THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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200 posts categorized "Slavonic"

29 June 2020

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month (Part 2)

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This is the second of our blog posts about the Roma community in Europe to mark Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month 2020

Roma French authors

Our collection of French Roma authors is not, as yet, as developed as it as it could be, but we hold books by some of the most prominent Roma advocates of the Roma culture and way of life in France: Sandra Jayat and Alexandre Romanès.

Sandra Jayat was born in Italy, or France, in 1939. She came from the Roma group called “Manouche” or “Sinti”. At the age of 15, she fled to Paris to escape a forced marriage. She sought refuge with her cousin Django Reinhardt, the jazz musician, taught herself how to read and paint, and soon became the muse of Parisian artists and writers. Herbes Manouches, her first collection of poems, was published in 1961 and illustrated by Jean Cocteau. In 1972, she produced a recording of readings of her poems, accompanied with original music by Reinhardt. In 1978, her semi-autobiographical novel, La longue route d’une zingarina, became a success, selling more than 40,000 copies, and being read in schools. Jayat still lives in France today. Her entire artistic oeuvre is inspired by the world and symbolism of Roma.

Jayat is also a renowned painter, and has always been committed to the recognition of Roma artists. She organised the exhibition ‘Première Mondiale de l’Art Tzigane’, which ran from 6 to 30 May 1985 at the Conciergerie in Paris. We have her Moudravi, où va l'amitié, published in 1966 and illustrated by Marc Chagall (X.908/14070.)

Photograph of books for sale by Alexandre Romanès

Books by Alexandre Romanès, photo by Fabienne Félix, Flickr 

Born in 1951, Alexandre Romanès comes from a famous family of circus artists. Thinking that the circus was losing the values of the Roma, he quit in the 1970s to create his own travelling show. He met the French poet Jean Genet, who became a friend, and Lydie Dattas, who taught him to read and became his first wife. Romanès went on to create his own “Tzigan Circus”, the “Cirque Romanes”, in 1993.

This prompted a writing career, dedicated to poetry and the defense of Roma values and ways of life. After publishing Le Premier Cirque tsigane d’Europe, in 1994, Romanès wrote Un peuple de promeneurs in 1998 (2011 edition, BL YF.2013.a.16398), Paroles perdues, published in 2004, (2010 edition YF.2010.a.32293) and Sur l'épaule de l'ange (Paris, 2010; YF.2011.a.5.). His two latest publications, Les corbeaux sont les Gitans du ciel (2016) and Le luth noir (2017), will soon be at the library.

His style consists of short poems, aphorisms, memories and scenes of Roma life and wisdom:

Si on pouvait noter…
Si on pouvait noter
toutes les phrases magnifiques
qui se disent chaque jour dans le monde,
on pourrait publier chaque matin
un live exceptionnel.

(If one could take note, if one could take note, of all the magnificent sentences, which are said everyday in the world, one could publish, every morning, an exceptional book.)

Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections

 

Diary of a Young Roma Traveller

Cover of Mykola Burmek-Diuri’s book, Shchodennyk molodoho roma-mandrivnyka with a drawing of a young man

Cover of Mykola Burmek-Diuri’s book, Shchodennyk molodoho roma-mandrivnyka (Uzhhorod, 2017) YF.2019.a.9992. The BL’s copy is signed by the author.

Two years ago, the Roma writer Mykola Burmek-Diuri caught the attention of the Ukrainian media following the publication of his book, Shchodennyk molodoho roma-mandrivnyka (‘Diary of a Young Roma Traveller’). Writing in Ukrainian, Burmek-Diuri provides a unique window into the daily life, culture, traditions and history of the Roma community in Zakarpattia, the region in southwestern Ukraine where Burmek-Diuri and the majority of the country’s Romani population live, through a mixture of autobiographical stories, fairytales and ethnographic sketches. Given the rise in violent attacks against Roma communities in the country in recent years, this book is particularly timely and important for its presentation of the world through the eyes of a young Roma writer. Burmek-Diuri has since published two further books: Mama kazaly pravdu (Uzhhorod, 2018; YF.2019.a.7579) and, most recently, a collection of poetry and prose entitled Honir dykoi troiandy. All three were published with the support of the International Renaissance Foundation’s Roma Programme, which works with NGOs and activists in Ukraine to involve ‘representatives of the Roma community in social processes and combating discrimination’.  

Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

 

Romani authors in Czechoslovakia

In her foreword to the English edition of the book A False Dawn: My Life as a Gypsy Woman in Slovakia by Elena Lacková, Milena Hübschmannová, one of the founders of the Roma Studies as an academic discipline in Czechoslovakia, wrote: “What can I say about Roma better than the song of a lone Romani woman’s life experience?”. And this is true indeed. This book is available in English, and is a really fascinating account of Romani traditions, customs, ceremonies and superstitions, seen though the life of someone who grew up to become the first Romani author in post-Second World War Czechoslovakia. Elena Lacková (Ilona Lasko, 1921–2003), born in a Roma settlement in Veľký Šariš in eastern Slovakia, was the only girl among the 600 children in the settlement to complete primary education and in her 20s became the first author to give the Romani people a voice in literature. Many consider her to be the Roma equivalent of the writer Božena Němcová, who played a prominent part in the Czech National Revival movement. In her works Lacková transformed and refined original folk tales opening a whole new world of the people who had been almost invisible before. Her first literary work was a play written in Slovak, Horiaci cigánsky tabor (‘The Gypsy Camp is Burning’, 1947) about the local Roma’s collective experience of the Second World War. Later she chose to write in Romani and founded a Romani periodical, Romano L’il (Gypsy News).

Elena Lacková is probably the best-known name, but definitely not the only one in Romani literature. Tera Fabiánová was the first person in the former Czechoslovakia to write poems in Romani. The Department of Folk Music Research and Ethnomusicology of the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna recorded her reciting her poems in Romani.

Photograph of four Romani women. Three are sitting on a bench and one is standing

Romani women in Czechoslovakia in 1959, a photo by FOTO:FORTEPAN / Zsanda Zsolt, Wikimedia Commons 

Ľudovít Didi (1931–2013) was a Czechoslovak dissident, chartist and Romani Slovak author. His first book Príbehy svätené vetrom (‘Stories of the Holy Wind’; Bratislava, 2004; YF.2006.a.19867) is considered to be the first ever authentic Roma novel. His other three books Róm Tardek a jeho osud (‘Roma Tardek and his destiny’; Bratislava, 2013; YF.2016.a.3251), Čierny Róm a biela láska (‘Black Roma and white love’, 2011) and Cigánkina veštba (‘The Gypsy Prophesy’; Bratislava,2008; YF.2010.a.8945) also tell the story of the Roma community.

