Roma in Bulgaria during the 20th century. Over 2000 items have been digitised and relocated to the Studii Romani Archive at the Ethnographical Institute and Museum of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Digital copies have been preserved in both the Studii Romani Archive and the British Library.  
 
Page from a 1927 issue of the newspaper Svetilnik with Romani text in Cyrillic type
 
Digital image from a 1927 issue of Svetilnik (‘Candelabra’). The newspaper is written in both Bulgarian (pages one to three) and Romani (page four displayed above). EAP067/6/1. 
 
Svetilnik was one of the first evangelical newspapers written for a Romani audience. It was published by the Baptist Roma Mission during the 1920s. Other Roma newsletters and pamphlets were printed during the 1920s, some of them also associated with evangelical missions, while others focused on community life. Many copies of these newspapers and booklets have vanished over time, but some issues are preserved in private collections. Throughout the communist era, copies of certain newspapers were archived in public library collections. After 1989 some archival materials became accessible to the public, while others were destroyed, including some with significant historical or cultural value, such as Roma newsletters and pamphlets. 
 
Front page of the first issue of the newspaper Romano Esi from 1946
 
Romano Esi (‘Roma’s voice’) EAP067/7/1/1. 
 
The newspaper Romano Esi was originally published from 1946 to 1948. It was published by the All Cultural and Educational Organization for Roma Minorities in Bulgaria. The title of each issue is in Romani, while the content of the newspapers is in Bulgarian.
 
Black and white group photograph of circus workers and performers outside the Cirkus Kozarov tent
 
Circus ‘Kozarov’ where Roma musicians from the Zhivkov family worked as musicians, c1930. EAP067/2/1/1. 
 
The collection also includes digital images of original documents pertaining to prominent families and community members, as well as  photographs depicting various aspects of family life, such as group and individual portraits, weddings, and images from everyday life. It also encompasses celebrations of common feasts, family gatherings, excursions, holidays, as well as the political and social activities of community members. Additionally, it features theatre posters. 
 
Black and white photograph of Saban Bajramovic singing, accompanied by a violinist, accordionist and guitarist, with a small girl dancing in the foreground
 
Saban Bajramovic, known as the ‘King of Gypsy music’ hailing from Niš, a city in Serbia, pictured at a wedding in the Fakulteta neighbourhood of Sofia during the 1970s. EAP285/7/11. 
 
The folklore collection comprises songs, fairy tales, short stories and ritual songs of nomads created during the 20th century. These expressions convey the hopes for a better life and the faith of Roma people in ‘the bright future of communism,’ a belief they held. 
 
Poster for the Central Gypsy Theatre ‘Roma’ with photographs of performances. Red and black type and black and while photographs against a pink background.
 
Poster for the Central Gypsy Theatre ‘Roma’ promoting a musical performance titled Rapsodia (‘Rhapsody’).  EAP067/1/5/2. 
 
 
Page of Cyrillic manuscript on squared paper in a spiral-bound notebook
 
Notes detailing the establishment and history of the Roma quarter in Montana (Mikhailovgrad) in the 1970s. EAP285/9/1.
 
The illustration above is from a notebook covering topics from everyday life, Roma customs, and holidays. Additionally, it includes various short folklore genres like proverbs and humorous narratives. The original notebook is well preserved and consists of 88 handwritten pages. 
 
Page of typescript with handwritten corrections in blue ink
 
Typescript of a work on the origins of the Roma, with manuscript corrections. EAP285/12/1. 
 
Typescript of a poem with six four-line stanzas
 
One of two poems by Fikria Fazli, a female Romani activist from Sofia, addressing the plight of the Roma (1970s). EAP285/14/6.  
 
The documents revealing the fruitful cooperation between the British linguist Donald Kenrick and Dimiter Golemanov, a Romani poet, translator and philologist, are very interesting and enlightening. Kenrick first encountered Golemanov during his second visit to Sliven around 1967. At that time, Golemanov was already recognized in the world of Gypsy studies, thanks to a version of the ‘Song of the Bridge’ published in the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society. Kenrick collected a variety of materials from Golemanov, ranging from traditional songs and tales to Golemanov’s own compositions and translations. 
 
Letter in Romani language written in blue ink on lined paper
 
Letter dated 11 November 1969 from Golemanov to Kenrick with news from Sliven in Romani language. EAP285/11/1. 
 
Manuscript letter in Russian, written in blue ink on lined paper with some verses and lines of music
 
Above: Letter in Russian from  Golemanov to Kenrick, April 1969, EAP285/11/4. Below: A song in Romani, written and composed by Golemanov himself, sent as an accompaniment to the letter, EAP285/11/5.
 
Manuscript of music for a song, headed 'Legenda', in blue ink on lined paper
 
Below: Two pages from Golemanov’s translation of Alexander Pushkin's poem ‘The Gypsies’ into the Romani ‘drindari’ dialect of Sliven, which was his native language (1969), EAP285/11/8. 
 
Translation of Pushkin's 'The Gypsies' into Romani, manuscript in blue ink on squared paper
Translation of Pushkin's 'The Gypsies' into Romani, manuscript in blue ink on squared paper
 
Kenrick himself translated some of Golemanov’s work into English. The two pictures below are a translation of a fairy tale (1978), EAP285/11/15 and a song (1978), EAP285/11/14.
 
Typescript translation of a short fairy tale entitled 'Why man lives for eighty years'
 
Typescript of a song in Romani with the first two stanzas of an English translation
 
Milan Grba, Curator South-Eastern European Collections
 
References:  
 
Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society (Sandon, 1888-1999) Ac.9944. 
 
Elena Marushiakova and Vesselin Popov, The first Gypsy/Roma organisations, churches and newspapers, in From Dust to Digital: ten years of the Endangered Archives Programme (Cambridge, 2015), pp. [189]-224. ELD.DS.46613, and available online here.

17 May 2024

Continental cookbooks

From 17 May to 3 June 2024, the British Library celebrates its sixth Food Season, with a range of events that highlight the stories, the politics, and the people behind how and why we eat. While practical in their intent, cookbooks offer fascinating insights into the time and place of their production. The British Library’s rich collection of cookbooks provides an engaging way to trace evolving attitudes and tastes that have shaped cuisines and cultures. To mark this year's food season, today’s blog features a selection of some of our favorite cookbooks within the European Collections at the British Library. Bon appetit!


Kuharske Bukve

The first cookbook in Slovene was printed in 1799 as “the beginning of the Slovene cuisine”. It was compiled and edited by Valentin Vodnik, a Slovene poet and journalist. He translated recipes mainly from a variety of German cookery writers and titled his book Kuharske Βukve (Cook Books).

The title page of Kuharske bukve with an illustration of a nude figure stirring a pot.

Facsimile reprint of Valentin Vodnik’s 1799 work, Kuharske Βukve (Lublin, 1999) YF.2012.a.5. The original can be seen in the Slovene Digital Library.

The book comprises Vodnik’s introduction on healthy food and translations of 300 recipes arranged in 22 sections: soups; vegetable, meat and poultry dishes; sauces; egg and dairy dishes, fish and seafood dishes; cakes, drinks, etc. Each recipe has a title in Slovene culinary terminology.

This cookbook was printed at a time of important activities to further advance the Slovene language and was also significant for Slovene culinary practice. In his introduction Vodnik posed the questions: “Why would we steal words? Isn't the Slovenian language quite capable?” He stated the basic rules of healthy eating and asserted that “everything from which dishes are cooked must be healthy, and the cooking method must also be healthy”.

Frontispiece showing an image of a two cooks in a kitchen

Frontispiece of Vodnik’s cookbook with the inscription “Good food for hungry people”

Selected by Milan Grba, Lead Curator of South-East European Collections

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History on Our Plate: Recipes from America’s Dutch Past for Today’s Cooks

In History on Our Plate, Peter G. Rose describes how some of today’s favourite American staples, such as coleslaw and cookies were introduced by Dutch settlers.

Image showing the cover of 'History on Our Plate'. Cover design features Etende Vrouw (1647), an oil painting by Hendrick Martenszoon Sough that depicts a woman tasting something from a jug with a spoon

Cover of Peter G. Rose, History on Our Plate: Recipes from America’s Dutch Past for Today’s Cooks (Syracuse, 2019). YK.2021.a.586.

Rose takes inspiration from the earliest (anonymously) published cooking book in the Dutch language: De Verstandige Kock (‘The Sensible Cook’), which also includes De Hollandtse slacht-tydt (‘The Dutch Butchering time’) as well as De verstandige confituurmaker, (‘The Sensible Confectioner’). This highly rated book was often sent to Dutch settlers by their relatives back in the Netherlands.

Title page of De Verstandige Kock showing image of a two cooks working in a period kitchen

The title page of De Verstandige Kock (Amsterdam: Marcus Doornick, 1669) 441.b.21.(7.)

