Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Books by Serbian Authors on American Book Market

An interview with the Serbian writer Milica Krkovic whose book The Little Book of Creation has been recently published by Lux Mundi Press, a publisher from New York
Q: Your book "The Little Book of Creation" has been recently published in the USA by the Lux Mundi Press from New York. The second edition in Serbian language was released last October in Belgrade, Serbia. The American edition has been just published by as a Kindle Book. How do you feel about all these attention around your first novel?
A: The first Serbian edition was sold in a very short period. It was funny, actually, because the most of the run was sold even before the publisher started his advertising campaign. We were both very satisfied. But then the readers started to contact me through the e-mail, or even by phone. They were telling me how we were soul mates, or they asked to meet me, or they felt urged to tell me their life stories. I didn’t like all that. I had already been respected in the circle of my colleagues as an editor and writer of scholarly essays on Hermeticism; this new attention seemed to me very disturbing. I just wanted some peace to read and write and to spend time with my sons, so at first I did not want to give my permission for the second edition and I did my best to become invisible again. When Lux Mundi Press decided to print the American edition, I realized that my behavior was childish and I gave the rights for the second Serbian edition to „Metaphysica“ publishing house from Belgrade. Now the wheel is turning again, there is this Kindle edition also; well, I’m glad. I’m proud, of course. All that is so healthy for my ego!
Q: Milica Krkovic is well known as a translator and book editor. What (or where) is the motivational source behind Milica Krkovic - the writer?
A: I studied Serbian language and literature at the Belgrade University – that is a group for future writers – and I started to publish my works very early, during the University days. These were mostly essays. At that time, I used to sign my work with my family name only, it was Damianovich, and everybody thought that the author was a man. Since I was not fond of women writers, I was deliberately writing and thinking like a man; my paragons were Alexander Pushkin, Ernesto Sabato, Hans Christian Andersen, William Butler Yeats... and so many others. Even at that time, I was interested in comparative religions and hermetic philosophy and the most of my work was inspired by these subjects. When the war in Yugoslavia began everything was turned upside-down. People did not want to hear or read about anything else except the war. I felt like caught in a madhouse. The publishers were still interested in my works, but they did not publish them, because nobody wanted to read them. So I quit writing and started to translate for living. The most of my efforts I invested in fulfilling my family with joy and warmth – I did not want my children to become damaged by the madness of war. All that lasted for 15 years, but although I stopped writing and publishing, I was reading, traveling abroad (always with my children) and I have never applied to become a member of the association of translators of Serbia, although translating is my main source of income, because I haven’t seen myself as a translator but as a writer.
I also worked as an editor in several publishing houses, and about three years ago, I was lucky to become the editor in chief of the first Masonic publishing house in Serbia and I still hold that position. Since hermetic philosophy has become my main interest long ago, that job is very inspirative to me, especially because it gives me the opportunity to express my opinions and research in the prefaces of the books we publish.
Q: Very few Serbian contemporary authors were published in the American book market. Do you have an opinion about reasons behind this lack of Serbian literary presence on the American continent?
A: Serbia has great writers. The problem is that the most of these books treat local, Serbian subjects, they do not communicate well with the rest of the world. American people have their own issues and they do not want to read about the Serbian ones. However, some writers who deal with more universal subjects, like Pavic and Basara are already well known in America, Japan and Europe. Then, my American publisher chose to publish also a novel by Marica Josimcevic, a distinguished writer of esoteric fiction who was the one who brought the teaching of Carlos Castaneda into Serbia. I believe that Serbian literature will become interesting and popular all around the world very soon; well, as soon as the writers find the ideal ratio between strictly Serbian „exotic“ elements and the themes that are universally human.
Q: Is there anything in your novel that will strike readers as being particularly Serbian?
A: Yes, it is a Belgrade novel – the plot is happening in Belgrade, characters are born Belgraders. The story evolves through streets, restaurants and bridges of Belgrade. Zvezdara forest, which is situated on the highest hill of Old Belgrade, plays an important role. You know, Old Belgrade lies on seven hills, just like Rome; but it is more beautiful because these seven hills stand on the mouth of two big European rivers – the Sava and the Danube. „Zvezdara forest“ means „Forest of the Stars“; there is an observatory in it, from which one can watch the stars, if he lifts his eyes; but if he looks downwards, he will see two rivers with marinas and ships. I love Belgrade, that’s my city and my great inspiration; I think it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Q: On another hand, writers constantly strive towards universality of themes and symbols presented in their novels. Will American readers be able to identify with characters and themes in your novel?
A: Absolutely. I might say that my novel is a Belgrade novel as much as „Sex and the City“ is a NY series. Places and characters are very Belgrade ones, but the main issues of my characters are not, they are universally human - Yelena, my main character, is a typical representative of the higher middle-class which is now vanishing; that is now a common problem in the whole Western world. And then, she falls in love – I think that is not something particularly Serbian, what do you think? For the first time in her life, she finds herself in a situation that cannot be easily solved, and all the spiritual teachings that served only to make her life more interesting, now are becoming her true guide. None of these teachings are particularly Serbian or Orthodox; on the contrary, they all entwine into the golden thread of Hermeticism, sprouting from different parts of the world and from different epochs. The only way for Yelena to keep her heart in one piece is to start to really understand and practice the things she used to read just for her intellectual pleasure. Her problem is universally human, so she has to find a universal solution; she has to step on the path that is universal for the whole humanity. And she succeeds, because she is a winner.
Q: Why is your novel (in the words of reviewers) a typical representative of the Rosicrucian literary genre? What do you think?