Viťo Staviarský, a well-known name in Slovak literature, is the author of the short story ‘Kivader’ (2007) and the novel ‘Kale topanky’ (2012), which are set in a Romani settlement. In 2014, the publishing house Knihovna Václava Havla in Prague published a book of Romani women authors called Slunce zapadá už ráno (‘The sun sets in the morning’). Irena Eliášová, Jana Hejkrlíková, Iveta Kokyová and Eva Danišova contributed to it. I hope that we will see more of these books translated into English, so that they can get a wider readership.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

Further reading:

Elena Lacková, Narodila jsem se pod šťastnou hvězdou (Prague, 1997) YA.2003.a.9308 (English translation by Carleton Bulkin, A false dawn: my life as a Gypsy woman in Slovakia (Paris; Hatfield, 1999) YC.2000.a.8592

Helena Sadílková, ‘Romani Literature in the Czech and Slovak Republics’. In Countries & Regions. Accessed 11 June 2020: https://www.romarchive.eu/en/literature/literature-countries-and-regions/literature-czechoslovakia/

Jana Horváthová, Roma in the Czech Lands. In Countries & Regions. Accessed 11 June 2020: https://www.romarchive.eu/en/roma-civil-rights-movement/roma-in-the-czech-lands-abstract/

Radka Steklá, Elena Lacková – romská publicistka, spisovatelka o média. Bachelor's thesis. Univerzita Karlova v Praze. 2006. Accessed 11 June 2020: https://is.cuni.cz/webapps/zzp/detail/1444/?lang=en

 

Bódvalenke

How did a tiny settlement of around 230 souls and 60 houses in northeastern Hungary put itself on the map? Bódvalenke, a community of Romani majority, became renowned as the ‘fresco village’ thanks to a remarkable initiative some ten years ago. A charitable organisation started to invite Romani artists, both from Hungary and abroad, to use the dull windowless walls in the neighbourhood as blank canvasses for giant colourful paintings.

Mural on the side of a building by József Ferkovics

Mural by József Ferkovics. A colourful album dedicated to the work of the artist and published recently is among our recent acquisitions. Image by Pásztörperc - Self-photographed, CC BY-SA 3.0 

The aim of the project was to pull the village out of deep poverty: each house volunteered by its inhabitants was given new plastering before being decorated, but the community as a whole would also benefit in a variety of ways from any income generated by the arrival of visitors to this unique open-air display. Today, one can see 33 magnificent murals by 18 painters on Romani and Gypsy themes: old legends, traditional life, family, grief and dreams. Sadly however, with the lack of infrastructure it is proving difficult to attract tourists and the village is still struggling economically.

Mural on the side of a building by Rozi Csámpai depicting everyday life in Bódvalenke

Everyday life in Bódvalenke. Mural by Rozi Csámpai. Rozi Csámpai features in a book on Romani women painters in today's Hungary: Színekben oldott életek: cigány festőnők a mai Magyarországon (Budapest, 2011; YF.2011.a.11388). Image by Pásztörperc at Hungarian Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Ildi Wollner, Curator East & SE European Collections

References:

Ferkovics József festőművész. ([Gencsapáti], 2019). Awaiting shelfmark.

26 June 2020

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month (Part 1)

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Believed to have left India in the Middle Ages, the Romani people are one of the biggest ethnic minorities in Europe that has traditionally suffered from prosecution and discrimination. Since they often choose not to disclose their ethnic identity, the exact number of Roma in Europe is unknown and is estimated at about 10-14 million. On the occasion of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month, we present a few selections of publications written by or related to members of the Roma community in Europe.

Pieśni Papuszy — The songs of Papusza

Photograph of Bronisława Wajs

Bronisława Wajs, Wikimedia Commons 

Bronisława Wajs (1908 or 1910-1987), most widely known by her Romani name Papusza, was one of the most famous Romani poets of all time. She did not receive any schooling and, as a child, she paid non-Romani villagers with stolen goods in exchange for teaching her to read and write. At the age of 16 she got married off against her will to a man older than her by 24 years. Papusza survived the Second World War by hiding in the woods and became known as a poet in 1949, as a result of her acquaintance with Jerzy Ficowski, a poet and a translator from Romani to Polish. Her poetry, dealing with the subject of yearning and feeling lost, quickly gained her recognition in the Polish literary world.

Ficowski convinced Papusza that by having her poems translated from Romani and published, she would help improving the situation of the Romani community in Poland. However, Ficowski also authored a book about Roma beliefs and rituals, accompanied by a Romani-Polish dictionary of words, which he learned from Papusza. He also officially gave his support to forced settlement imposed on Roma by Polish authorities in 1953. As a result, Papusza was ostracised from the Roma community. Her knowledge sharing with Ficowski was perceived as a betrayal of Roma, breaking the taboo, and a collaboration with the anti-Romani government. Although Papusza claimed that Ficowski misinterpreted her words, she was declared ritually impure and banned from the Roma community. After an eight-month stay in a psychiatric hospital, Papusza spent the rest of her life isolated from her tribe. Ficowski, who genuinely had believed that the forced settlement of Romani people would better their life by eradicating poverty and illiteracy, later regretted endorsing the government’s policy, as the abandonment of nomadic life had profound implications on the Romani community.

Zuzanna Krzemien, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

References:

Bronisława Wajs, Jerzy Ficowski, Pieśni Papuszy. Papušakre gila (Wrocław, 1956). 11588.p.45

Angelika Kuźniak, Papusza (Wołowiec, 2013). YF.2017.a.16135

Valentina Glajar and Domnica Radulescu (eds), “Gypsies” in European literature and culture (New York, 2008). YK.2009.a.21165

 

Tzigari: vita di un nomade

Cover of Tzigari: vita di un nomade

Giuseppe Levakovich and Giorgio Ausenda, Tzigari: vita di un nomade (Milano, Bompiani, 1975), X.709/23552

Tzigari: vita di un nomade is an autobiographical account telling about the persecutions of Roma and Sinti in Italy during the Second World War and about the Romani genocide, Porajmos. Tzigari is the nickname of Giuseppe Levakovich. Born in 1908 in Istria, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Levakovich became an Italian citizen after the First World War and joined the fascist army in the invasion of Abyssinia, in 1936. When the Italian racial laws were promulgated, he and his people became discriminated and prosecuted. His wife was sent to a concentration camp in Germany, and Tzigari joined the Italian resistance movement. There aren’t many written accounts shedding light on these events from a Roma perspective, and this book is certainly an early example, published in 1975.

Valentina Mirabella, Curator Romance Collections


Gypsies by Josef Koudelka

A photograph of a Roma man holding a cockrerel

A photograph of a Roma man by Josef Koudelka from Gypsies (New York, 2011) LD.31.b.2995

Josef Koudelka’s Gypsies is an unprecedented documentary photography book on Romanies. Born in 1938 in Moravia, Koudelka is a Magnum photographer still active today. The original Cikáni (Czech for Gypsies) was first prepared by Koudelka and graphic designer Milan Kopriva, in Prague in 1968. The book was not published, because in 1970 Koudelka fled from Czechoslovakia to England to seek political asylum. However, the first edition of Gypsies was subsequently published in 1975 in the United States.

It was Roma music and culture that initially drew Koudelka to start taking photographs of the people. By immersing himself into their lives he managed to capture the intricacies of their everyday existence. Leading a nomadic life, they were like him in a way. “For 17 years I never paid any rent. Even gypsies were sorry for me because they thought I was poorer than them. At night they were in their caravans and I was a guy who was sleeping outside beneath the sky.”

Gypsies offers an unbiased and honest insight into Roma people’s lives. It consists of 109 black and white photographs, taken between 1962 and 1971 in what was then Czechoslovakia (Bohemia, Moravia, and Slovakia), Romania, Hungary and Spain. During this time, Koudelka lived, travelled with, and documented Europe’s Roma communities. His masterful storytelling is bursting with emotion and the realism of people caught up in everyday situations, from individuals and family portraits to suited musicians, funeral processions or weddings set in rural landscapes. The unfolding candid images draw the viewer in and make them feel as if they are there with them, experiencing their lives. This rich and inspiring source of Roma iconography and self-identity is a timeless document of the community in its heyday.