Other sources he uses are manuscript (so unpublished) cooking books, written by American / Dutch women. Around 2011 a database was set up to digitise some of these handwritten recipe books, the ‘Manuscript Cookbooks Survey’. Now we can all try out centuries old Dutch /American recipes!

Selected by Marja Kingma, Curator of Dutch Language Collections

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Hodēgos mageirikēs kai zacharoplastikēs, aka Tselementes

Authored by chef Nikolaos Tselementes, the 1926 Hodēgos mageirikēs kai zacharoplastikēs was Greece’s first complete cookery book that triggered the modernisation of Greek cuisine with the introduction of European components such as béchamel sauce. The book was so influential that the surname Tselementes is used as a synonym for a cookbook to the present day.

The cover of Nikolaos Tselemetes' cookbook, bearing only his surname and an illustration of the head of a chef in blue on a black background

The cover of the 1976 edition Nikolaos Tselementes, Hodēgos mageirikēs kai zacharoplastikēs (Athens, 1976) X.622/2509.

Despite its revolutionising elements, the book reflected the reality of what was still a male-dominated Greek society. In its first few pages, it featured the ‘Decalogue to the Ladies’, an outdated and anti-feminist text written by Carmen Sylva (real name Elisabeth of Wied, first Queen of Romania), which urges the woman - housewife to serve only as queen in the kitchen, act as servant to her husband, and be obliged always to agree with, obey, flatter him and, above all, respect his mother whom he had loved first!

A page with instructions to women from the 'Decalogue to the Ladies' in Greek. On the left there is an illustration of an attractive woman in a red strapless dress standing behind a man sat on a chair with her arms on his shoulders

The ‘Decalogue to the Ladies’ at the start of Tselementes’s cookbook from the 1976 edition.

Selected by Lydia Georgiadou, Curator of Modern Greek Collections

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La cucina futurista

Here is a cookbook you can’t live without. Marinetti’s 1932 Futurist Cookbook challenges the perception of Italian cuisine: everything is subverted, from the order of the courses to the scandalous rejection of pasta. The recipes suggested were actually prepared during ‘futurist’ banquets, gatherings resembling performance art where everything, from the crockery to the sound, was created on purpose. Despite being a satirical work, the application of modern science and technology to gastronomy suggested in the book (ozone generators, UV lamps, nutrient-dense powders) is an innovative element that anticipates today’s molecular cuisine. What never changes is the pleasure of hosting and sitting at the table, sharing a meal and enjoying conviviality.

Tan cover of La cucina futurista with red print for the author, title and publishing info.

The cover of F.T. Marinetti and Fillìa, La cucina futurista (Italy, 1932) Cup.408.ww.45.

Selected by Valentina Mirabella, Curator of Romance Collections

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Forbidden cuisine: a book about delicious prison food

Lapitsiĭ is a pen name of Andrey Sannikov, a Belarusian oppositionist and a champion of human rights, who stepped into the arena of the 2010 presidential elections, challenging the entrenched power of Alexander Lukashenko. The aftermath of that fateful election was nothing short of a whirlwind: Sannikov found himself imprisoned, a captive of his convictions, after taking part in a demonstration organised by the opposition. The walls closed in, and for 16 months, his voice was silenced, but his spirit remained unbroken.

Cover of 'Zapreshchennaia kukhnia' with a photograph of a bowl of food and the view through a prison cell door

Cover of Zapreshchennaia kukhnia: Kniga o vkusnoĭ tiuremnoĭ pishche (Warsaw, 2023) YF.2023.a.24545

In the depths of captivity, Sannikov grappled with the stark reality of losing more than just his physical freedom. The very act of choosing what to eat — a simple, everyday privilege — was dictated by others. Hunger became a harsh reminder of his constrained existence, a tool used to bend the will of the incarcerated. Food, often bland and scarce, became a canvas for creativity. In the face of deprivation, inmates concocted imaginative variations of borscht, herring beneath a fur coat salad, and layered birthday cakes. For them, ‘cooking is a territory of freedom,’ a small triumph of choice and creativity amid confinement.

Photograph of a prison cell with a table set for a meal

A prison cell with a table set for a meal, illustration from Zapreshchennaia kukhnia

And so emerged Zapreshchennaia kukhnia: Kniga o vkusnoĭ tiuremnoĭ pishche (‘Forbidden cuisine: a book about delicious prison food’) —a symbol of resilience and defiance. Beyond a mere meal, food became an act of rebellion, an assertion of their humanity. In these culinary creations, born out of necessity and ingenuity, lay the embodiment of the most imaginative and delicious declaration of independence.

Photograph of potatoes and potato soup with a recipe

Potato soup from Zapreshchennaia kukhnia.

Selected by Olga Topol, Curator of Slavonic and East European Collections

14 May 2024

European prose in transformation (Part 2) The European Writers’ Festival returns to the British Library

30 established and emerging authors from across Europe gather under one roof to delve into the theme of ‘Transformation’ at the second European Writers’ Festival taking place over the weekend of 18-19 May 2024 at the British Library. Two days of performances and panels will discuss how storytelling, its creators, its original language as well as its translation, are changing as the continent itself is transforming. While writing about personal experience embedded in history remains central to European literature, the Festival’s guests attempt to break literary traditions and established boundaries, setting off for transformative new journeys – and carrying us with them. This is the second of two blog posts examining some of the themes of the Festival. (You can read the first here.)

Cover of 'The Postcard' with a photograph of Noémie Rabinovitch, and author photograph of Anne Berest

Cover of The Postcard with a photograph of Noémie Rabinovitch, a budding writer who was murdered before she could fulfil her potential as her great-niece Anne (pictured right) has been able to do

Anne Berest, The Postcard - Sunday 19 May, Panel 1, ‘Transforming Historical Narratives’

Anne Berest is a French novelist and scriptwriter born in 1979. With her sister Claire, she is the author of Gabriële (Paris, 2017; YF. 2018.a.8864), a critically acclaimed biography of her great-grandmother, Gabriële Buffet-Picabia, wife of the painter Francis Picabia, highlighting her contribution to the French avant-garde. Gabriële and her daughter Jeanine, who both joined the French Resistance, feature in La carte postale (Paris, 2020; YF. 2022.a.8192) and Samuel Beckett makes an appearance too! Translated into English by Tina Kover as The Postcard, the book opens on a snowy morning in 2003 when Anne’s mother Lélia, receives an anonymous postcard inscribed with the names Ephraïm, Emma, Noémie and Jacques. The names are those of Anne’s great-grandparents and her great-aunt and uncle, the Rabinovitch family, all of whom died in Auschwitz. Anne’s grandmother, Myriam, escaped deportation and was her family’s sole survivor, but she never talked about the past. The book’s novelistic techniques (invented dialogue, omniscient narration) may initially seem questionable, but the book is based on Lélia’s meticulous research and Anne’s own investigations. Viewing the dreadful fate of European Jews deported from Vichy France under German occupation through the prism of named individuals that we get to know and care about makes for a compelling take on history and on what it is to be a Jew in France today as a third-generation survivor. And who wrote and sent that postcard? All is revealed on the last page.

Teresa Vernon, Lead Curator, Romance Collections

Cover of 'Niki' with a photograph of a woman in profile with four blue bars superimposed, and photograph of Christos Chomenidis leaning on a car

Cover of Niki and photograph of Christos Chomenidis (photograph by Kokkalias Nikos from the Other Press website)


Christos Chomenidis, Niki - Sunday 19 May, Panel 1, ‘Transforming Historical Narratives’

Through his 2014 novel Niki, author Christos Chomenidis narrates his real family adventures against the dramatic historical backdrop of 20th century Greece through the eyes of his mother, Niki. Daughter of the deputy secretary general of the Greek Communist Party Vassilis Nefeloudis (Antonis Armaos in the book), infant Niki will be swept up in turmoil when her parents are arrested: just 70 days old, she will join her mother in exile in the Cyclades; growing up, she will experience the Italian and German invasion, the Nazi occupation, and the civil war that came after, and will often be caught between her socialist values and those of the right-wing establishment, to which half her relatives belong; as a young woman, she will fall madly in love, giving the already divided family yet another reason to clash. “Niki’s life is the life of all children who come into the world with a heavy burden on their shoulders; they do not renounce it, but neither do they let it to bend them” says Chomenidis and continues: “The people of Niki are the History of 20th century Greece”.

Following his mother’s death in 2008, the author became the last of his line who knew all the protagonists’ stories and so, he decided to record them, initially in a letter for his own daughter (who was named Niki after her grandmother) and gradually into a novel, tackling complex events in a way that is simple and understandable even to readers who are not familiar with these aspects of Greek history.

Niki was awarded the Greek State Literature Prize in 2015 and the European Book Prize for Fiction in 2021. Its English translation by Patricia Felisa Barbeito is the featured book from Greece at the European Writers’ Festival 2.

