In Search of Homo Sapiens : Twenty-Five Contemporary Slovak Short Stories

Author: The Slovak Writers' Society   Editeds: Pavol Janik, Alexander Halvonik   Translators: Lucy Bednar, Heather Trebaticka
Product Code: 5327
ISBN: 978-0-86516-532-8
Pages: 274
Availability: In stock.
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In Search of Homo Sapiens represents the crystallization of the thinking and writing of the Slovak intelligentsia. For the first time the English-speaking world will see the output of some of the most prominent Slovak thinkers and writers, their reflections on contemporary life, world politics, personal lifestyles, and social ideologies. A welcome contribution to current literature, social commentary, and philosophy of life.

The Slovak Writers' Society, whose traditions reach back to 1923 and which brings together outstanding figures in the world of Slovak literature, has made the maximum effort to enable the Slovak Republic to speak to the world through works representative of its contemporary literature.

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Review by: Michael Pinker, Review of Contemporary Fiction - February 4, 2004
These fine stories, most written over the last two decdes, culled from a body of literature largely unknown to Western readers, represent a sampling of the best Slovak writers at the height of their craft. Pavol Hudik, a leading figure in disseminating the gowing body of writing by his countrymen to the rest of the world, provides a short essay on the historical contxt of Slovak literature as well as brief biographical sketches and a short prefatory passage or two
Review by: Virginia Parobek, World Literature Today - October 20, 2003
In Search of Homo Sapiens: Twenty-Five Contemporary Slovak Short Stories. Pavol Hudík, ed. Heather Trebatická with Lucy Bednár, trs. Wauconda, Illinois / Bratislava, Slovakia. Bolchazy-Carducci / Publishing House of the Slovak Writers Society. 2002. ix + 264 pages. $29.95. ISBN 0-86516-532-7 IN SEARCH OF HOMO SAPIENS differs from the relatively few other anthologies of Slovak short stories in that it includes photographs and biographical data on its authors as well as a detailed list of their publications. Another interesting inclusion is the section called "In Their Own Words," which describes the writers' particular philosophy and beliefs, especially in regard to the social responsibilities of the writer. The volume has met with a good deal of criticism already, but translations of contemporary Slovak literature are few and far between. Criticism of this volume has amassed quickly and is mainly directed at the selection of authors, as the overwhelming majority of them happen to be members of the Slovak Writers Society (a few are also members of Slovak PEN, a more cosmopolitan writers organization that is also based in Bratislava). This collection of stories, then, cannot begin to be discussed without first explaining what the Slovak Writers Society is. Editor Pavol Hudík, a journalist under the state-run Slovak Radio, was permitted to choose only from the membership list of the SWS for the Slovak-language edition of Homo Sapiens (published by the SWS). Yet the American publisher assures us that Homo Sapiens "represents a crystallization of the thinking and writing of Slovak intelligentsia . . . with some of the most prominent Slovak thinkers and writers within its pages." After perusing the book and reading the biographical information, the reader may feel that the contributors do all seem to be cut from the same bolt of cloth, as the majority held ministerial offices under state control prior to 1989. Such positions were attractive and lucrative at the time; the writers that occupied them enjoyed being at the helm of national culture during the communist era. Now these same writers are having to weather accusations of nationalist intentions. Thus, the majority of writers in the anthology are an older group whose literary work matured in the 1970s, like popular novelist Peter Jaro} (who nevertheless had to endure his fair share of censorship under the authorities), whose story "Pulling Faces" starts out strong but then loses momentum. Other than a few anomalies like Robert Muller, a geologist by profession (yet also listed in the Ereraty Encyclopedia, a guide to writers), and Milan Zelinka, a mechanic by trade whose contribution to the collection- and a rather pointless one at that-is the shortest in the entire volume, the writers are a pretty homogeneous lot. Even so, the stories in Homo Sapiens are all diverse and flawlessly translated. Despite the book's secondary title, there are only twenty-three stories between its covers. Aside from Jaro}, other literary luminaries of the 1970s include Anton Hykisch, who manages to weave his beliefs of coming to an understanding of Slovak national history into a pan-European context. V. {ikula, one of the most prominent writers during the 1960s, gives us a charming, Nemcová-like story with his "Grannie." Another writer strong during this era was Ladislav Tazk±, who published work during the thaw of the 1960s. Despite his horrifying experiences on the Russian front, Tazk± pens a touching pan- Slavic story, "A Parting Gift," that promotes Slavic brotherhood. The first three Slovak women writers are not represented by particularly good material: the dialogue in Mária Bátorová's story is stilted, and her sentence construction can be awkward at times. The story seems to be a soapbox for her main point: a political rant at the end to bolster sympathy for the Roma (gypsies). Postmodernism has arrived in Slovakia, as evidenced by Bátorová's fashionable accusations of American genocide of Native Americans and the evils of British colonization. Also disappointing is the offering by Marína Ceretková-Gállová, whose work is described by the editor as being "typical of women's literature" (oddly, she is identified as such on two different occasions in editorial comments). An intriguing opening leads to a fizzle; the story ultimately seems a paean to motherhood. Etela Farka}ová, the much-touted "feminist" writer in Slovakia, writes an extensive description of women's literature in "In Their Own Words." A painful, stream-ofconsciousness story follows. Andrej Ferko provides the most delightful break in the collection, beginning with his refreshing confessional introduction. His antihero's humorous search for a home philosophy on which to hang his hat is great equal-opportunity bashing: yoga, Christianity . . . everything comes under fire. Ferko is an astute critic of these movements, not to mention his disapproval of the failure of art in meeting its social responsibilities. Ferko yields a devastating pen indeed. The unique part of Homo Sapiens, the "In Their Own Words" section, proves to be quite an interesting feature all through the book; sometimes it turns out to be more revealing of the authors (and interesting in its SLAVIC LANGUAGES REVIEWS ? 