At Literary Hub, you’ll find a conversation between Nuruddin Farah and Ivan Vladislavić on a variety of topics. (We interviewed Vladislavić last year.) One of the areas of discussion focused on Vladislavić’s political awareness as a writer. In his response, he alluded to his search for the best way to address the politics of apartheid-era South Africa in his own work, and took influence from an unexpected place.
I remember especially the influential books published in the Penguin series called Writers from the Other Europe, which was edited as I recall by Philip Roth. They published Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Bruno Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles, and A Tomb for Boris Davidovich by Danilo Kiš, the Yugoslav writer. They published writers who were highly political in the sense that they were interested in power and interested in the history of their societies, but they approached these subjects in a much less dogmatic way than I was used to. I think I found those models at the right time.
The series also includes works by the likes of Bohumil Hrabal and Jerzy Andrzejewski, among many others–there’s a complete list here. There’s a video interview with Roth where he discusses his own introduction to Czech literature, and how the series came about. Some of the books in the series have fallen out of print in the United States (which suggests an opportunity for some publisher focusing on works in translation), while others remain in print from a variety of presses. It’s a fascinating array of books, and a notable list for readers to seek out.
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