Lydia Georgiadou, Curator, Modern Greek Collections

Cover of 'Journey to the South' with a picture of a lone figure silhouetted against a colourful abstract landscape of blocks, and photogtaph of Michal Ajvaz

Cover of Journey to the South and photograph of Michal Ajvaz (photograph by Rafał Komorowski from Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

Michal Ajvaz, Journey to the South – Sunday 19 May 2020, Panel 2, ‘Breaking Boundaries’

Michal Ajvaz, who studied Czech and Aesthetics at the Faculty of Philosophy, Charles University, worked during the normalisation period as a janitor, nightwatchman, and petrol pump attendant among other jobs. Ajvaz debuted in 1989 with the poetry collection Vražda v hotelu Intercontinental, (‘Murder at the Hotel Intercontinental’, Brno, 2012; YF.2013.a.7148) and has since authored over 20 works blending imaginative prose with philosophical essays.

Ajvaz’s literary influences trace back to his early readings of Edgar Allan Poe and E.T.A. Hoffmann. His exploration of magical realism began with Druhé město (Prague, 1993; YA.1995.a.26185. English translation by Gerald Turner: The Other City, Champaign, Dallas, 2009; YK.2010.a.31674), which stirred discussions on its role within Czech literature. Ajvaz’s works are filled with mirrored landscapes and parallel worlds, adventures and quests that span the world.

The Magnesia Litera award-winning novel Lucemburská zahrada (Brno 2011; YF.2012.a.2551), delves into linguistics with a newly invented language and takes the reader on a journey through Paris, Nice, Nantes, in the state of New York, Moscow, Santa Lucia, Sicilian Taormina and the invented city of Lara. The writer-philosopher's love of linguistics reached its peak in this work, resulting in an appendix offering a key to deciphering some of the novel's content.

The magic permeating Ajvaz’s literary worlds stems from his philosophy and writing process. This is how he describes it in an interview published on the literární.cz website

Usually, it's just a feeling, often associated with a specific place... These feelings remind me of a white fog in which dozens of indistinct figures with their own stories flicker, and these characters and stories beckon me to free them from the fog, to give them some form. It's true that some ideas eventually make their way into my fiction books, but that's because from the initial feeling a certain world gradually unfolds with everything that belongs to it—and to the world belong not only characters, spaces, and plots but also ideas. However, ideas should not dominate the novel; they must not be privileged over the other inhabitants of the novel. 

Now the British public has an opportunity to become immersed in Ajvaz’s world and walk alongside the characters of Journey to the South, translated to English last year by Andrew Oakland (Dallas, 2023). Pack your imagination and join the fellow travellers!

Olga Topol, Curator, Slavonic and East European Curator

 

Cover of 'Home' with a photograph of a barn in a field of yellow flowers, and photograph of Andrea Tompa

Cover of Home and photograph of Andrea Tompa (Photograph by Petőfi Literary Fund via Hungarian Literature Online)

Andrea Tompa, Home – Sunday 19 May 2024, Panel 3, ‘Europe on the Move’

Thirty years after relocating from Cluj-Napoca to Budapest in 1990, Hungarian writer and theatre critic Andrea Tompa felt the time was finally ripe to share what leave-taking and homecoming truly mean for her. With her latest novel now translated into English by Jozefina Komporaly under the title Home (London, 2024), Andrea is bringing her contemplations to this year’s European Writers’ Festival.

Many of us left our homeland behind, prompted by circumstances, driven by various forces. Although the book narrates a journey back to an unnamed home country for a school reunion, with several classmates also returning after long absences, its essence is not so much a story of a trip. The focus is on different kinds of travel: past journeys, journeys into the past - and into ourselves.

A reunion inevitably induces reflection, it can serve as a reality check relative to our own youth and also to our peers while we reacquaint as adults. How much do we leavers share as to the nature of our connections to the place we came from? Some decide to cut all ties, others will always be longing after the homeland. But the homeland has transformed since we left and we ourselves changed in many ways, so all points of reference have shifted.
Identity, personal relationships, culture, patriotism, belonging – just a few of the complex emotional questions to delve into, with language as a vital theme in its own right, weaving through the book.

The Hungarian original Haza (Budapest, 2020; YF.2022.a.16166) is already in our collection, hopefully the translation will arrive soon as well.

Andrea is a guest on the ‘Europe on the Move’ panel at 3 pm on 19 May. She also offers some insight into her journeys in an English-language interview by Hungarian Literature Online .

Ildi Wollner, Curator, East and SE European Collections

Cover of 'The moon in foil' with a photograph of a woman seen from behind looking over a river, and photograph of Zuska Kepplova standing in fromt of bookshelves

Cover of The Moon in Foil  and photograph of Zuska Kepplova (photogtaph by Juraj Starovecký from Slovak Literature in English Translation website)

Zuska Kepplova, The Moon in Foil – Sunday 19 May 2024, Panel 3, ‘Europe on the Move’

In an interview for the Chicago Review of Books Zuska Kepplova – a writer, editor and political commentator – makes a statement that resonates with many Eastern European world nomads, as those ‘who were born in late socialist societies and grew up after the revolutions, [this label] is a novelty. They were not used to thinking about themselves as “Eastern Europeans” and dealing with prejudices, their own or of others. Entering the free world thus also means entering a hierarchy or a web of relations of power.’

Kepplova’s book Buchty švabachom (Bratislava 2017; YF.2019.a.10137), recently translated into English by Magdalena Mullek as The Moon in Foil (Chicago, 2023), traces people’s relationships with each other and their place of migration. The short story form is a perfect fit for Kepplova’s storytelling. The deliberately scattered narrative is thoughtful, gives glimpses into the chaotic lives of young Slovaks tempted by newly opened world enticing them with a vision of success, but leading to a life of mundanity and struggle for social advancement, often devoid of self-fulfilment. Many a reader will relate to the characters' commonplace existence and reflect on their own longing for buchty  or pierogi left behind at home far away. Those who want to see what happens when the migratory birds return should read Kepplova’s Reflux. Niekto cudzí je v dome (‘Reflux. There is a stranger in the house’; Levice, 2015; YF.2017.a.24619).  

Olga Topol, Curator, Slavonic and EE Curator

10 May 2024

European prose in transformation (Part 1). The European Writers’ Festival returns to the British Library

30 established and emerging authors from across Europe gather under one roof to delve into the theme of ‘Transformation’ at the second European Writers’ Festival taking place over the weekend of 18-19 May 2024 at the British Library. Two days of performances and panels will discuss how storytelling, its creators, its original language as well as its translation, are changing as the continent itself is transforming. While writing about personal experience embedded in history remains central to European literature, the Festival’s guests attempt to break literary traditions and established boundaries, setting off for transformative new journeys – and carrying us with them. In this and a second blog post, our curators and one guest contributor highlight some of the themes of the festival.

Photograph of Laurent de Sutter and the cover of his book 'After Law' with the book title in a red stop sign design

Laurent de Sutter and the cover of his book After Law (Cambridge, 2020) (Author photograph from the website of the Law Art Politics podcast)

Laurent de Sutter, After Law – Saturday 18 May, Panel 2, ‘Changing Gears’

On Saturday 19 May 2024, Belgian philosopher Laurent de Sutter will take part in the panel ‘Changing Gears’, alongside other authors who switch jobs and genres.

A real 21st century polymath, Laurent de Sutter wrote his law thesis on the politics of representation while working as a freelance writer for pop-rock magazine Rif-Raf. He then wrote about pornography and porn-stars, pop-culture, aesthetics, drugs and capitalism, and cinema, while becoming an editor directing a collection for the Presses Universitaires de France.

Laurent de Sutter is today Professor of Legal Theory at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, the author of more than 20 works translated into a dozen languages, and an essential thinker on the concept of law and of the ways we categorise and describe reality. Unexpectedly, his recent philosophical essay on modernity and anti-modernity, Superfaible! Penser au XXIe siècle (Paris, 2023) was also the recipient of the Grand prix de Poésie de l’Académie royale de langue et de littérature françaises de Belgique, 2023. Maybe this is not that surprising for a provocative and limitless writer who is also a self-confessed ‘pop-philosopher’ (a term invented by the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze in the 1970s, for a genre that explores the intersections between philosophy and pop culture).

You can find his books, in French, on the life and death of superheroes (Vies et morts des super-héros; Paris, 2016; YF.2020.a.6105) or his history of law through the architecture of one contemporary building (Post-tribunal: Renzo Piano Building Workshop et l'île de la Cité judiciaire; Paris, 2018; YF.2018.a.15252) in our collections. Recent titles in English include Narcocapitalism: Life in the Age of Anaesthesia (Cambridge, 2018; YC.2018.a.13255) and After Law. The latter won the French Voices Award and the Leopold Rosy Prize of the Belgian Royal Academy and is the featured book at this year’s European Writers’ Festival.

