Paris, France – Slovak literature was given centre stage in Paris over the weekend as Bratislava was invited to be this year’s city of honour at Livre Paris 2019, the French capital’s prestigious bookfair which ended on Monday. Kafkadesk was there.
A whole stand of the Paris bookfair was dedicated to exposing Slovak books and numerous events introducing Slovak literature to the French public were also organised. “This is a chance to present Slovak literature and show off our culture, our capital and our country from multiple points of view,” said Miroslava Vallová, director of the Bratislava-based Centre for Information on Literature, who led the initiative.
Prominent Slovak authors and professionals were present, including Michal Hvorecký, Michal Havran, Balla, Jana Oravcová, Jana Beňová, Mária Ferenčuhová, Pavel Vilikovský, Uršuľa Kovalyk and Andrea Salajová.
A late bloomer compared to its European neighbours, Slovak books and literature are starting to get greater recognition abroad and to “break new grounds,” says a nice Slovak literature student manning the stand where no less than 28 Slovak books translated in French are exposed.
The issue, according to Michal Hvorecký, is in part due to the fact that, lacking “a great novelist like Milan Kundera, or a world-renowned playwright like Václav Havel,” Slovak literature has “long remained in the shadow of Czech, but also Polish and, more recently, Ukrainian literature”.
A French translation of his book Bratislava – the Magic Metropolis, an illustrated children’s guide book to Slovakia’s capital, illustrated by Simona Čechová, was exposed at the fair.
The first Slovak to be published by Gallimard, Andrea Salajová, who lives in France, writes in French and describes her book En Montant Plus Haut as “Clint Eastwood meets the USSR”, argues that Eastern countries like Slovakia need to own their stories the same way Americans have done with the Western genre”. Maybe without all the cultural whitewashing, though…
Presenting contemporary Slovak book design, Jana Oravcova, who works at the Slovak Centre of Design as editor-in-chief of the journal Designum, also claims that “Slovak design has the wind in its sails”.
As part of the event, the Interdisciplinary Centre of Central European Studies offered an information tour at the individual stands of the other Central European countries, led by Jana Vargovčíková, a postdoctoral scholar at the Université libre de Bruxelles, and Emma Pavat, from the Sorbonne.
Polish writer and journalist Magdalena Parys, who won European Union Prize for Literature in 2015 and lives in Germany, addressed the public at the Europe stand on the question of European identity and on whether or not we could talk of a single European literary culture. “It’s complicated,” was pretty much the gist of her answer…