Lora Afrić, Languages Cataloguing Manager

References:

Koudelka Josef. Cikáni (Prague, 2011). LF.31.b.8497

Koudelka Josef. Gypsies (London, 1975). LB.37.b.367

Quote taken from: https://erickimphotography.com/blog/2014/01/30/street-photography-book-review-gypsies-by-josef-koudelka/


“Romani, read poems and keep your mother tongue”

Cover of O Devlikano Ramope

O Devlikano Ramope (‘Gospel of Luke’) (Belgrade, 1938) W2/6259.

“Romani, read poems and keep your mother tongue” is a simple and powerful message attributed to Rade Uhlik, a great researcher of the Romani language and culture from Southeast Europe.

Rade Uhlik (1899-1991) was a Bosnian and Herzegovinian linguist and curator at the National Museum in Sarajevo. He was the first Romani scholar in the Balkans and a pioneer in Romani studies. His scholarship was varied and prolific in multiple disciplines: from language and linguistics to history and ethnography and culture in general.

Uhlik was noted for his scholarly study of the Romani language and its many dialects. Most of his research was done away from the office. He devoted his time mainly to fieldwork and to collecting stories, poems and customs of the Romani people from Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia, which was his greatest scholarly achievement. His first book published in Prijedor in 1937 was a collection of Romani poems (We hold another edition of his Ciganska poezija (‘Gypsy poetry’; Sarajevo, 1957; 011313.m.48).

Uhlik collected about 1200 Romani stories in 20 volumes of which four have been published, three outside Yugoslavia and only one in Sarajevo in 1957 as Ciganske priče (‘Gypsy stories’; 11397.dd.53). In 1938 Uhlik translated the Gospel of Luke into Romani as O Devlikano Ramope. His Srpskohrvatsko-ciganski rečnik. Romane alava (‘Serbo-Croatian-Gypsy dictionary’) was first published in three sequels in the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, with whom Uhlik actively collaborated, and then as an independent edition in Sarajevo in 1947 (012977.b.33. Revised edition (Sarajevo, 1983) YA.1991.a.7953).

The beginning of the Gospel of Luke, printed in two columns

The beginning of the Gospel of Luke, printed in two columns. The printing of the Gospel of Luke in Romani in Belgrade in 1938 was supported by the Bible Society.

Uhlik as a non-Roma did great service to Romani language and culture, passionately committed to the cause, almost independently and with little or no support of the Yugoslav academy and society. To preserve the memory of a great scholar, the Serbian Academy is helping the establishment of an international “Rade Uhlik” institute for the Romani studies under the sponsorship of the European Centre for Peace and Development in Belgrade.

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections

09 June 2020

Inheritance Books: Zuzanna Krzemien, Curator East European Collections

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Listeners to BBC Radio 4s Saturday Live programme will know of its ‘Inheritance Tracks’ feature. For those unfamiliar with the show, this is a segment where a famous person chooses two pieces of music, one which they’ve ‘inherited’ (usually something from their childhood or youth) and one which they would ‘pass on’ to later generations (usually a favourite or significant piece from their adult life), and talk about what the tracks mean to them. We have borrowed this idea for a series of blog posts about our British Library ‘Inheritance Books’. Colleagues choose an ‘inherited’ item that was already in the library when we started working here, and one that we have acquired or catalogued for our collections during our own time to ‘pass on’ to future users, visitors and colleagues, and will explain why theyre important to us. Our first post comes from Zuzanna Krzemien, a curator in our East European collections area.

One of the important books I ‘inherited’ after I joined the library was a Polish edition of George Orwell’s 1984 (Paryż, 1983; X.950/31144), translated by Juliusz Mieroszewski. My first encounter with this translation took place when I was 13 years old. I stood in front of my father’s bookshelf, looking for a good read for the summer holidays. I chose 1984 because it looked small and I knew it was famous. Only when I sat on the beach and opened the book for the first time did I realise my mistake — the book turned out to be an illegal edition printed by the Polish underground movement when Poland was still a communist country. That explained why the book was so small — as with all samizdat publications, it had to be printed cheaply, in a small format and with the smallest possible font. In this particular case, it was clearly intended to be read with a magnifying glass. I didn’t have one, so I read the whole novel squeezing my eyes and holding the book a few centimetres away from my face. Two things happened as a result: firstly, because I had to focus so much, I still have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the book (and I read it almost 20 years ago). Secondly, I had to start wearing glasses after that summer.

Photograph of four Polish samizdat publications

Polish samizdat publications. Image by Julo/Wikimedia Commons 

My second choice, the book that I catalogued after I had started working for the British Library, is Etnografie sociální mobility by Jaroslav Šotola and Mario Rodríguez Polo [(Olomouc, 2016) YF.2019.a.11091]. The book is devoted to the Romanies in Slovakia. The authors felt that Romanies suffered from prejudice, both conscious and subconscious, and so they decided that the only way to approach the subject was for the reader to erase all their existing cognitive schemas related to the Roma. In order to convey this message, the authors overturned the order of the whole book, which was bound upside down and has a reversed sequence of pages. The book has a sentimental value for me, since I used to work with the Roma community myself and I remember how much my world view changed as a result of that job.

Photograph of a Roma settlement in the region of Šariš

A Roma settlement in the region of Šariš. Image by Jozef Kotulič / Wikimedia Commons 

Zuzanna Krzemien, Curator East European Collections

05 June 2020

Booktrade and publishing in Southeast Europe during the pandemic in 2020

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The British Library works with eight local suppliers in the procurement of books and serials from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia and Romania. This blog post draws on their reports about the book trade since 1990 and the effects of the current Covid-19 Pandemic. It follows a recent post exploring the British Library's historical ties with libraries and librarians in Southeast Europe and the ways in which they are dealing with the pandemic. 

The book trade recovered valiantly from the turbulent times of the 1990s and we are fortunate to have suppliers who are dedicated partners and experts not only in the book trade and publishing but also in the literature, art and scholarship of their respective countries. Together with our library partners, they are credited with procuring up to 3,000 selected titles for the Library annually. Their considerable assistance in building up our collections of south-east European material is highly valued and appreciated.

As we contemplate our past and plan for the future, we would like to shed some light on the background to collection development in this very considerable area and the challenges which it is facing at present.

Pile of books with a transistor radio and sign reading 'music books'

Detail of a bookshop in Tirana. Photo credit: Edvin Bega.

The publishing industry in Albania has changed dramatically in the last 30 years. While in the early 1990s original literature accounted for 75% of all published literary works, by 2019 the figure was less than 20%. In 1997 the Albanian government collapsed and a mass exodus from the country followed, including gifted writers and translators. Albania is yet to recover from it.

The new private publishing houses began to publish the classic works previously denied to readers in the totalitarian state. Undoubtedly this was inspired by the success of Ismail Kadare, and several other writers, translated into more than 100 languages.

Academic publishing has suffered from mismanagement and politicization, and a lot of research remains unpublished.

The earthquake in 2019 and Covid 19 in 2020 have caused several publishing houses to close, and the book trade has come to a halt. At present the number of new titles is very small. Some signs and activity give hope, though. Book sales during the pandemic have not fallen. It is to be hoped that this trend will continue after the reopening of the country.

Photograph of a book launch in Sarajevo City Hall

A book launch in 2019 in Sarajevo City Hall (formerly National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina). Photo credit: Dragan Marković.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina the production and distribution of books and serials in the period from 1992 to 1997 can be characterized as a patriotic publishing period. Commercial and independent publishers, independent bookstores in south-east Europe and one in Bosnia were saved for the future thanks to the support of the Open Society.

However, patriotic publishing has continued to the present day. In recent years about 2,000 original titles have been published in Bosnia and Herzegovina per year, of which about 70% come from commercial publishers.