Sophie Defrance, Curator, Romance Collections

Photograph of Ioana Pârvulescu reading a book, and the cover of 'Jonah and his Daughter' with an illustration of Jonah and the whale

Cover of Jonah and his Daughter and photograph of Ioana Pârvulescu (pictures from the Romanian Cultural Institute)

Ioana Pârvulescu, Jonah and his Daughter – Saturday 18 May 2024, Panel 3, ‘Transformation through Translation’

While I was preparing Ioana Pârvulescu’s rather mystical new novel for print, I made a trip to Rome, and more specifically to the ancient Christian burial grounds of that city, known to us as the catacombs. To my surprise, I came upon an array of depictions of the prophet Jonah – being thrown overboard on this sea journey undertaken in an attempt to outrun the will of God; languishing inside the whale or being regurgitated from the sea monster. My guide explained that the early Christians saw Jonah as a precursor to Jesus, with his internment in the belly of the great fish for three days pre-echoing those three days in the tomb before resurrection; his rebirth thereafter being the new life in faith.

Roman wall-paintings showing the prophet Jonah being thrown from a ship and being vomited out by a dragon-like whale

Paintings of the biblical story of Jonah from the Catacomb of Saints Marcellinus and Peter in Rome

While Pârvulescu’s novel is far more subtle and complicated than a mythologised story of prophecy from the Old Testament, her writing is never finer than when describing that extraordinary scene of ingestion and eventual discharge :

...Jonah grew very dizzy and felt he was falling back-ward into emptiness, looking through eyes in which there was no wide-eyed seeing. And all of a sudden, the seeing returned to his eyes and his sight filled with stars, some so close that you could catch them in your hand, stars that were in motion, others so high above that they were but specks of silver dust...

Yet this is not a novel of obscure stories and characters far removed from us in time and mentality: Jonah is a living, breathing man with a speech impediment and a prodigious sexual appetite, who befriends waifs and strays with characters that steal our hearts and make us want to sit down with these people, around a campfire perhaps, and learn their ways. Just as in her previous novel, Life Begins on Friday, the author draws us into historical periods through the quirks of her characters, their insecurities and their passions, and the empathy she evokes for them through her expert storytelling. As in all the best dramatisations of the past – be it in films, theatre plays or novels – historical figures are given height and depth because we have sat with them for a while and heard their voices.

We learn in the introduction to the book that Ioana felt compelled to write it because the vagaries of spellcheck often rendered her name to that of the ‘minor prophet’ in Romanian and that from this whimsical coincidence she was led to re-evaluate and become enamoured of a narrative different from the one she expected:

The reason his story is so beautiful and so human is because it is about deadly monsters that play a double part and which in the end are life savers, about the need for darkness, about fear and running away, about passion, about getting involved or standing aloof, about being human or separate from humanity...

Jonah’s daughter learns the story of her father, and passes it on her to her daughter, and so on down through the ages. In this way our author becomes a daughter of Jonah too, bringing the story of the recalcitrant prophet up to date with our times. In the end all the very best stories reveal aspects of our human - and mystical - experience in this realm, and I for one have been greatly enriched by this one.

Susan Curtis, Editor, Istros Books

03 May 2024

In a whirlwind of change. The European Writers’ Festival returns to the British Library 

Please note this post includes an offensive racial term in the title of a book quoted. We have spelt this out in full because that was the book author's own conscious and deliberate choice in the context of his writing.
 
The second European Writers’ Festival, taking place on May 18 and 19 at the British Library, brings together renowned and emerging authors from 30 countries for an unmissable weekend filled with thought-provoking panels and the promise of fascinating discussions. The British Library, with its unparalleled holdings from continental Europe, offers a perfect setting for debating European literature and delving into the disquieting undercurrents shaping our societies today. This year, the event centres around the theme of Transformation and zooms in on the violent shifts in politics, climate, language, and human rights, to name a few. As poetry has long been regarded as a vehicle for change, our curators of European collections invite you to get (re)acquainted with some of the poets taking part in the festival and to join them on a transformative journey of becoming the new Europeans of the future. 
 
Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator of East European Collections, offers a fascinating glimpse into the poetry of one of the most distinct voices in contemporary Ukrainian poetry, Iryna Shuvalova. 
 
Cover of 'Pray to the Empty Wells' and photograph of Irina Shuvalova
Irina Shuvalova and her poetry collection Pray to the Empty Wells (Pullman, Washington, 2019) Awaiting shelfmark  (Author photograph from https://www.irynashuvalova.com/en
 
Iryna Shuvalova, a Ukrainian poet, scholar, and translator, is not a stranger to the readers of the European Studies blog. Her book of poetry featured at this year’s festival, Pray to the Empty Wells, draws heavily on Ukrainian folklore. Shuvalova expertly blends its spirituality with eroticism for a heady cocktail of tender love and inconsolable sorrow.  
 
the love fish  
lives in the large body of the river
it swims in it like a pendulum    
back and forth and in a circle    
fastened to the heart’s axis   
‘Love fish’ from Pray to the Empty Wells (Pullman, Washington, 2019) Awaiting shelfmark  
 
As Kate Kellaway puts it in her review of the book for The Guardian, “translated poetry seldom finds a home in this column, and this book is one of the few rare cases.” In one of her interviews, Shuvalova asserted: “Let’s say that I’m building my own personal mythology out of space and voice.” No critic could have been more accurate in describing Shuvalova’s remarkable poetic world woven with words that let readers see, hear, and feel.  
  
But this serene world is now in danger and, like so many other Ukrainian artists, Shuvalova will have preferred that some of her poems had not been written, such as this one:
    
because the other side of the front line is like another galaxy    
how dare these outsiders, these primitives, these aliens   
kill and die—just as well as we do   
how dare they be so human and inhumane, all at once    
almost like us, too   
how dare they be like us   
how dare they   
‘Conflict zone’ from Pray to the Empty Wells  
 
On the first day of the festival, Iryna Shuvalova will participate in the panel Change and Conflict on the impact of war, displacement, and trauma. The special guest of the festival is, fittingly, the Ukrainian author and journalist, Andrey Kurkov. He will engage in a discussion with The Guardian’s Senior international correspondent and author of Invasion, Luke Harding.   
 
Poetry is a powerful tool for preserving and rejuvenating indigenous languages and traditions, attesting to their relevance and beauty in our increasingly anglicised world. Ela Kucharska-Beard, Curator of Baltic Collections, points to the communion with the natural world and the deep connection with the Estonian way of life that permeates Kristiina Ehin’s poetry. 
 
Cover of 'On the Edge of a Sword' and photograph of Kristiina Ehin
Kristiina Ehin and her poetry collection On the Edge of a Sword = Mõõgateral (Todmorden, 2018). ELD.DS.738555 (Author photograph from Postimees website
 
Kristiina Ehin is a leading, multi-award winning Estonian poet whose work has been translated into at least 20 languages, including English. She has also written short stories, plays and a collection of re-told south Estonian folk tales. Kristiina, who has a master’s degree in Estonian and comparative folklore, is a singer in the contemporary folk group Naised Köögis, continuing the ancient Estonian tradition of women poets and singers. She has also worked as a translator, journalist, dance teacher, lecturer and storyteller.  
 
Kristiina’s poetry, deeply spiritual, is firmly rooted in Finno-Ugric tradition and reflects her profound respect for nature. Her fourth collection of poems, the bestselling  Kaitseala (‘Protected Area’, 2005), was written during a year spent working as a nature reserve warden on an uninhabited island off the coast of Estonia. Her poetry deals with personal relationships (man-woman, mother-child) and the relationship with nature. The poems, light and modern, written from a female point of view, combine fragility and strength; they are both serious and playful, personal and universal.  
 
The European Writer’s Festival will feature Kristiina’s collection of poems On the Edge of a Sword, selected from her collection Kohtumised (Tartu, 2017; YF.2019.a.11834). The poems have been expertly translated into English by Ilmar Lehtpere, with whom the poet has an ongoing collaboration. Kristiina will be speaking at the panel Changing Gears, discussing the importance (or lack thereof) of writing in one genre.   
 
In times of upheaval, poetry amplifies marginalized narratives and gives voice to the voiceless. According to Marja Kingma, Curator of Dutch Language Collections, Simone Atangana Bekono pushes the boundaries of Dutch poetry by facilitating long overdue, radically candid conversations about racial and gender inequalities and other deeply ingrained societal biases. 
 
Cover of 'Confrontations' and photograph of Simone Atangana Bekono
Simone Atangana Bekono and her novel Confrontation (Author photograph from: https://www.vpro.nl/programmas/mondo/video/mondo-minute/mondo-minute-simone-atangana-bekono.html
 
Simone Atangana Bekono is an author with Cameroonian/Dutch heritage, born in Dongen, a town 100km southeast of Amsterdam. She is part of a new generation of Dutch poets who write about discrimination on the basis of race, or gender, or sexual orientation (or all three), about identity, colonialism, and generational conflict. In doing so they take Dutch poetry in a whole new direction. Simone Atangana Bekono burst onto the literary scene in 2017 with the poetry collection Hoe de eerste vonken zichtbaar waren (2nd ed, 2018; YF.2019.a.17267), which was translated into English by David Colmer as How the First Sparks Became Visible (Birmingham, 2021). Other translations include Spanish and Rumanian.  
 
