Our Translated Book of the Month: Singer in the Night by Olja Savičević (Istros Books), translated by Celia Hawkesworth
“I am addressing you with the desire, prompted by the aforementioned events, to share with you a dog’s thoughts about love. In this appeal, I ask just one thing of you: that, caught up in a vortex of passion or exasperated or astounded by feverish cries from the darkness, you do not forget that as well as feline love that screeches there is also canine love that whines.” – […] A Wistful Dog
This month, make sure you read Olja Savičević’s fantastic Singer in the Night, brilliantly translated by Celia Hawkesworth and published last week by Istros Books. It is a novel about love, about what love really means in all its forms and shades. An entertaining but very profound, and at times a rather philosophical reading, written in an innovative style mixing playful narrative with deeper reflections. We have selected Singer in the Night as our April’s Translated Book of the Month.
Singer in the Night (Istros Books, 2019), front cover.
Clementine is a famous soap opera scriptwriter. On the outside, she is “a blonde orange”, with silicon lips and a Brazilian hairstyle, driving a golden convertible, but inside she is “a black orange. Full of black juice.” She has now spent a week trying to call her ex-husband, with whom she still shares a boat, but couldn’t reach him. So, she travels from Ljubljana to Split to look for him, not finding anything more than vague traces and more mysteries. His account has been closed. He hasn’t been at the marina for a long time. He left the flat. He hasn’t been in touch with his mother for over a year.
“None of the people Gale and I had known could say exactly in which direction that sexy bird had flown off last summer. They weren’t troubled […] because that crazy Gale came and went like that, no one ever knew when.”
The more she hears about him and the town, the more she realises there is much she doesn’t know. How much have things changed, or how much have things remained unchanged?
She sets off towards Bosnia, where he said he was heading. But where has he really gone? What is he up to? And so the story begins. The story of the search for her greatest love, the mysterious – at times radical – street poet Nightingale. But, actually, this is the story of a journey into her past and herself. A journey through memory, life, history and, most importantly, human relations.
Author Olja Savičević (Istros Books)
Olja Savičević is one of Croatia’s best socially and politically engaged contemporary writers. Her work has received numerous awards and has been translated in many languages, from German to Ukrainian, from French to Zulu. She is also the author of the novel Farewell, Cowboy, also published by Istros Books, the story of Dada, who goes back to her home town on the Adriatic coast to explore the circumstances behind the death of her brother. There, she meets Angelo, a gigolo who is part of the film crew shooting a Western nearby, and discovers more.
Singer in the Night was translated into English by Celia Hawkesworth. Celia worked for many years as a Senior Lecturer in Serbian and Croatian at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College, London and has published many articles and books on Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian literature. Among her several translations are the award-winning The Museum of Unconditional Surrender (W&N, 1998) and The Culture Lies (W&N, 1998) by Dubravka Ugrešić. For Istros, she has also translated Fairground Magician by Jelena Lengold, Odhohol & Cally Rascal by Matko Sršen, Death in the Museum of Modern Art by Alma Lazarevska, and Olja Savičević’s Farewell Cowboy.
Istros Books is a London-based publisher aiming to bring the best South European literature to English-speaking readers. Named after the old Greek and Thracian term for the lower Danube, whose course and tributaries touch the countries Istros focuses on, this innovative publisher wants to go beyond the idea of national interests, fostering cultural exchange – in their words, “the free-flow of knowledge” inspired by the Danube’s borderless flow across the continent – and a focus on “the common voice of human experience”.
More titles from Istros are coming out in the next summer months. Do not miss Under Pressure by Faruk Šehić (May 2019), stories from the frontline of the Bosnian War, The Olcinium Trilogy by Andrej Nikolaidis (June 2019), bringing together three short novels which together encompass an apocalyptic vision of this ancient town, and Wild Woman by Marina Šur Puhlovski (July 2019), the story of an everywoman from a poor family in 1970s Croatian, who rushes into the romantic dream of marriage but has to go wild to free herself when idyll becomes a nightmare.