In 2019 Bosnia and Herzegovina saw a slight upward trajectory in the number of published titles. This year was also marked by the proactive work of the Association of Publishers to improve the status of writers, publishers and books.

Since the pandemic, bookstores have been closed and publishing houses have significantly reduced production. It is a very uncertain situation for the book market, and reminds our supplier of the siege of Sarajevo in 1992 with a notable difference – this time the enemy is invisible. A book supplied to the British Library that stands out is Bosanska knjiga mrtvih ('The Bosnian book of the dead' (Sarajevo, 2012) ZF.9.a.11211) which gives the names of 95,940 victims of war, and presents detailed data analysis of human losses.

Photograph of blossoming Japanese morello cherry-trees in front of the Bulgarian National Library

Blossoming Japanese morello cherry-trees in front of the Bulgarian National Library “Sts. Cyril and Methodius”, a gift from the Japanese Embassy in Sofia. They are celebrated in April at the beginning of the springtime, symbolizing new life and hope. Photo credit: George Asenov.

Publishing and the book trade in Bulgaria have managed to stay afloat in the turbulent sea of the market economy in the last 30 years of transition. The main trends during this period have been an increase in the number of published titles, from 3,000 to 10,000 in recent years, and a significant reduction in print runs.

Literary publishing consists of about 70% original material and 30% translations. Contemporary Bulgarian literature is the bearer of national values and identity, tales of the nation’s joys and pains, and of one’s social outlook and personal experiences.

In the state of emergency, the activities of bookstores have stopped. Literary events have been cancelled. Many publishing projects are on hold. The number of books published in 2020 will be smaller, with a decrease of about 20-30% expected.

A recent selection of Bulgarian books for the British Library included the complete works of classical Bulgarian poets and writers such as Peio Iavorov (7 volumes, Sofia, 2010-2013; ZF.9.a.10476) and Nikolai Khaitov (17 volumes, Sofia, 2009-2015; ZF.9.a.8322). The newly-acquired Zografski subornik (Sofia, 2019; awaiting pressmark) documents research into the archives and library of the Bulgarian Holy Zograf Monastery on Mount Athos.

Interior of a concert hall in the Croatian Music Institute in Zagreb showing damage from the earthquake

Interior of the Croatian Music Institute in Zagreb. Photo credit: Zvonimir Ferin.

Since the independence of Croatia in 1991, the number of publishers and publishing activities has been constantly on the rise. Many publishing houses disappeared in the years following the crisis of 2008, but the situation improved after 2014, bringing better times for the Croatian book trade.

Unfortunately 2020 has brought new challenges, and publishing is currently in a precarious position. Until April it seemed that the pandemic would not affect the book trade in the country or internationally, but all that has now changed. In Croatia printing of new titles has been reduced by almost 80%, bookstores have been closed, and international partners have stopped ordering.

In addition to this, in March a powerful earthquake hit Zagreb, paralysing the economy and causing damage. Among other historic buildings, the Croatian Music Institute, which houses one of the oldest and most important music collections, was affected.

Six volumes from Povijest hrvatskoga jezika (‘History of the Croatian Language’)

Povijest hrvatskoga jezika (Zagreb, 2009-2015) ZF.9.b.1424.

The British Library has been carefully selecting Croatian books for years, building a collection which grows by about 300 titles a year, mostly in the fields of social sciences, arts, humanities and literature. A fine example of this diligent collecting is the major multi-volume Povijest hrvatskoga jezika (‘History of the Croatian Language’).

Panoramic view of Belgrade

Clouds over the bridges and cranes in Belgrade reflect the mood in the city during the pandemic. Photo credit: Bojan Vukmirica.

Publishing in Serbia since 1992 has seen drastic changes caused by political upheavals. With the disintegration of Yugoslavia, the big state publishing houses collapsed. Soon a large number of private publishing houses resumed their role in the market.

In addition to new private publishers, a distribution centre was established in Belgrade in 2002 to offer publishers a single point from which books could be delivered quickly and safely. The distribution of Serbian and Montenegrin books has been growing ever since, reaching bookstores, university and national libraries and international partners.

For many years the British Library has been acquiring books from Serbia and Montenegro in the fields of history, art, linguistics, literary theory, primary sources, literature and books and serials relevant for research. A good example is the series ‘Koreni’ (‘Roots’) a 35-volume anthropological and geographical study of the settlements, population and customs of Serbian lands (Belgrade, 2010-2017; separate shelfmarks starting with YF.2019.a.15009 for volume 1).

After a two-month break caused by the global infection, publishing in Serbia seems to be returning to normal.

Photograph of three books from the Opere fundamentale collection and an orchid

A selection from the Opere fundamentale collection. Photo credit: Ileana Dumitrache.

In Romania publishing and the book trade exploded in 1990 as public demand was huge – everybody wanted to read as much as possible, to buy books and journals, to make up for the void felt in communist times. The growth of this industry has been constant even if the rate is now lower than in the first decade.

The pandemic put a stop to growth in this sector for about three months. Books were still being published, but the book trade suffered tremendously. Fortunately, things now seem to be returning to normal. Our Romanian supplier has continued to collect books for the British Library during this time, so there will be no effect on the quality or quantity of Romanian books supplied once the British Library resumes its activity.

The series supplied to the British Library, which stand out for its research and editorial work are Manuscrisele Mihai Eminescu, a facsimile edition in 24 volumes of Mihail Eminescu’s manuscripts (ZF.9.d.239), Biblia 1688, a facsimile edition in 24 volumes of the Romanian 1688 Bible (ZF.9.d.265), and Opere fundamentale, an ongoing multi-volume collection of the ‘fundamental works’ of the most important Romanian writers (separate shelfmarks for different publishers, starting with ZF.9.a.10739).

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections

27 May 2020

Libraries and librarians from Southeast Europe during the pandemic in 2020

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The British Library is very fortunate to have 12 library partners from Bulgaria, Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Slovenia, where colleagues are always prepared to help us obtain material for our users. This is usually hard-to-find material: local, regional, small press or rare books. There’s no enquiry about this European region that our colleagues there have not been able to assist us with, their expertise or information adding value to our services to the public. Today we come together to celebrate our partnership and to share experiences of living and working in the pandemic.

Covers of two volumes of Rechnik na tsurkovnoslavianskiia ezik

Rechnik na tsurkovnoslavianskiia ezik (‘The Dictionary of Church Slavonic language’) (Sofia, 2002-2012) ZF.9.b.748.

Sofia University Library “St. Kliment Ohridski” is the biggest research library in Bulgaria. These days are hard for us. We closed in March and when we returned in May we celebrated a special day for Bulgarian librarians, which is also a national holiday. We commemorated the memory of the saints Cyril and Methodius, who created the Cyrillic alphabet, our alphabet.

The cooperation between Sofia University Library and the British Library began in the early 20th century, only 20 years after the establishment of the first Bulgarian university – the Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”.

Two series in particular represent our historic cooperation, the Godishnik – Sofiiski universitet (‘Yearbook of Sofia University’; Ac.1137.) and the journal Sapostavitelno ezikoznanie (‘Contrastive Linguistics’; ZA.9.a.3462.). We really appreciate the relationship between our libraries.

Bilyana Yavrukova, Deputy Director of Sofia University Library

 

Two drawings of ships by Ivan Variklechkov in Voennomorska istoriia

Drawings by Ivan Variklechkov in Voennomorska istoriia (‘A naval history’) (Varna, 2018) Facsimile edition of Variklechkov’s manuscript. ZF.9.b.2414

The partnership with the British Library, which began in 1961, has played a significant role in the development of our collections.