Simone won multiple awards for her Young Adult debut novel Confrontaties (Amsterdam, 2021) YF.2021.a.9720, the story of how a teenage black girl copes with her time in a young offender's institution and with her return to her community. The English edition Confrontations, translated by Suzanne Heukensfeldt Jansen, will be published this year. It has also been translated into German and Turkish.  
 
In March 2021, Simone participated in the online launch event for The Dutch Riveter. Like the European Writers’ Festival, it was hosted by the British Library and organised and presented by Rosie Goldsmith from the European Literature Network. In 2023 she was writer-in-residence at UCL, London.   
 
I am thrilled to see Simone at the Library once again on 18 May, as one of the guest authors at the second edition of the European Writers’ Festival! You will have a chance to meet the poet at the Transformation through Translation panel, where she will be looking into shifting attitudes towards translation in Europe.  
 
Lydia Georgiadou, Curator of Modern Greek Collections, suggests that Dean Atta dissects the intersections between race, gender, and sexuality. The poet embraces his black and queer identities and demonstrates just how liberating and empowering it is to embrace all aspects of who we really are. 
 
Cover of 'There is (still) love here' and photograph of Dean Atta
Dean Atta and his poetry collection There is (still) Love here (Rugby, 2022). Awaiting shelfmark. (Author photograph from: https://www.geeksout.org/2022/05/25/interview-with-author-dean-atta/
 
Award-winning British author and poet of Greek Cypriot and Jamaican heritage Dean Atta joins the closing panel of the Festival, The New Europeans of the Future to discuss how transformation impacts the ‘new’ European authors’ craft, identity and perception of home, nationhood and Europe.   
 
Atta’s featured book, There is (still) love here  is described on the author’s website as “a compelling new collection of poetry [exploring] relationships, love and loss, encompassing LGBTQ+ and Black history, Greek Cypriot heritage, pride and identity, dislocation and belonging” and “an antidote for challenging times”.  
 
The lyrics of ‘On days when’ are characteristic: 
  
On days when  
you feel like a wilting garden, 
gather yourself, roll up your lawn,  
bouquet your flowers,
embrace your weeds.  
You are a wild thing playing
at being tame.  
You are rich with life beneath 
the surface.  
You don’t have to show leaf
and petal to be living.  
You are soil and insect and root.  
 
There is (still) love here comes after two novels in verse: Only on the Weekends (London, 2022; ELD.DS.692242) and The Black Flamingo (London, 2019; ELD.DS.455619), which won Atta the American Library Association’s Stonewall Book Award, CILIP Carnegie Shadowers Choice Award, West Sussex School Librarians’ Amazing Book Awards and What Kids are Reading Quiz Writers’ Choice Award. The Black Flamingo featured in the British Library’s recent exhibition Malorie Blackman: The Power of Stories
 
The title poem of Atta’s debut collection, I Am Nobody’s Nigger (London, 2013; YK.2013.a.23925), consciously and deliberately uses the racial slur as a response to its use by the murderers of Stephen Lawrence. The poem achieved much social media coverage and was shortlisted for the 2014 Polari First Book Prize.  
 
Dean Atta is a Malika’s Poetry Kitchen member, National Poetry Day ambassador and LGBT+ History Month patron. He was listed as one of the most influential LGBTQIA+ people in the UK by the Independent on Sunday and his books have been praised by the likes of Bernardine Evaristo, Benjamin Zephaniah and Malorie Blackman.  
 
Europe is in flux, and poetry gently peels away the layers of the ongoing transformation. The authors participating in this year’s festival encourage us to reimagine the society we hope to emerge into once the whirlwind of change has subsided.  
 
In our next post, we will zero in on the recurring themes of the festival. Stay tuned! 
 
Hanna Dettlaff-Kuznicka, Interim Curator of Slavonic and East European Collections

29 April 2024

The Hobbit – there and back, or what are you looking for? Braille books in Slavonic collections 2.

The lights of Obukhovka are fading away as we move on to the magical world of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth. The author wrote the story about the wanderings of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins for his children, but it quickly became one of the best-selling novels of all time and a firm favourite amongst many generations of readers worldwide. Our recent acquisition of the classic in Russian braille brings the world of wizards, dragons, and elves right to your fingertips.

Do you remember the thrill of reading The Hobbit for the first time? What did your copy look or feel like? Children born in the 1920s and early 1930s held onto a book with a rather unassuming cover.

Cover of the first edition of 'The Hobbit' with a design of mountains and a dragon against a grey-green background

The Hobbit, the first edition published in September 1937 (Cup.410.f.14.)

The first printing of the novel ran to only 1500 copies and flew off the shelves in less than three months. The second impression was issued in an edition of 2300 copies immediately after, in December of the same year. I wonder how many of them were gift-wrapped and spent the night under the Christmas tree, waiting to be discovered by young fantasy lovers. We know that 423 copies did not find their way to readers, as they were destroyed in a warehouse fire in the London blitz. If you have a book looking like the one in the picture above sitting casually on your shelves, you may want to read this article published in the Guardian early this year.

At first, Tolkien thought that his creation would be visualised by every reader in their own way. The publisher, however, convinced him to add illustrations to the book. I am sure many are already familiar with it, but for those who are not – here is the story of Tolkien's illustrations.

My first exposure to Tolkien happened when I read the 1976 translation of The Hobbit into Russian.

Cover of the 1976 Russian translation of The Hobbit with an illustration of Bilbo Baggins and the dragon Smaug

Cover of Natalia Rakhmanova’s translation of The Hobbit into Russian: Khobbit, ili, Tuda i obratno: skazochnaia povestʹ (Leningrad, 1976). YF.2011.a.18078

Although a heated debate is still going on among Tolkien fans about which of the ten Russian versions is the best and closest in spirit to the original, it was Natalia Rakhmanova’s first translation of The Hobbit that influenced the reception of Tolkien first in the Soviet Union and later in Russia. Mikhail Belomninski’s illustrations also became iconic for Soviet children, especially the image of Bilbo Baggins, bearing an uncanny resemblance to the popular Soviet actor Evgenii Leonov.

Illustration of Bilbo Baggins sitting by his fireside and smoking a pipe

Illustrations from the 1976 Russian translation of The Hobbit showing Bilbo Baggins by his fireside (above) and Bilbo and Gandalf meeting the woodman Beorn (below)

Illustration of Gandalf and Bilbo meeting the giant woodman Beorn who leans on a large axe

But of course, Bilbo’s young fans would not know that in 1989, just a couple of years before the collapse of the USSR and communism, Belominskii left the country for the US. He later worked there as an artistic director for the New Russian Word – the longest-running (1910-2010) Russian-language newspaper in America.

Nevertheless, it is telling that it was Rakhmanova’s translation of The Hobbit that was abridged for the braille edition in 1982. It was released in four volumes and limited to just 300 copies.

Spines of the four braille volumes of Khobbit, ili, Tuda i obratno

Printed title page of Khobbit  ili  Tuda i obratno

Page of braille text from Khobbit  ili  Tuda i obratno

From top: the four volumes, title-page and page of braille text of Khobbit, ili, Tuda i obratno : skazochnaia povestʹ v chetyrekh knigakh (Moscow, 1982). LF.31.b.16409. (Please note that due to the recent cyber-attack on the British Library the item does not appear in our catalogue yet; it can be ordered in our reading rooms using the shelfmark.)

The first schools for visually impaired children in Russia, like the one attended by Eroshenko, opened in 1881. In 1882, textbooks for visually impaired children were printed in the linear uncial type cast in Vienna. These were the Gospel of Matthew and Children’s World written by Konstantin Ushinsky, the founder of scientific pedagogy in Russia.

Page with raised text for visually-impaired readers

Children’s World by Konstantin Ushinsky adapted for use by visually impaired students (copy held at the National Library of Russia).

Such was the beginning of using and publishing books in braille. At first, Russian braille books continued to be printed in Berlin, but their production soon moved to the printing house attached to the joint-stock company ‘Goznak’, which was set up for publishing banknotes.

I do not know who was the child who first read the braille edition of The Hobbit, which is now held at the British Library, but it is fascinating to imagine what the story of Bilbo Baggins meant in their life. As Tolkien wisely said, “There is nothing like looking if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.”

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator, East European Collections

25 April 2024

“The hands want to see, the eyes want to caress”. Braille books in Slavonic collections 1

The British Library is committed to creating an inclusive reading experience. We collect audiobooks and braille materials in various languages and forms and are always on the lookout for new and exciting titles. This post and a second one will feature rare and first-edition braille books in our Slavonic collections. Here we hope to shed some light on the extraordinary life of a largely unknown blind Ukrainian author often likened to such literary giants as Hans Christian Andersen and Oscar Wilde. The second post will touch on the publishing history of a book by a writer who needs no introduction. Without further delay, we invite print and braille readers, children and adults alike, to embark with us on a fascinating journey beginning in the sleepy village of Obukhovka, across vast swathes of Asia and Russia, all the way to Middle-earth, and back again.