142 o WORLD LITERATURE TODAY o 77:2 o JULY-SEPTEMBER 2003 own right) than the selections themselves. While always enlightening, it would have been helpful had these sections also contained a word or two on the relevance of the following story. Sometimes, the introduction and subsequent story do not mesh. Gabriela Rothmayerová, a member of the former ruling communist SDL party, pens an interesting opener yet has a lackluster story. Viera {venková, whose work usually concerns the problems of contemporary women, proffers an unexpected story mostly concerned with questions of good versus evil. Some of the more interesting stories happen to be set in Slovakia itself. Alexander Halvoník's "Fear" and Andrej Chudoba's "Snow and Rooks" are two such examples. Chudoba professes his fascination with the regional and cultural differences within his country and then pens a good story chockfull of old rural superstitions. Ján Tuzinsk± takes on the big questions of life (like faith versus reason) in his somewhat disjointed "A Murmur," which seems more like two separate stories in one. Nevertheless, his delightful and innovative fictional introduction of Raskolnikov and the Karamazov brothers made me reach for my Dostoevsky again. The Slavic literary tendency toward surrealism is seen in the works of Miroslav Jurík and Ján Lenco; the latter gives us a Dorian Gray-like character, albeit Slovak style. Despite the editor's claim that the Slovak Writers Society, which originated in 1923, "has contributed to democratic changes in Czechoslovakia and is a spiritual platform of modern Slovak statehood," Slovak PEN President, Gustáv Murín, would beg to differ, arguing that many of the writers within the anthology "give evidence of nationalistic undertones in the SSS" (and despite the fact, apparently, that such writers as Farka}ová, Feldek, Hykisch, and Jaro} are fellow PEN members). Virginia Parobek Cleveland, Ohio Slovene ? Ten Slovenian Poets of the Nineties. Ale} Berger, ed. Peter Kol}ek, intro. Ljubljana, Slovenia. Slovene Writers' Association. 2002. 103 pages. ISBN 861-91010-0-6 PETER KOL}EK'S BRIEF INTRODUCTION to Ten Slovenian Poets of the Nineties gives the historical context in which these seven men and three women writers-born between 1963 and 1973-grew up and began to write, and in short biographical sketches he links each to literary and philosophical styles like "intimism" (turning away from public, especially political concerns, as writers had done earlier) and "pansemantic" poetry, the definition or even description of which is not given. The vagaries of translation will be more obvious to those who read Slovenian as well as English, but it is clear that some poets and styles come across more forcefully to the anglophone ear. For example, Uro} Zupan is apparently the most widely translated of these ten, probably because he is open, autobiographical, and long-lined (sometimes long-winded), and his yawp is, if not quite barbaric, loud and immediately clear. Or consider lines from Barbara Korun's "Stag" and Brane Senega?nik's "Aphrodite." Korun begins her poem, "I wake up to a warm stag's tongue between my legs," and then gets explicit. In Senega?nik's poem, "The scarlet leaves of sex quiver / in the tear's solitary glow," which is pleasant but hardly compelling. Even when Senega?nik reaches for stronger images, the unruffled tone of his verse smoothes them over. Lucija Stupica's poems are even more general; none of the images are particular enough to be striking, while Primo6 µu?nik's lines are both general and leisurely, as in "In the distance the shimmering of whitened peaks, / and everything I then pictured in the vast yearning /of imagination now stands before me." When he writes "Poetry has turned me into a monster," the pace and tone belie the claim. Poets of this type need a strong melodic sense, and in Slovenian they may have it- but not in these translations. Reaching for the extreme or concrete does not always work, however. Taja Kramberger's catalog of objects, including stockings and "the Apotheosis of Thomas Aquinas," is the kind of thing one skips, and when one finishes µu?nik's "America," in which he gives a long list of what he has received from and gives back in disdain to America, one can say that to really reject America one has to know it a lot better, as with Allen Ginsberg and e. e. cummings and poets who talk about specific causes and effects and give the reader more than lists. Zupan and Ale} Steger are most effectively represented in this collection. The older Zupan gets-I'm guessing, since none of the poems are dated-the more ironically he is able to treat his poetic image and the more believable he becomes. Steger is briefer and more biting about Europe than µu?nik is about America, and in poems like "For You," the speaker presents the reader with a condom, instructions to blow it up and put a face on it, and to listen to the nothing that may or may not be the poet or God; in either-or neither-case, the reader will be unsettled permanently. As in some of his other poems, poetry may or may not be magical, but it is obviously a confidence trick. And Steger, Zupan, and Korun clearly have the confidence to let it all hang out-though not as far as Peter Semoli?, who begins his "Ode" with "You are omnipotent, phallus!" Robert Murray Davis University of Oklahoma
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