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January 2004

The Balkans

In this region's literature we find not a single "Balkan" identity, but multiple Balkans--defined not only by ethnicity but by politics, history, nature (lovely and indifferent), and personal memory. Affirming these manifold perspectives are the classic Croatian Miroslav Krleza's surreal Banquet in Blitva, set in a distinctly Balkan Everywhere of blended places and events; the Jewish Serbian writer Ivan Ivanji's frighteningly lyrical "Games on the Banks of the Danube"; Albanian writer Fatos Lubonja's "Ahlem," about a prisoner's skewed loyalty to a dictator; and Luljeta Lleshanaku's pastoral poetry. In "Theft" and "Cactus" the Bosnian short story master Miljenko Jergovic finds the humor in life at the outbreak of war in Sarajevo. And the German writer Juli Zeh casts her acute eye over the landscape in the aftermath of the Balkan wars.

Irreversible Landscapes
Irreversible is the river on whose back dead leaves swirl. Irreversible are words- the dust of roads mingled with breath, warm breath that sticks to our trembling lips like fog to a boat.Irreversible…
Translated from Albanian
The Island You and I
living on an island far from cities with traffic lights and people.Outside we hear the rustlings of a bed of reeds where the wind with its toothless mouth blows luring in tides.A boat is moored on the…
Translated from Albanian
February Sky
Large, gray, sprawled like an old elephant. Winter is ending. Low, sloping roofs are overturned boats slumbering along the shores of drowsiness.Twenty years of an oak tree's life is burned instantly…
Translated from Albanian
The Postman
By Luljeta Lleshanaku
He comes to me every day with a cruel bounce in his stepwith eyes darting like little green flames—the town postman in a heavy, damp coatjovially announcing he has nothing for me.I see his blue…
Translated from Albanian by Shpresa Qatipi & Henry Israeli
The Cinema
Without fail Sundays at the cinema were always rainy days big black umbrellas clashing against the ticket booth. The doorman among the torn stubs looked like a watercolor hung crookedly on a kitchen wall.…
Translated from Albanian
It’s Not Time For . . .
It's not time for a change. As long as I can remember it's never been time for a change. Like cars that screech to a halt houses stand poised in their old breeding ground of rotten acacia leaves.From…
Translated from Albanian
An Alphabetical Formation
AlifYou're not beginning . . .It's an eternity, you know . . .I mean, the ever-after, you knowNo matter, then.Raise your cavalryBut do not leave behind the horizon,Or the sea . . . or the soillines…
Translated from Arabic
from Étoile Errante
By J. M. G. Le Clézio
Set first in the village of Saint-Martin in southeast France, then in the refugee camp of Nour Chams, Étoile Errante (Wandering Star) tells the story of two teenage girls on the threshold and in the aftermath…
Translated from French by Justin Goldberg
1 Here I am you alone In this mad, gaping Hell Here I am you alone and death altogether With its predators and its seers and the informers Perhaps I am arriving at The limit of my possibilities For you…
Translated from Arabic
By Miljenko Jergovic
In our garden there was an apple tree whose mouth-watering fruits could be seen from the upstairs window of the house next door. Our neighbors, Rade and Jela, used to go to the market to buy apples for…
Translated from Bosnian by Stela Tomasevic
Games on the Banks of the Danube
By Ivan Ivanji
Everybody knows you can’t choose your place of birth, any more than you can select your parents. My birthplace is located on a body of water; human hands have altered and straightened the banks…
Translated from German by John K. Cox
By Fatos Lubonja
1The television room had never been so full and so silent, except for the announcer’s voice booming for more than an hour. Nobody added a whisper to his commentary. Nobody made a move to leave.It…
Translated from Albanian by John Hodgson
from The Banquet in Blitva
By Miroslav Krleza
Written before the Second World War but not widely available until 1962, Miroslav Krleza’s Banquet in Blitva combines the satire of a Jonathan Swift with the style and tone of the Austrian Recession…
Translated from Croatian by Edward Dennis Goy & Jasna Levinger
By Miljenko Jergovic
She was always afraid of missing the beautiful and important things in life. She traveled a lot, but more often she panicked because she was stuck at home. For some reason she always imagined that real…
Translated from Bosnian by Stela Tomasevic
from Silence Has Its Sound: Travels through Bosnia
By Juli Zeh
Crossing the Serbian Republic's BorderMost of the Republika Srpska border is made of garbage—it seems the whole town of Stolac brings its trash here. I meet three oncoming cars in fifty kilometers.…
Translated from German by Gerald Chapple
Shadows on the Snow
By Luljeta Lleshanaku
The snow comes late this year. Violet shadowsdoze like shepherds rounda white fire.The swaying shadow of a fence looks like a woman's clavicle—a woman who dreams of her lover's snowy journey…
Translated from Albanian by Shpresa Qatipi & Henry Israeli
The Villa in Acibadem
By Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar
The villa in Acibadem left a clear mark on every stage of my life. It isn't just that it touched my tender years like all those miracles of childhood are bound to do. It influenced my way of thinking,…
Translated from Turkish by Fatih Özgüven
An Alphabetical Formation
AlifYou're not beginning . . .It's an eternity, you know . . .I mean, the ever-after, you knowNo matter, then.Raise your cavalryBut don't set out for the horizon,Or the sea . . . or the soillines…
Translated from Arabic