The National Library “St. Cyril and Methodius” in Sofia has responded swiftly to the COVID-19 challenge by adapting to new realities. The library has introduced a wide range of free online services on its website. Our cultural events are now virtual events and online exhibitions.

The Library hosted a national online forum, “COVID-19: the response of libraries”, with representatives of public libraries and affiliated institutions. We have widely shared experiences of working in a pandemic.

While working in an emergency, the National Library of Bulgaria was temporarily closed to reorganize our activities into teamwork on site and remotely. We used the time to complete the disinfection of the premises, public catalogues and storage areas in the library. We have adapted new areas for our users.

Mihail Valov, Librarian at the National Library “St. Cyril and Methodius”

 

Cover of Umjetnicko blago Crne Gore

Pavle Mijović, Umjetnicko blago Crne Gore (‘Artistic treasure of Montenegro’) (Cetinje, 2018) LF.31.b.14221.

The National Library of Montenegro enjoys international partnerships with some 50 libraries with Slavonic collections. The British Library has been our most valuable partner since the 1970s, when we started supplying several long-running Montenegrin journals in exchange for English books and serials for our ‘Montenegrina’ collection.

Librarians are never bored; virtual collections are just a click away. Exchange is an area with vast possibilities and need not be confined to exchanging surplus titles twice a year.

Librarians are used to working from home. I have been doing that for decades. Time spent in isolation has been precious to me and made me contemplate what can be done to improve the service. Yet I am so happy to be back among ‘tangible’ books after several weeks of working online, gardening and dog-walking. Stay healthy and happy, librarians and library users!

Vesna Vučković, Acquisitions and Exchange Librarian at the National Library of Montenegro

 

Cover of Milutin Milanković, Kanon der Erdbestrahlung...

Milutin Milanković, Kanon der Erdbestrahlung und seine Anwendung das Eisenten problem (‘Earth radiation canon and its application to the ice age problem’) (Belgrade, 1941). Ac.1131 This very rare book was printed in 500 copies of which a few were saved during the Wehrmacht bombing of Belgrade on 6 April 1941.

The Serbian Academy Library is closed to users, and staff are working from home on reduced hours. The librarians continue to correspond with foreign colleagues during the pandemic. We have evoked some memories from the past.

The Serbian Academy Library has a long-standing cooperation with the British Library and its predecessor, the British Museum Library. Letters from the 1880s have been preserved in which the principal librarian of the British Museum, Edward Bond, thanked the secretary of the Serbian Learned Society for issues of Glasnik (Herald).

After the Second World War, during the period of the systematic exchange of publications between our libraries, one of the first books sent to the British Museum Library in 1949 was the work of the great Serbian scientist Milutin Milanković, which deals with palaeoclimatic problems.

As a result of this partnership, the British Library has full sets of the most important series of the Serbian Academy.

Sanja Stepanović Todorović, Exchange Librarian at the Library of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts

 

Cover of Javne biblioteke i demokratija

Vesna Crnogorac, Javne biblioteke i demokratija (‘Public libraries and democracy’) (Belgrade, 2018). YF.2020.a.4038.

The National Library of Serbia cherishes its long-standing cooperation with the British Library for more than 50 years. This cooperation is based on good will, mutual support and understanding.

The National Library of Serbia has always been very grateful for many beautiful and useful titles, which have enriched our collections and provided our users with the opportunity to read English books and research without leaving the country.

In the pandemic our library was forced to close, but our services have been maintained remotely.

Faced with various obstacles and attitudes during the pandemic in relation to their work, the librarians have managed to provide support to their communities. We hope that we will remember only solidarity, commitment to work and to our institutions and readers, and the humour with which we encouraged and supported each other throughout this period.

Dragana Milunović, Deputy Director of the National Library of Serbia, and Magdalena Kostić, Acquisitions Librarian

 

Cover of a facsimile edition of Studenicki tipik

Facsimile edition of Studenicki tipik (‘The Studenica Typikon’) (Studenica Monastery, 2018). Awaiting shelfmark. Acquired for the British Library thanks to The Matica srpska library.

The Matica srpska library in Novi Sad, Serbia is open again after several weeks of closure. Now most of the work is done from home: creating CIP records, answering enquiries, bibliographic and project work, preparing materials for press, editorial work for our annual yearbook, and so on.

For me personally, working from home is quite hard as I have always separated work from home, quite apart from the general anxiety caused by potential infection with the COVID-19 virus. The atmosphere of working in the library is something completely different from the home environment. However, we all try to give our best in these circumstances. Shipments have been suspended, and it is especially hard to be away from the collections.

In Serbia we are used to emergencies but it is fascinating that now practically the whole world is in eager anticipation for life to return to normality. Best regards to all colleagues and readers at the British Library!

Olivera Krivošić, Senior Acquisition and Exchange Librarian

 

1958 letter from Richard Bancroft, Assistant Keeper for Yugoslav, Ukrainian and Modern Greek collections 1946-1959, to Mirko Rupel, Director of the National and University Library in Ljubljana, Slovenia

A 1958 letter from Richard Bancroft, Assistant Keeper for Yugoslav, Ukrainian and Modern Greek collections 1946-1959, to Mirko Rupel, Director of the National and University Library in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

When we received the news that the National and University Library in Ljubljana, Slovenia was closing for two weeks, everyone took something to work on from home. In the end it turned out to be eight weeks working from home.

We never thought about how much work can be done from home, from processing books and editing bibliographic records to processing articles for the Slovenian National Bibliography to translating regulations and making new ones, having meetings, coordinating various projects, making CIP records for the publishers who worked tirelessly, and much more all online.

We really missed our users and they missed us even more, according to the web statistics.

The relationship with the British Library dates back to the time of the British Museum Library, and this continuity can be traced in two letters from 1958 and 1974 held in the National and University Library Archives.

A 1974 letter from Michael Atkins, Assistant Keeper in charge of the Yugoslav section in the Slavonic and East European Branch, 1960-1975, to Jaro Dolar, Director of the National and University Library of Slovenia

A 1974 letter from Jaro Dolar, Director of the National and University Library of Slovenia, to Michael Atkins, Assistant Keeper in charge of the Yugoslav section in the Slavonic and East European Branch, 1960-1975.

We are especially happy that the British Library independently selects books from Slovenia, which reflects expert knowledge and a clear collection profile.

Vali Žagar, Librarian at the National and University Library in Ljubljana

15 May 2020

Fairytales across borders

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As part of its 15th anniversary celebrations and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Belarus Free Theatre (BFT) has launched a fairytale-inspired campaign called #LoveOverVirus. Members of the theatre company, as well as a number of famous figures including Stephen Fry and Juliet Stevenson, are reading extracts from their favourite fairytales and short stories every evening at 6pm until the end of May. In addition, BFT has opened up its archive to stream 24 productions between April and June. Each show can be accessed for 24 hours and English subtitles are available for performances in Russian and Belarusian. The theatre company is banned in Belarus; its co-founding artistic directors, Natalia Kaliada and Nikolai Khalezin, came to the UK as political refugees in 2010, and rehearse its underground performances in Minsk via Skype.

Stephen Fry’s contribution to the Love Over Virus project is a reading of The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde. First published in 1888, the tale is part of Wilde’s collection of short stories for children and adults, The Happy Prince and Other Tales (a free digitised copy is available to download from Project Gutenburg). Influenced by traditional fairytales, the seemingly whimsical stories offer an astute social commentary on Victorian society, depicting poverty, suffering and cruelty, but also love, kindness and sacrifice.