The story begins on a frosty January day in 1890 when a third child is born into a family of a wealthy Ukrainian landowner in imperial Russia, Iakov Eroshenko and his Russian wife. The boy, later known to literary enthusiasts in Japan and China as Ero-san and Ailuoxianke respectively, is christened Vasilii. Four years later, tragedy strikes the Eroshenko family when little Vasia loses his vision to measles. Later in life, he would remark: “I hazily remember seeing only four things: the sky, pigeons, the church where they roosted, and my mother’s face. Not too much…But that always inspired and inspires me to seek out pure thoughts - thoughts as pure as the sky - and always made me remember my homeland as well as my mother’s face, in whichever corner of the world Fate cast me.”

Photograph of Eroshenko as a young man wearing a military-style tunic

Vasilii Eroshenko. (Image from http://pmu.in.ua/nogroup/eroshenko/)

Sepia photograph of a church with a group of men standing outside

The Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul in Obukhovka. Built circa 1842, it burned down in 1946. It must have been the silhouette that was etched in Eroshenko’s memory (Image from https://sokm.org.ru/vystavki/virtualnye-vystavki/782-obuhovskie-remesla#)

Young Eroshenko proved precocious throughout his schooling. Blindness had taught the future anarchist and anti-imperialist to take everything with a pinch of salt and to question authority. In 1900, he started attending the prestigious imperial Moscow School for the Blind, where he received training in arts, music and sciences. While there , he also mastered braille and conceived his first literary pieces, painstakingly pricking words into paper with a needle. After graduating in 1908, Eroshenko decided to try his hand at music. He started to earn a living playing second violin for a blind orchestra in Moscow. Rumour has it that he paid a substantial part of his income to a poor actor who would read him books unavailable in braille script.

Photograph of Eroshenko playing the violin, accompanied by a woman on the piano

Eroshenko playing the violin (image from http://pmu.in.ua/nogroup/eroshenko/)

Vasilii’s life took a sharp turn when he crossed paths with the sister-in-law of Leo Tolstoy’s biographer and disciple, Pavel Ivanovich Briukov. Anna Sharapova, who was one of the pioneers of Esperanto in Russia, decided to teach the language to the gifted violinist. Esperanto was invented in 1873 by the Polish ophthalmologist L.L. Zamenhof, who believed that a universal, politically and culturally neutral language would erase communication barriers and relieve international tensions. Eroshenko found Zamenhof’s ideas compelling and soon became a devout Esperantist. Having learnt from Anna about the prospect of continuing his education at the Royal National College for the Blind in England, Vasilii pinned the green Esperanto star onto the lapel of his jacket and set out to London. From then on, the star would guide him, often quite literally, to his distant destinations.

In London, Eroshenko learned about the respect blind people enjoy in Japan. Intrigued, he soon started planning his next trip. He returned to Moscow, where he began taking Japanese classes. In April 1914, he boarded a ship in Vladivostok and headed to Tokyo. Once settled in the Japanese capital, he supported himself by teaching Esperanto and lecturing on Russian literature and women’s emancipation. He also wrote short stories for major Japanese magazines. However, it was not long before he became active in revolutionary circles seeking to undermine Japan’s colonial efforts in East Asia. In 1921, he was accused of threatening national security and social order and was expelled from the country. His stories Vuz’ka klitka (The Narrow Cage) and Orlyni dushi (An Eagle’s Heart) appeared in print in the same year.

Cover of 'Vuzka klitka' wityh a picture of a tiger in the mountains

Cover of Vasilii Eroshenko, Vuzʹka klitka: kazky (Kharkiv, 2016). YF.2016.b.1727

Eroshenko’s stories reflect his view that social ills result from colonial oppression, marginalization of the poor and disabled, and racial inequality. Vuz’ka klitka ponders the question of freedom and free will. The image of an enraged tiger killing and wreaking havoc in the name of freedom and brotherhood is disturbingly familiar. Orlyni dushi juxtaposes the human and natural worlds and offers a sharp critique of imperialism. Its opening: “There once was a mountain kingdom that was ruled by its larger, more powerful neighbour” is also a chilling one in the context of the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Cover of 'Orlyni dushi' with an illustration of two eagles on a rock

Cover of Vasilii Eroshenko, Orlyni dushi: kazky (Kharkiv, 2016). YF.2016.b.1726

As I flick through the milky pages, I cannot help but admire the author’s vivid storytelling and simple yet evocative language. Both stories were written in Japanese, but, for various political and ideological reasons, the Ukrainian translations have always relied on earlier Russian translations. Those, in turn, were based on Chinese versions. Inevitably, Eroshenko’s voice got muffled and distorted along the way, making it hard to disentangle his legacy from that of his translators. The copies we hold, proudly adorned with blue-and-yellow ribbon bookmarks, are the first Ukrainian translations made from the Japanese originals. The translator and scholar of Eroshenko’s work, Iuliia Patlan’, makes a valid point in the preface arguing that this makes them much more faithful to the author’s voice. The Ukrainian text translated from Eroshenko’s original Japanese was titled Vuz’ka klitka to distinguish it from Tisna klitka, Nadiia Andrianova-Hordiienko's 1969 translation from Russian. Both books have print on one side and braille on the other so that a sighted person can read to a child, and they can follow along.

Opening from Vuz’ka klitka showing parallel printed and braille text

Opening from Vuz’ka klitka showing parallel printed and braille text

Before settling in the Soviet Union in 1924, Eroshenko had a brief stint in Europe and spent a couple of years in China, where he befriended the modernist author and radical thinker Lu Xun. The blind globetrotter was not met with much fanfare in his homeland. Soviet Esperantists were deemed a threat to the Communist Party, mainly for their transnational networks, which were believed to be swarming with spies. Eroshenko’s refusal to cooperate with the Soviet Secret Services came with a hefty price, as most of the author’s personal archives were confiscated and destroyed. The author, whose life resembled a fairy-tale quest for meaning, departed on his final journey on December 23, 1952. He was buried in his native Obukhovka, unrecognised as a storyteller in Ukraine and Russia. It was not until a translator, Vladimir Rogov, learned about a mysterious ‘Ailuoxianke’ in Lu-Xun’s The Comedy of the Ducks that the dots finally connected, and Eroshenko started to gain the recognition he deserved.

Vasilii Eroshenko did not let his disability limit or define him. Although his short stories may lack the happy endings that we all look for in fairy tales, his fascinating life reads as a beautiful ode to hope and resilience and carries a heart-warming message that light will always prevail over darkness.

Hanna Dettlaff-Kuznicka, Interim Curator of Slavonic and East European Collections

Andrew F. Jones, Developmental fairy tales: evolutionary thinking and modern Chinese culture (London, 2011). YC.2011.a.7404 (Includes an English translation (from Chinese) of Vuz’ka klitka)

Julija Patlanj, ‘Vasilii Yakovlevich Eroshenko’, Kontakto (March, 2005)

Adam Kuplowsky, The Narrow Cage and Other Modern Fairy Tales (New York, 2023)

22 March 2024

The Endangered Archives Programme: Safeguarding the Private Archive of the Lazic Family

The Endangered Archives Project’s work in 2015 to digitize and preserve the private archive and library collections owned by the Lazic family in Serbia was a vital endeavour. Spanning six generations, the Lazic family has meticulously gathered significant and rare material. The collection encompasses a diverse array of genres and subjects, including rare law books dating back to the early 20th century, published by Geca Kon, a prominent Serbian publisher whose life was tragically cut short in the Second World War. Additionally, it comprises Serbian First World War publications, along with editions of the scarce periodicals such as Pregled listova (‘The Review of Newspapers’), Misao (‘Thought’), and Srpske novine (‘Serbian newspaper’). Among its treasures are printed calendars dating from the late 19th century, and ephemeral material documenting the events of the First World War.

Cover of the magazine 'Misao' with a decorativve border

Misao: mesečni časopis za jugoslovensku kulturu (Thought: monthly magazine for Yugoslav culture), 1 September 1918. EAP833/1/2/4/1.

Approximately 50,000 pages have been digitized, and the digital copies have been deposited with both the University Library in Belgrade and the British Library. The original material will continue to be safeguarded by the Lazic family within their private collection.

First page of an issue of the newspaper 'Srpske novine'

Srpske novine. Službeni dnevnik Kraljevine Srbije (Serbian Newspaper. Official Gazette of the Kingdom of Serbia) no. 74, 10 October 1916 EAP833/1/2/8/1.

