Friday, October 11, 2019

ISTROS Books put SE Europe back on the publishing map

South Eastern European countries are interesting - or rather were - only when a bloody conflict was taking place. The wars in the ex-Yougoslavia and the difficult post-communist transition to democracy in the former communist block created a certain interest for a limited amount of time for this part of Europe, including from the cultural point of view. After that, nothing. The funding for various projects was severed, the scholarships covering topics related to this area were considered 'unuseful' and a curtain of neglect separated this part of the world from the centers of intellectual and political interest.
When I've discovered Istros Books on Twitter recently, I felt like coming back home. Home not only because I've spent a couple of years discovering and learning about SE Europe but also because it took the risk of revealing special authors from this region to the world. Like, for instance, Ludovic Bruckstein a literary voice for long forgotten in his native Romania. 
I am honoured to be given the opportunity of publishing an interview on my blog with Founding Director Susan D. Curtis about this very special edition house, whose works are more needed than ever. 

- What was the idea of creating this edition house?

I started Istros with the deliberate cultural agenda of making the literature of SE Europe more visible to the English-speaking world (and therefore a large portion of the world). Being a regular visitor to Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Romania, I knew a lot about their literature and also about the lack of translations available in English. 
- The literature from this part of Europe is not so well known worldwide. Besides the shift of political interest in the last decade, what are the reasons for this unfair treatment?

Borders change but some things stay the same - the invisible Byzantine/ Catholic divide or the West/East Europe divide still exists in a way. Nothing much has improved in terms of the exposure of the literature or culture of that region, despite the EU expansion. This is obviously an unfair state of affairs and also dangerous - the less we know, the less we care, and we know to our detriment how short-sighted it was to ignore the Balkans in 1914 or Yugoslavia in the 1990s. 
- How do you pick up the list of books for translation? How do you find the translators?

Almost all of the authors I publish have won prestigious national or international awards.  I have seven winners of the EU Prize for Literature on my list. I also attend book fairs, conferences and publishing fellowships around the region, and get to talk to key players in the book world, so I know which books or authors are getting attention. 

- Do you have an approximate profile of your readers?

I don't like to think in terms of marketing and find this a difficult question. I think that many people would like to read books with and authentic authorial voice and with an original story. Authors from SE Europe have so much to offer - the region itself is so multicultural and so rich in story. The main problem for me as a small publisher is not being about to reach readers because I don't have a marketing budget or the reach which the bigs boys have. I rely on reviews, the enthusiasm of individual booksellers and word of mouth. 

- What can be done, in your opinion, to create interest for the literature from this part of Europe? 

I cooperative with a number of embassies and cultural institutes and try to organise as many book launches and promotional events as possible. It would be great if more literary festivals were open to having foreign authors as well as the much loved best sellers and celebrity writers. The best thing that us small players can do is cooperate with like-minded organisations and other publishers in order to find new ways to reach the public.  

- What are your publishing plans for the next six months?
Our October titles come from two Slovenian authors writing about two different periods in the history of their country: a story of survival in the northern town of Morska Sobota during WWII, and a tale of loss and confusion during the more recent conflict of the 1990s. Billiards at the Hotel Dobray is Dušan Šarotar's second book in English, following on from his highly praised 2016 novel, Panorama .Once again, we are offered a semi-autobiographical story which blurs the distinction between fact and fiction. The End. And Again offers a beguiling, imaginative reworking of the history of the independence of Slovenia and the break-up of Yugoslavia through the eyes of its four main characters.

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