Cover of Shchasʹlivy Prynts with a drawing of the swallow and Egyptian pyramids

Cover of Shchasʹlivy Prynts (The Happy Prince) translated by L. Khvalʹko (Watenstadt, 1947) 12256.dd.8.

The title-story from the collection, The Happy Prince, similarly aimed to bring solace to children and adults when it was translated into Belarusian as part of Displaced Persons (DP) camp publishing activities in 1947. At the end of the Second World War, approximately 11 million people had been displaced from their home countries, with seven million in Allied-occupied Germany. They included concentration camp survivors, and former forced labourers and prisoners of war. DP camps were set up in Western Germany, Austria and Italy, and largely organised by nationality.

Double page from Shchasʹlivy Prynts with a drawing of the statue of the Happy Prince

Final pages from Shchasʹlivy Prynts with drawings of an angel and the swallow

Pages from Shchasʹ livy Prynts with illustrations

During the German occupation of Belarus between 1941 and 1944, approximately 380,000 Belarusians were deported to Germany as labourers. Thousands more subsequently fled the returning Soviet regime in 1944 (Silitski and Zaprudnik, pp. 135–136). Following the end of the war, Belarusian refugees lived in DP camps throughout Western Germany before they were resettled.

This translation of The Happy Prince (Shchasʹ livy Prynts in Belarusian) was reproduced from a typewritten copy and translated from the English by L. Khvalʹko. The text is accompanied by simple yet powerful pen and ink illustrations throughout. It was published in a camp in Watenstedt in the British zone (now incorporated into the city of Salzgitter) in Lower Saxony, Germany, by the Belarusian Relief Committee (Belaruski dapamahovy Kamitėt).

Photograph of a series of buildings at the A1 Heerte displaced persons camp in the Salzgitter region of Germany, 1946

Photograph of a series of buildings at the A1 Heerte displaced persons camp in the Salzgitter region of Germany, 1946. Museums Victoria Collections [Accessed 11 May 2020]

Salzgitter had been the site of Reichswerke Hermann Göring, a state-owned iron and steel complex that used slave labour during the war. Prisoners were housed in concentration camps in the area. After the war, DP camps were established for the some 37,000 (mostly Polish) displaced persons in the city (Neumann, p. 28). Many DP camps were set up on the sites of former German concentration camps and conditions were extremely difficult. Nevertheless, political, educational, religious and cultural activities, including publishing, flourished.

The British Library holds a handful of other Belarusian publications produced in Watenstedt between 1946 and 1948. These include a collection of poems by Maksim Bahdanovich, considered to be one of the founders of modern Belarusian literature (011586.pp.27.); a religious book ‘for the Belarusian family and school’ (4385.c.13.); and copies of the periodical Shliakham zhytsʹtsia (P.P.7615.yh.). To find more items published in Watenstedt, search by place of publication in our online catalogue in Cyrillic and using transliteration. The Library also has a growing collection of other DP camp publications in Belarusian and a number of other languages, including Russian, Yiddish, Latvian, Ukrainian and Polish.

Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

Further reading and references:

Jan-Hinnerk Antons, “Displaced Persons in Postwar Germany: Parallel Societies in a Hostile Environment.” Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 49, no. 1, Jan. 2014, pp. 92–114

Marc Buggeln, Slave Labour in Nazi Concentration Camps, translated by Paul Cohen (Oxford, 2014). YC.2016.a.2083

Klaus Neumann, Shifting Memories: the Nazi past in the new Germany (Ann Arbor, 2000). YC.2001.a.17690

Vitali Silitski and Jan Zaprudnik, The A to Z of Belarus (Lanham, MD., 2010).

https://www.yadvashem.org/articles/general/displaced-persons-camps.html

https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/holocaust-refugees-displaced-persons-immediate-post-war-years/

12 May 2020

General Władysław Anders – A soldier, politician and patron of culture

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Born in 1892 in the Russian partition of Poland, to parents of Baltic-German origin, Władysław Anders completed his secondary education in Warsaw and studied civil engineering at Riga Technical University. After graduating, he joined the Russian Army and served as an officer during the First World War. For his outstanding service in the war, he received Russian military decorations, including the Cross of St. George.

Photograph of Władysław Anders taken pre-1939

Photograph of Władysław Anders taken pre-1939. Author unknown. Source: Wikimedia Commons 

After the war, in a newly-independent Poland, Anders continued his military career and rose through the ranks to become a general in 1934. At the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, he initially fought against the Germans and then against the Red Army after its invasion of Poland on 17 September. He was taken prisoner by the Soviet forces and was subsequently transferred to the notorious Lubyanka prison in Moscow. Released as a result of the Polish-Soviet agreement signed in July 1941, Anders played the key role in forming a Polish army in the USSR from thousands of former Polish prisoners-of-war held in Soviet camps. Following the evacuation of the Polish troops to the Middle East in 1942, he created the Polish Second Corps, which was an amalgamation of his army with Polish units fighting alongside the Allies in all theatres of war. The Polish Corps passed under British command and fought with valour and distinction in the Italian Campaign in 1944-1945. It culminated in the capture of Monte Cassino in May 1944, considered one of the most heroic military achievements in Polish history.

Official mug shot of Anders made by the Soviet NKVD

Official mug shot made by the Soviet NKVD after Anders's arrest in 1940. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Polish forces were evacuated from Italy to Great Britain in 1946. This followed the Western Allies’ recognition in July 1945 of a government installed by Stalin in Warsaw a year earlier. The fate of Poland was sealed at the Yalta Conference in February that year. Anders never agreed to the post-war division of Europe with Poland being a satellite country of the Soviet Union. Seen by the communist government as an enemy of the State he was deprived of his Polish citizenship as early as in 1946.

Anders was a charismatic commander and a remarkable politician and above all a broad-minded man. The establishment of an education system and cultural programme for young soldiers and civilians (also rescued from Soviet gulags) would not have been possible without his support. Schools of all levels and varying specifications sprang up around the army camps. On his order, books and textbooks were published in places such as Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv or Baghdad to facilitate his educational programme. The task was carried out with the help of professionals as the Army took under its wing intellectuals, university students, academics and even scientists. General Anders appointed distinguished figures to the chief offices in the education and culture departments of the Army. Józef Czapski, Jerzy Giedroyc and Gustaw Herling-Grudziński, just to name a few, had played a crucial role in the Polish intellectual life during wartime.

Cover of the 1959 edition of Anders's memoir, Bez ostatniego rozdziału

Cover of the 1959 edition of Anders's memoir, Bez ostatniego rozdziału (London; 8840.g.20.)

In the post-war period the General and his demobilised soldiers were challenged with rebuilding their civilian lives in exile. He became the unquestioned leader of the Polish émigré community in the UK, continuing his political struggle for a free Poland and his engagement in cultural activities until his last days. Anders was either the chairman or patron of numerous organisations and institutions such as the National Council of the Polish Educational Society Abroad, The Polish Scouting Association or the Polish Cultural Foundation.

Anders published his war memoirs, Bez ostatniego rozdziału in 1949 (9102.aa.19) followed in the same year by an English translation An Army in Exile (09101.cc.4).

General Władysław Anders died in London on 12 May 1970, the 26th anniversary of his Army’s first assault on Monte Cassino. At his request he was buried alongside his soldiers in the Polish Cemetery there.

Magda Szkuta, Curator East European Collections 

Further reading:

Harvey Sarner, General Anders and the soldiers of the Second Polish Corps (Cathedral City, 1997) 99/12883

Joanna Pyłat, Jan Ciechanowski, Andrzej Suchcitz, General Władysław Anders: soldier and leader of the free Poles in exile (London, 2007) YK.2009.a.26355

Evan McGilvray, Ander’s army: General Wladyslaw Anders and the Polish Second Corps 1941-46 (Barnsley, 2018) YC.2018.a.16865

04 May 2020

Alfons Mucha and his Art Nouveau books

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There is nothing more frustrating than being constantly told how successful you are, while deep inside you feel that you’ve never fulfilled your potential. At least, that’s how Alfons Mucha felt about himself.