The preservation of this rare and unique material is important for researchers, offering invaluable insights into different historical periods. For instance, Serbian newspapers printed in Corfu and Thessaloniki during the Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian occupation of Serbia from 1915 to 1918 shed light on a pivotal era in this nation’s history. As the official gazette of the Serbian state, Srpske novine, published in Corfu between 1916 and 1918 monitored and interpreted the political landscape, reflecting the policies of the Serbian government up until the conclusion of the First World War and the establishment of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes in 1918.  Pregled listova, printed in Geneva between 1916 and 1918 for government and military officials in a small number of copies, kept the Serbian government apprised of the media’s portrayal of Serbia, the Serbian army, and ongoing war developments.

A page of 'Pregled listova' in purple typescript

Pregled listova (The Review of Newspapers), no. 48, 2 January 1916. EAP833/1/2/5/2. 

The Serbian newspapers printed in Corfu and Thessaloniki during the First World War exile years constitute rare material that were avidly read by Serbian soldiers on the battlefield. Additionally, journals published by Serbian emigrants in Europe and periodicals originating outside Europe during the war, such as those printed in America, North Africa and South America, are included in this collection. Rare issues of periodicals printed within Serbia also contribute to the breadth of this collection.

Cover of 'Mala Srbija'

Mala Srbija. Srpsko useljeništvo u Americi (Little Serbia. Serbian immigration in America) New York, 1916. EAP833/1/1/92.

Printed publications from the First World War hold particular significance and value. Many were printed amidst the chaos of war, outside of Serbia and on foreign soil, using scarcely available printing resources, and during a time of paper shortages.

 

Cover of 'La patrie Serbe' with an allegorical image of a woman and child

La Patrie serbe: revue mensuelle pour la jeunesse serbe en exil (‘The Serbian Fatherland: a monthly magazine for Serbian youth in exile’). No. 3, 14 January 1917. EAP833/1/2/1/1.


These publications were produced in limited quantities, with some being lost to fires, war damage, or deterioration from poor-quality paper. Despite these challenges, they served a crucial purpose in informing, entertaining and boosting the morale of soldiers.

Cover of Kranjčević's selected poems with a drawing of a naked warrior

Silvije Strahimir Kranjčević, Izabrane pjesme (‘Selected poems’), 1918. Part of an  ‘Edition of the Series of Yugoslav literature’. Drawing by Jozo Kljaković.

After the war, only a fraction of these publications made their way back to Serbia with returning soldiers, many were dispersed and remain undiscovered. The Lazić private archive boasts one of the most extensive collections of these publications, thanks to Luka Lazić, a Serbian soldier stationed in Corfu, who diligently collected this literature and brought it back to Serbia after the war.

Cover of 'Un appel des socialistes serbes' with red type on a white background

Un appel des socialistes Serbes au monde civilisé (‘An appeal from Serbian socialists to the civilized world’). Uppsala, 1917. EAP833/1/1/53. Memorandum written by the Serbian socialists Dušan Popović and Triša Kaclerović addressing the challenging circumstances, famine, terror, and civilian internment within occupied Serbia from 1915 to 1918.

 

VIII Little Children

Little Children of Serbia, London, [undated], EAP833/1/1/40. The Brotherhood movement assumed the duty of providing care for several hundred Serbian orphaned children. The initial group of a hundred children arrived in London on 24 September 1918, and were accommodated in Faversham, Kent (Photograph above, ).


One of the most cherished readings, considered essential in every literate household, was the annual calendar – an almanac featuring literary, scientific, educational and entertaining content meant to be enjoyed by the entire family throughout the year. Due to their production on low-quality paper and the common practice of discarding them at the end of each year, calendars have become exceedingly rare items to find.


One notable example of such a calendar was called Vardar and the issue shown below is for 1923.

Cover of 'Vardar' calendar 1923 with a picture of a lake surrounded by mountains.

Vardar calender for 1923. Edition of the League of Serbian Women printed in 30,000 copies. EAP833/1/4/2/2.

The calendar showcases a poignant photograph capturing a group of women clad in black (below). The image portrays grieving widows who have assembled in Belgrade in 1922 to implore the government for justice against perpetrators of war crimes inflicted upon innocent civilians. Their husbands fell victim to Bulgarian terror during the occupation of Serbia from 1915 to 1918.

Photograph of a group of women wearing black


The widows in the photograph are delivering a presentation to the League of Serbian Women, a charitable organization, appealing for aid for their fatherless children. It’s disheartening to acknowledge that these widows lacked adequate support from the government during such trying times. The photograph serves as a moving reminder of the hardships endured by those who lost loved ones in war, underscoring the significance of community assistance and charitable endeavours.

We are very pleased to hold a digital copy of this collection in the British Library. It is a significant addition to our small Serbian and Balkan collections from the First World War. It comprises exceedingly rare newspapers and other printed materials produced in Serbian exile, reflecting the people’s responses to the living conditions and their experiences during the war. This collection serves as a precious testimony not only to the war itself but also to the individuals caught in its turmoil, yearning for peace and a return to normality with their families and in their homeland.

The material fits perfectly into our collections about the war and can be used for research, education, and it is valuable for anyone interested in primary source material.

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections

26 October 2023

Repairing the Past: on We Slaves of Suriname

On Monday 30 October the Dutch Centre hosts an event to mark the new translation by David McKay of a seminal work on the history of Suriname: We Slaves of Suriname, by Anton de Kom.

Cover of 'We Slaves of Suriname'

Anton de Kom, We Slaves of Suriname, translated by David McKay (Cambridge, 2022) YC.2023.a.2655

Photograph of Anton de Kom

Anton de Kom. From: Wij slaven van Suriname 10th ed. (Amsterdam, 2001) YA.2002.a.34205.

Anton de Kom (1898-1945) tells the history of Suriname and how it was shaped by slavery from a Surinamese perspective. He adds a passionate attack on Dutch colonial rule, a system that keeps many of the structures of the past in place, thereby keeping the Surinamese people in poverty and powerlessness. His main aim in writing the book was to instil a sense of self-worth and pride into the Surinamese people. Thus he created both a historic account and a book of historic importance, according to Michiel van Kempen’s Een Geschiedenis van de Surinaamse literatuur.

The Dutch language edition, first published in 1934, is the first text about Dutch colonialism in Suriname, written from a Surinamese, anticolonial perspective. It stands at the beginning of a tradition of anti- and postcolonial writing, inspiring authors such as Tessa Leuwsha, Albert Helman and Astrid Roemer. De Kom himself took inspiration from Max Havelaar, written by Multatuli, pseudonym of Edward Douwes Dekker, a white Dutch civil servant based in the Dutch East Indies, in the 1860s.

Title page of 'Wij slaven van Suriname'

Title page of Anton de Kom, Wij slaven van Suriname (Amsterdam, 1934) X.529/73312

De Kom had aligned himself with the communist community in the Netherlands, because they were the only political group that opposed colonialism. However, they were not free of racist prejudice. When De Kom offered the manuscript to a socialist publisher, they believed him to be illiterate, based on his appearance and accent. A Dutch publicist Cees de Dood was enlisted to review the manuscript. He regarded the language to be ‘bad Dutch’, dismissing the text wholesale. He should have known better, because De Kom had published articles in communist journals and magazines before (under the pen name Adek). De Kom agreed the manuscript needed improvement. De Dood asked Jef Last, a good friend of his and a well-known socialist publicist to help improve the manuscript. Last reviewed the manuscript together with De Kom putting more emphasis on the communist political message that slavery is exploitation of the proletariat by the capitalist system. He even claimed to have written the book himself, but later retracted that claim. However, this falsehood remained in circulation for a long time, again reaffirming racist ideas prevalent at the time.

It would take far too long in this space to recount the full range of events that surrounded publication of Wij Slaven van Suriname, fascinating though it is. Instead I refer to the article by Rob Woortman and Alice Boots ‘De geschiedenis van een manuscript: De wording van Wij slaven van Suriname van Anton de Kom’. Central in their piece is the question what part Jef Last played in re-writing the text and the role of the CID, the Central Intelligence Service in censuring the text.

In the end Gilles Pieter de Neve, of the Contact publishing house agreed to publish the book. He and De Kom rewrote the entire manuscript, taking out the most strident communist passages that might fall foul of the CID, and finally, in 1934 the book was published. De Neve had added a subtle rebuke to the CID, not included in later editions: ‘In conjunction with the interest shown in this book from certain quarters, the publishers deem it necessary, in order to ensure the undisturbed circulation of the work and in agreement with the Author, to change a number of passages in the book, without diminishing the value of the book.’

Foreword from the first edition of 'Wij Slaven van Suriname'
Preface to the first edition of Wij Slaven van Suriname, published by Contact in 1934. X529/73312.

Contact had only started as a publishing house the year before, when Hitler came to power in Germany, in order to warn the Dutch against the dangers of national-socialism and fascism.
It is therefore all the more tragic that De Kom would fall victim to the Nazis in 1944, when he was arrested for his activities in the Dutch resistance. He died in a concentration camp in Germany in April 1945. He is buried at Ereveld Loenen, the Field of Honour in Loenen. 

