Books are arguably the cheapest way travel—with our imagination the only ticket we’ll ever need.
No need for a car, train, ship, or plane to visit a world different from our own. A good book and a great imagination can transport us to any time and any place—from somewhere as magical as J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding Britain, to Dante Alighieri’s nine circles of hell, or in the middle of the June Rebellion in Victor Hugo’s 19th century France.
For three weeks this April, Filipinos can virtually explore Europe—one book at a time—through the European Literature Fair, hosted by National Book Store.
Organized in cooperation with the European Union National Institutes of Culture (EUNIC) Philippines, the 2018 European Literature Fair seeks to broaden Filipino readers’ literary and cultural horizons not only as it highlights renowned classics and modern bestsellers but also as it introduces a slew of books of different genres by some of Europe’s biggest literary stars.
Czech Ambassador Jaroslav Olša Jr. said during the event’s opening night last April 4 that “literature is something that’s a bit overlooked by diplomats.” Most of them focus on business or tourism, and organize concerts, film festivals and art exhibits, “but literature is something that is rarely seen,” he said.
“Literature is close to my heart and I’m really happy it’s also close to the hearts of many of my European colleagues,” said Olša, also the president of EUNIC Philippines, a group of European embassies, consulates, and cultural institutions based in Manila.
By bringing books not often available in the Philippines, National Book Store unveils the diversity and variety of European literature, Olša said, demonstrating that there is more to Western literature than American or British books.
Along with literary icons Spanish Miguel de Cervantes and English William Shakespeare, the fair is also putting a spotlight on European Nobel laureates for literature, including Turkish Orhan Pamuk, German Günter Grass, Portuguese José Saramago, and Polish Czesław Miłosz.
To showcase Europe’s rich, diverse and multicultural voices and talent, the works of Karl Ove Knausgård (Norway), Jonas Jonasson (Sweden), Arturo Pérez–Reverte (Spain), and Michel Houellebecq (France) will be featured together with popular books by English Neil Gaiman, Swedish Stieg Larsson, and Italian Umberto Eco, among many other writers.
Olša, who co-wrote and co-edited the only Czech encyclopedia of science fiction, recommended in particular the novel “Spaceman in Bohemia” by Czech-American Jaroslav Kalfař.
“It’s quite interesting because [Kalfař was] born 30 years back in Czech Republic, but at the age of 15 moved to New York. Now he’s an American citizen who studied in a university and started writing in English,” the ambassador told the Inquirer in an interview during the event.
Kalfař’s first novel was written in English and published in the United States, Olša said, and yet, “it’s a quintessential Czech book.” The novel, which according to the ambassador has been well-received and translated into several languages, tells the earthly life story and interplanetary adventures of a Czech scientist who becomes the country’s first astronaut.
During the fair’s opening night, Olša and Anvil Publishing general manager Andrea Pasion-Flores also launched “Agos: Modern European Writers in Filipino,” the second book in an anthology series of stories by authors from all corners of Europe that were translated into Filipino.
The idea to promote cultural connections through literature translations was inspired by a Swedish ambassador in South Korea, himself was a writer and translator, who spearheaded a similar project. Olša said that when he came to the Philippines, he saw an opportunity to do the same here.
“This book is especially meaningful as it speaks to the Filipino. ‘Agos,’ as a noun, means ‘current’ or ‘flow,’ the swift waters that bring messages in bottles to the unknown, beloved reader,” Pasion-Flores said as she introduced the new anthology. “This dropping of the bottle is an act of hope that these stories, chosen by Ambassador Olša, are carried to the Filipino swiftly.”
While the first book in the series, “Layag,” celebrated the classics, “Agos,” whose short stories were translated by writer Susana B. Borrero, presents 14 contemporary stories from 12 countries that were written by some of Europe’s most promising authors.
“Agos,” Pasion-Flores explained, offers “glimpses of European life now, portraying characters with cell phones and not castles.” The stories in the collection, she also said, “will help dispel old impressions of Europe that may still be in many Filipinos’ minds and help open perspectives to the diversity of our cultures and all the unique places in this one world.”
A plan to bring European literature to the provinces was in the works, too. In an interview with the Inquirer, Olša said that a couple of years ago, they already began a project with Ateneo de Naga University in Camarines Sur to translate foreign literary works into Bikolano. Some of these include those written by Franz Kafka, Karel Čapek, Jorge Luis Borges, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and Shakespeare, he said.
“By discussing [it] with Kristian Cordero, who’s the person behind this [project], we thought it might be interesting to go further,” Olša said. This time, classic European stories will be translated into two more Philippine languages: Waray and Masbateño.
Modern Filipino literature will also get a chance to sail to foreign shores through a collection of short stories that will be published later this year. Olša told the Inquirer that the anthology presents 40 short stories written by “contemporary Filipino writers of the last 25 years.”
“It’s a very eclectic selection,” he said, saying that not only will the stories showcase a variety of genres; they will also represent Filipino voices hailing from various parts of the Philippines.
“Agos: Modern European Writers in Filipino” is available at National Book Store. The European Literature Fair runs until April 21 in select National Book Store branches.