Having been rejected by the Prague Academy of Arts (with the well-meant advice that he should look for a different career), Mucha persisted in his wish to become an artist. His resilience paid off: after his first poster of Sarah Bernhardt’s theatre performance was hung all over Paris, he became famous overnight. New commissions came in profusion, and brought a considerable income to Mucha, who spent his time designing beer, biscuit and cigarette adverts, theatre posters, and book and magazine illustrations.

Beer advert by Alfons Mucha featuring a woman drinking beer

Beer advert by Alfons Mucha. Wikimedia Commons 

He worked constantly. When the Parisian publisher Henri Piazza commissioned Robert de Flers to write L’Ilsée, Princesse de Tripoli for Sarah Bernhardt, Mucha had only three months to prepare 134 illustrations before the date set for printing. He had to work on four lithographs at a time in order to meet the deadline. The edition turned out to be a great success and was subsequently reprinted in Czech and German.

A page from Ilséa, princezna tripolisská with Art Nouveau illustrations by Alfons Mucha

A page from Ilséa, princezna tripolisská by Robert de Flers (Prague, 1901) Cup.410.c.305. Wikimedia Commons 

A page from Ilséa, princezna tripolisská with Art Nouveau illustrations by Alfons Mucha

A page from Ilséa, princezna tripolisská

But while Mucha managed to achieve financial success and become a well-known figure within Art Nouveau, he felt that he was wasting his talent on trifling jobs carried out in a style for which he did not have much respect: “(…) I am crushed almost to blood by the cogwheels of this life, by this torrent which has got hold of me, robbing me of my time and forcing me to do things that are so alien to those I dream about.”

While his professional life revolved around commercial advertising, Mucha turned to mysticism. He joined the Parisian Masonic Lodge, became involved in conducting séances, and, just as he did in his personal life, he longed to devote himself to a spiritual task in his work. In 1899 Mucha embarked on a project that he considered worthy of him: being a devout Catholic, he set out to publish his own edition of the Lord’s Prayer, Otčenáš, in which every line of text was accompanied by a whole-page illustration and Mucha’s commentary. In Mucha’s edition, God is presented as a protective, maternal force and the whole work abounded in Masonic and cabalistic symbols. By rendering the content of each line of the prayer in the form of an image, he aimed to present humanity’s struggle to achieve a higher spiritual state.

Illustration to “Lead us not into temptation” from Otčenáš

Illustration to “Lead us not into temptation” from Otčenáš (Prague, 1902) Cup.410.g.427. Wikimedia Commons 

Illustration to “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread” from Otčenáš

Illustration to “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread” from Otčenáš Wikimedia Commons 

Page with “Hallowed be thy name” verse from Otčenáš

Page with “Hallowed be thy name” verse from Otčenáš

Mucha issued the book in only 510 copies and expressed a wish for it never to be published again. As he saw Otčenáš as his greatest printed masterpiece and an embodiment of his religious credo, he did not want it to become yet another mass-produced commercial enterprise.

Zuzanna Krzemien, Curator East European Collections 

References:

Jiří Mucha, Alphonse Maria Mucha: His Life and Art (New York, 1989) f89/0298

“Alphonse Mucha and Ilsee, Princess of Tripoli”, available at https://davidbarnettgallery.com/experience-the-story-of-ilsee-princess-of-tripoli

Peter Davison, “Alphonse Mucha: Art, Music And Spirituality”, available at: https://corymbus.co.uk/alphonse-mucha-art-music-and-spirituality/

http://www.muchafoundation.org/

 

22 April 2020

Poems from the Edge of Extinction I

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For this blog, the first of a mini series in collaboration with our Americas and Oceania collections colleagues, we have taken inspiration from last year’s timely anthology of poems, Poems from the Edge of Extinction (BL ELD.DS.463137), edited by poet and UK National Poetry Librarian, Chris McCabe. Published last year (the UN’s International Year of Indigenous Languages), the book celebrates linguistic diversity through poetic expression, gathering 50 poems in languages identified as endangered and presenting them in both the original and in English translation. It’s got us thinking about poetry written in lesser-known languages in our collections…

Cover of Nils-Aslak Valkeapää, The Sun, My Father

Cover of Nils-Aslak Valkeapää, The Sun, My Father, translated by Harald Gaski, Lars Nordström, and Ralph Salisbury (Guovdageaidnu, 1997), YA.2001.a.9397

Sámi

Spoken in Sápmi, the Sámi languages are part of the Uralic language family. As of August 2019, and the approval of an official Pite Sámi orthography, eight of the nine Sámi languages have written standards. That said, Sámi poetry is tied much more to an oral tradition, at the heart of which is the “joik” form of song. The joik is often dedicated to a person, animal, place, a landscape and its mode of expression is to evoke its subject directly and not to speak about it. The first Sámi poet to win the Nordic Council Literature Prize was Nils-Aslak Valkeapää for his Beaivi, áhčážan (‘The Sun, my Father’) (YA.1994.b.2494), a title referring to the myth that the Sámi are the children of the Sun. Written in North Sámi, the illustrated meditation on ‘everything of which humans form a part’ (Heith), connects us to nature fundamentally:

eanan
lea earálágán
go das lea orron
vánddardan

bivástuvván
šuvččagan

oaidnán beaivvi
luoitime loktaneame
láhppome ihtime

eanan lea earálágán
go diehtá
dáppe
máttut
máddagat

––––––

the land
is different
when you have lived there
wandered

sweated
frozen

seen the sun
set rise
disappear return

the land is different
when you know
here are
roots
ancestors

(From Valkeapää’, The Sun, my Father)

Valkeapää’s unpunctuated, short-lined flow moves us through the poem as if the voice is taking the reader on the very wander it imagines. It is well worth listening to Valekapää sing the lyrics. Contemporary Sámi poetry is thriving, and McCabe’s anthology points us towards a poem by Synnøve Persen, and we have recently acquired a range of titles from leading Sámi voices such as Persen, Inga Ravna Eira, Maren Uthaug, and Rauni Magga Lukkari, to name a few.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections 

 

Engraving of a 30 year-old La Villemarqué transcribing a song

A 30 year-old La Villemarqué transcribing a song. Engraving by Ernest Boyer, half-brother of the poet Brizeux, 1845, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Breton (Brezhoneg)

Before the revival movements of the 19th and early 20th century, most literature in Breton consisted of religious writings. This revival had been first generated by the publication and international success of La Villemarqué's Barzaz Breiz (‘Songs and Ballads of Brittany’; 20010.ff.45.), the foundation of Brittany's literary renaissance.

Our collections present a good selection of Breton poets, from War poet Yann-Ber Kalloc’h (1888 –1917) to Pierre-Jakez Helias (1914-1995). Born on the island of Groix, near Quimper, Kalloc’h was the son of a fisherman. Taking the name of Bard Bleimor (‘Sea Wolf’), Kalloc’h described himself as ‘not in the least bit French’ and wrote in autonomist and regionalist reviews and publications. His most famous work is the posthumous collection of poems, Ar en deulin, published by his friend Pierre Mocaer in 1925 (1963 parallel text edition at X.989/21387). This collection includes the famous poem ‘Me ’zo Ganet kreiz ar e mor’ (‘I was born in the middle of the sea’), which can also be found in Minhoarheu ha dareu. Sourires et pleurs. Poésies de Bretagne (Quimper, 1926; 10657.b.36.).