A: Because of its message, it is a typical Rosicrucian message.The essential message of hermetic teachings is that the aim of a human being is to go back to the original world from which he felt. This world in which we live is a huge school, a classroom to perfect ourselves in and become suitable again for the world of truth, the world of God and of original human beings. This message is present in all genuine spiritual teachings, but different cultures from different parts of the world, and from different periods of time, express it in different ways. However, the essence is always the same, differences are only outward; that is exactly the reason why they are so noticeable at the first sight.The Rosicrucian legend from 17th century tells us a story about German adept Christian Rosycross, who had found the practices and teachings of Universal Truth in the East and brought them to Europe, to bring back the Christian message to its origins and to complement it with Eastern wisdom. However, there are so many different and opposite statements and messages from so many authorities; how can we know whom to listen, how can we tell the difference between right and wrong, how can we find the right spiritual path and become active and operative on it? The Rosicrucian teaching says that that is possible only with the help of our hart, which still contains one atom from the original human being, susceptible to the radiation of the original world. When this atom becomes active, our hart opens under the influences of that radiation like the rose on the middle of the cross, and shows us the way.Yelena’s heart was closed like a bud and she was able to accept the message only with her head, as curiosities or philosophy; but when her hart starts to bleed, she becomes susceptible to the radiation of Light and she manages to put her feet on the path of striving and self-masonry towards the good end.
Q: You had spent several days in New York City last October during the promotion of your book. What do you think of New York and about mega bookstores like Barnes & Noble and Borders?
A: Oh, I loved New York very much! I felt so good and I really believe NY is a city where everybody must feel good. People are so friendly, cultural facilities are great and the architecture is wonderful, but what really made me feel relaxed is – well, the spirit of NY. It’s unique and I cannot compare it with any other place in the world, especially not with European metropolises, like Paris, or London, or Rome... not even with Amsterdam, although there are certain similarities. But you know, for example, I do not like to wear purses and bags – I prefer to put everything in my pockets including my hands and to feel free. In Europe such behavior is considered as not polite, or at least strange; in NYC, it’s completely normal. For some reason I was especially attracted to the Central Park, but I cannot exactly tell why. It just has a very good energy and I enjoyed walking around or having coffee by the lake, or watching at the tall buildings around the park, which are much higher than the trees. And the Metropolitan museum – it is really impressive, but what impressed me more than all of those famous collections is the fact that visitors can still observe these works from the closest proximity; in Europe, that is not possible any more. Famous paintings are protected with glass, or at least with a rope and security system which doesn’t let you approach closer than 2 meters from the showpiece. It’s the NY spirit of freedom, friendliness and intellectual creativity that really made me feel great. Maybe it has to do something with the fact that I am a Gemini, I don’t know.Mega bookstores and the City Library are the places where I think I could spend days and days. When I am in Belgrade, although I have a huge family library at home, I prefer to sit in a public library or a bookstore and to read there; Barns & Noble on Union Square is a bookstore of my dreams. It’s a place where I would like to give lectures, for example, the atmosphere is very inspirative. Besides, these stores can really make your life easier because you can always find any title you need. For example, I wanted to buy a book that was published some 15 or 20 years ago, and the shop assistant in Barns & Noble was able to order it for me and have it delivered in seven days. That’s impressive.
Q: Is there any new novel in making?
A: Yes. I am writing a novel inspired by an old Celtic legend. But the legend is just the beginning, the plot of my novel starts when the legend finishes. Everything is happening in the Carterhaugh forest on the Scottish border, and on the mountain Avala next to Belgrade, where a huge and rich Celtic city was situated in the Roman period. Some scholars even think that this is where the mysterious Avalon from Arthurian legends was situated, because of the similarity of its name with the name of the mountain. I do not imply anything like that in my novel, but I do give a great magical and mystical importance to that city. The novel is divided into three parts – a fairytale with seemingly happy ending; a fall into the darkness of Maya or false reality; and awakening in the light of the true reality. My previous novel is about the stepping on the path of self-masonry, this one is about the path itself. Since I believe in the strength of the spoken word, I’m also working on a project connected to storytelling. I’m preparing a series of stories on universal subjects like friendship, fear, love, hate, devotion etc, but instead of printing them and publishing in a form of a book, I will tell them to the audience in a club. These stories are a combination of well-known folk stories and legends on those subjects and my creative interpretation and additions. We shall record them, so maybe one day they will appear on the paper also, but for now the plan is to establish a place for cherishing the artistic beauty and strength of the spoken word.
Q: just published the Kindle edition of "The Little Book of Creation". Your book is also available as an e-book in the Internet stores like How do you feel about new trends in the publishing? The idea that somebody will read a novel on their iPod, or Kindle book, or phone, sounds surreal and disturbing to many authors.
A: I like it. Books are written to be read. I think that Kindle is a great invention, like iPod, not only because they make storing of books or music easier, but also because they are so practical for use. Who could imagine some twenty years ago that people would be able to take the whole libraries with them when they go to work, or when they are having holiday; or, to adjust the size of the font in any moment so that they can skip the glasses, or to change the color of the paper to suit their eyes better? I like everything that is practical and saves time and money. Besides, electronic editions are much cheaper than paper editions, so practically anybody can purchase them. I think that is a very important step in the cultural evolution.
Q: Your book will be promoted by your American publisher at the Book Expo in New York in May 2009. This is the single largest book fair on the American continent. Are you going to be there?
A: Yes, I am looking forward to come to New York again. Book Expo is a huge and important event and I am so curious to see it, no way I would miss it!
Thank you Milica Krkovic!

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