It seems ironic that the ship that brought De Kom to Suriname and back again in exile to the Netherlands in 1933 would carry copies of Wij Slaven van Suriname to Suriname in 1934. This was reported in the Surinamese newspaper De banier van waarheid en recht (‘The banner of truth and justice’) of 7 March 1934. 
For decades the book and its author remained relatively unknown. De Kom was shunned in the Netherlands as well as in Suriname because of his communist sympathies. So it wasn’t until 1971 that the book saw its second edition. From then on the only way was up, right to the top ten bestsellers in 2020, the year Anton de Kom was included in the Dutch Canon for History.

The latest Dutch edition, the 22nd, was published in 2021 by Atlas/Contact, with introductions by Tessa Leuwsha, Mitchell Esajas, and Duco van Oostrum. Atlas/Contact also published Rob Woortman’s and Alice Boots’ biography of Anton de Kom.

 

Cover of the biography of Anton de Kom woth a photograph of de Kom
Rob Woortman, Alice Boots, Anton de Kom: biografie 1898-1945, 1945-2009 (Amsterdam, 2016) YF.2022.a.928

In 1987 an English translation was announced by Palgrave/Macmillan, but for unknown reasons was never realised. It took another 36 years before another attempt was made, this time successful. On Monday 30 October we are going to celebrate that event at the Dutch Centre in London. Writer Gabriel Gbadamosi  will chair a discussion with guests Mitchell Esajas, Tessa Leuwsha and my colleague, curator and author Nicole-Rachelle Moore. The event is supported by the Dutch Foundation for Literature and the Embassy of The Kingdom of the Netherlands and programmed by Modern Culture as part of New Dutch Writing. Tickets are still available and can be booked via the Dutch Centre’s website.

Marja Kingma, Curator Dutch Language Collections

References/Further reading:

Albert Helman, Zuid Zuidwest. 8th ed. ([s.n.], 1948) 010058.f.30.

Michiel van Kempen, Een Geschiedenis van de Surinaamse literatuur (Breda, 2003) YF.2005.b.2101

Michiel van Kempen, Anton de Kom. Boek ‘Wij slaven van Suriname’ at literatuurgeschiedenis.org 

Anton de Kom, Wij slaven van Suriname. 8th ed. (Amsterdam, 1991) – with a preface by Anton’s daughter Judith de Kom. The verso of the title page mentions the publication year of the second edition as 1977, where it was 1971.

Anton de Kom, Wij slaven van Suriname; met een voorwoord van John Jansen van Galen. 10th ed. (Amsterdam, 2001). YA.2002.a.34205.

Anton de Kom, Wij slaven van Suriname, inleidingen Tessa Leuwsha, Mitchell Esajas, Duco van Oostrum. 22nd ed. (Amsterdam, 2021)

Tessa Leuwsha, Plantage Wildlust (Amsterdam, 2020) YF.2021.a.13192.

Tessa Leuwsha, Fansi’s Stilte : een Surinaamse grootmoeder en de slavernij. 4th ed. (Amsterdam, 2018). YF.2022.a.3364.

Nicole-Rachelle Moore, Sarah Garrod, & Sarah White, Dream to change the world: the life & legacy of John La Rose : the book of the exhibition. (London, 2018) YK.2019.b.783

Rob Woortman and Alice Boots ‘De geschiedenis van een manuscript: De wording van Wij slaven van Suriname van Anton de Kom’, OSO Tijdschrift for Surinaamse taalkunde, letterkunde en geschiedenis, Vol. 29, 2010 , pp 30-48. Available in full from the Databank Nederlandse Literatuur.

Duco van Oostrom, ‘“Someone willing to listen to me”: Anton de Kom’s Wij Slaven van Suriname (1934) and the “We” of Dutch post-colonial literature in African American literary context’ Dutch Crossing: Journal of Low Countries Studies, Volume 44: Number 1 (2020) pp 45-80, and available online via the White Rose University Consortium.

11 October 2023

Jon Fosse, 2023 Nobel Literature Laureate

This year’s Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to the Norwegian writer Jon Fosse. Like many recent European Nobel literature laureates, Fosse is not a particularly familiar name in the UK, although his work has been translated into English, especially in recent years. His plays have also been performed here, although not with the regularity or success that they have enjoyed in French- and German-speaking Europe.

Black-and-white photographic portrait of Jon Fosse

Jon Fosse in 2020. Image from Wikimedia Commons 

Fosse has been talked about as a possible Nobel winner before. In 2013 bookmakers briefly suspended betting on the outcome of the prize when Fosse’s odds suddenly shortened. In the event, the prize went to Alice Munro. In an interview with The Guardian the following year, Fosse claimed that not winning had been something of a relief, explaining, “Normally, they give it to very old writers, and there's a wisdom to that – you receive it when it won't affect your writing.”

Ten years on from that interview, however, Fosse’s turn for the Nobel award has come, his writing clearly unaffected by the many other major Norwegian and European literary prizes that he has already won. The Nobel citation describes the award as being “for his innovative plays and prose which give voice to the unsayable” and the jury commended Fosse on his “powerful, demanding and innovative way of writing in every literary genre”.

Born in 1959 in the south-western Norwegian town of Haugesund, Fosse studied at the University of Bergen and published his first novel, Raudt, Svart (‘Red, Black’; X.950/40748) in 1983. 1994 saw the premiere of his first play Og aldri skal vi skiljast (‘And We’ll Never be Parted’; YA.1995.a.10390), and in the following years Fosse became perhaps best known – especially outside Norway – primarily as a dramatist. However, he continued to write novels, as well as essays, poetry and children’s books, and has also translated fiction, drama and poetry from English, German and French.

As an internationally-acclaimed Norwegian playwright, Fosse has inevitably been compared with Henrik Ibsen, but his work has more in common with that of Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter – both of whose work Fosse has translated. It may come as a surprise to discover that Fosse has also in fact translated Ibsen. Fosse writes in Nynorsk, one of the two standard versions of the Norwegian language and in 2018 published a Nynorsk translation of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. Nynorsk is commonly used by only 10-15% of the Norwegian population, so Fosse’s choice to make it the language of his considerable and much-awarded body of work is an important one linguistically and politically. His Nobel Prize is one of the few awarded to a writer who works in what can be termed a ‘minority language’.

Cover of Fosse's translation of Peer Gynt into Nynorsk

Cover of Fosse's translation of Peer Gynt into Nynorsk (Oslo, 2018; YF.2019.a.3404)

Apart from titles by Fosse in both variants of Norwegian, we hold translations of his works, as well as commentaries and analyses in French, German, Danish, Swedish and Hungarian. Norwegian Bokmål is best represented with 59 titles, spanning his whole career and all genres. English translations of Fosse’s works include his masterpiece Septologien (Septology), a novel in seven parts, translated by Damion Searls and published in three volumes, each with their own title: Vols I-II The Other Name (2019; ELD.DS.698283), vols III-V I Is Another (2020; ELD.DS.674395) and vols VI-VII A New Name (2021; ELD.DS.645346). All three translations were published in a single volume in 2022. Septology is an epic story about the nature of art and God, alcoholism (Fosse has struggled with alcohol addiction), friendship, love and the passing of time. In 2022 the translation of volumes VI-VII  was nominated for the International Booker Prize. What is most remarkable about it is that it is written in a single sentence!

Cover of Septology I-VII

Cover of Septology I-VII (London, 2022) ELD.DS.756035

A number of recordings of performances of his plays are held in our Sound and Vision collections, for example Rêves d’automne (a French translation of Draum om hausten), directed by Patrice Chéreau, which was performed at Rennes in 2011. A recording issued in 2013 is held at 1DVD0010010. Productions of Fosse’s plays in Romania (Rêves d’automne amongst them) are discussed alongside interviews with Fosse in a French-language study La scène roumaine.

Photograph of a performance of Reves d'Automne

Scene from Rêves d’automnereproduced in La scène roumaine: les défis de la liberté (Brussels, 2010) LF.31.b.10691.

In German we hold a study score of the opera Morgen und Abend (‘Morning and Evening’) by Georg Friedrich Haas, with a libretto by Fosse, translated by Hinrich Schmidt-Henkel. It was a combined commission by the Royal Opera in London and the Deutsche Oper in Berlin and is on based on Fosse’s novella of the same title, Morgon og kveld (Oslo, 2000; YA.2002.a.11394). 

All these and more are available in our reading rooms – accessible with a free reader’s pass, six days a week. Fosse’s Nobel Prize will no doubt help to swell the body of translations of his work and of and secondary literature. We will continue to acquire these for our collections, as well of course as Fosse’s work in the original Nynorsk.

Susan Reed and Marja Kingma, Germanic Collections Curators

Cover of Kvitleik

Cover of Fosse’s most recent work, Kvitleik (Oslo, 2023) YF.2023.a.21631