A major literary figure in Brittany (and in the whole of France) in the second half of the 20th century, Pêr-Jakez Helias directed a weekly radio programme in the Breton language and co-founded a summer festival which became the Festival de Cornouaille. Helias’s poetry includes two collections in Breton, Ar mên du (‘The Black Stone’; Brest, 1974; PP.4881.sdp.[niv.47/48.]) and An tremen-buhez ( ‘The Pastime’; Brest, 1979; X.950/1993). The Breton language itself is an important theme in his work: ‘Breton speaker that I am, my heritage lies on my tongue’.

The Library also has a collection of literary magazine Al Liamm (P.901/1500), first published in 1946. Many modern Breton authors have contributed to the magazine with poems, short stories, essays, and songs.

It is interesting to note another trend in later Breton poetry: Haikus. Contemporary Breton poets have taken to this art form, and seem particularly keen on experimenting, as in Paol Keineg’s 35 haiku (Morlaix, 1978; X.907/20940) and the recent Breton/Japanese haikus by singer and musician Alan Stivell, Amzer (2015; BL 1CD0378512)

And if you want to delve into the Breton language a bit more, we have also digitized the 1744 Dictionnaire françois-breton ou françois-celtique du dialecte de Vannes!

Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections 

 

Cover of Valzhyna Mort, Epidemiia ruzhau

Cover of Valzhyna Mort, Epidemiia ruzhau (2017). Awaiting shelfmark.

Belarusian

Belarusian is one of the two official languages of Belarus (the other is Russian), yet it is estimated that only around 10% of the population use it in everyday life.

In 1971, the first anthology of Belarusian poetry in English, Like Water, Like Fire (1971; X.981/2398.), was published as part of a UNESCO series of books aimed at highlighting literature in lesser-known languages. It contained works by 41 authors, from Francišak Bahuševič to Larysa Hienijuš and Maxim Tank, which were translated by the poet and translator Vera Rich.

Although still relatively little known outside of Belarus and the Belarusian diaspora, contemporary Belarusian poetry is thriving. In his 2015 book, Spring Shoots: Young Belarusian Poets in the Early Twenty-First Century (YC.2017.a.1460), Arnold McMillin introduces 40 poets born in or after 1980 and loosely connects them through common themes present in their poetry, including the use and defence of language, historical heritage, protest at alienation and repression, and religion.

One stand-out poet who does not feature in Spring Shoots (but is instead included in McMillin’s earlier work as a ‘poet of the future’) is the US-based Valzhyna Mort, who writes in both Belarusian and English. The British Library recently acquired Mort’s collection, Epidemiia ruzhau (‘Rose Pandemic’), which explores the themes of war and displacement, music and gardens, language and earth. In an article published on the website of Cornell University’s English Department, where Mort is a professor, she observes that, ‘The landscape of Belarus is burdened by silence, by the unverbalized history of war and colonization’ and describes the collection as ‘trying to untie the nerves of silence.’ 

Mort features on http://litradio.by/, an archive of audio recordings featuring writers, poets and translators reading their work and one of the many projects set up by Belarusian PEN Centre aimed at fostering and promoting Belarusian literature.

You can read and listen to Valzhyna Mort’s poem ‘Belarusian I’ (‘Belaruskaia mova I’) from Factory of Tears (Port Townsend, Wash., 2008; YD.2009.a.3260), which is included in McCabe’s anthology, here.

Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections 

Further Reading:

Read more about the Endangered Poetry Project here

Anne Heith, ‘Putting an end to the shame associated with minority culture and its concomitant negative self-Images – On gender and ethnicity in Sami and Tornedalian literature’, accessed 7/4/20

Harald Gaski, ‘Song, Poetry and Images in Writing: Sami Literature’, Nordlit 15 (1), 2011, pp. 33-54.

07 April 2020

Books that don’t look like books

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Did this librarian chop up a piano? Is this reader hitting the bottle? No, they are just holding Czech books in their hands.

Modern Czech book designers can challenge our way of thinking on what a book should look like and leave us puzzled as to why it was designed that way. Take for example a book that looks like a hip- flask — Trosečnikem z vlastni vůle, a Czech translation of Naufragé Volontaire by Alain Bombard, who became famous for crossing the Atlantic on a drifting boat. He did it alone without taking any provisions with him, assuming that the sea would provide him with enough food and drink to survive. The enterprise was inspired by a shipwreck whose forty-three victims were found dead a few hours after the ship sank, even though all of them were wearing lifejackets. As a doctor, Bombard wanted to prove that many of the shipwreck victims did not die of hunger or thirst, but of fear. His journey lasted for 65 days; he lost 25 kilograms and suffered from a visual impairment, but he made it to the end.

Book in the shape of a green bottle

Cover of Trosečnikem z vlastni vůle by Alain Bombard (Prague, 1964) C.188.b.129

Top view of book in the shape of a bottle

Top of Trosečnikem z vlastni vůle

It is not clear why Jan Sobota, the designer of the binding, decided to give Bombard’s book the shape of a bottle. It could be an allusion to the freshly-squeezed fish juice which constituted Bombard’s only drink for more than two months, or rather to how great it would feel to drink a bottle of anything else…

Our next item, the autobiography of a pianist, Rudolf Firkušný (1912-1994), is styled after a piano. The binding incorporates an actual piano keyboard applied to the front cover. Touching the book gives the same sensation as laying one’s hand on a musical instrument. The text of the book is printed as a facsimile of a manuscript on hand-made paper with unevenly cut edges, giving the reader the sense of reading Firkušný’s original memoir, and then reprinted in a regular font on later pages.

Photograph of a book styled after a piano

Cover of Rudolf Firkušný by Rudolf Firkušný (Prague, 1993) Cup.936/2167

Photograph of a book styled after a piano

Cover of Rudolf Firkušný

Text of Rudolf Firkušný

Text of Rudolf Firkušný

Besides books that can be mistaken for something else, we also have a few examples of bindings that involve the inclusion of another object. For example, the cover of Z motáků by Jan Kristofori incorporates a fountain pen and barbed wire (Kristofori was a graphic artist who spent seven years in prison for political reasons).

Book cover with fountain pen and barbed wire

Cover of Z motáků by Jan Kristofori (Prague, 1993) RF.2001.b.11

And here is Co je nesmrtelné aneb živé drahokamy, an autobiography of František Kožík (1909-1997), a Czech novelist. The cover is decorated with a hand-painted ribbon, an element of Czech folk costume.

Book cover decorated with a hand-painted ribbon

Cover of Co je nesmrtelné aneb živé drahokamy by František Kožík (Prague, 1994) RF.2001.b.12

And last but not least, a book that can be broken into two books. When you borrow Malovat slunce by Petr Nikl, it comes in one piece. But in order to read it, you need to dismantle what the library assistant gave you: you remove the blue paper ribbon (this requires some manual dexterity) and suddenly, instead of one volume of poetry, you have two of them – a small semi-circular booklet and a larger book. The latter provides you with a very interesting reading experience, as you read a book with a massive hole in the middle through which you can peep at your fellow readers.

Photograph of Malovat slunce showing the two parts of the book

Malovat slunce by Petr Nikl (Prague, 2018) [awaiting shelfmark]

Zuzanna Krzemien, Curator East European Collections

To learn more about the bottle-shaped book, read: https://blogs.bl.uk/untoldlives/2017/06/one-green-bottle-jan-sobotas-book-binding.html