Czech Ambassador Jaroslav Olša Jr. and Anvil Publishing general manager Andrea Pasion-Flores (7th and 11th from left, respectively) join diplomats and representatives of European embassies, consulates and cultural institutes, and Philippine publishing industry executives in launching “Agos: Modern European Writers in Filipino,” the second collection of European short stories translated into Filipino.
Books are arguably the cheapest way to travel—with our imagination the only ticket we’ll ever need. 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.
With the new short-story anthology “Agos,” Filipinos who want to explore and learn about diverse and multicultural Europe can do so one page at a time.
Launched on the opening night of National Book Store’s European Literature Fair, “Agos: Modern European Writers in Filipino,” is the follow-up in a series of Filipino-translated, short-story collections that started with 2017’s “Layag: European Classics in Filipino.”
While “Layag” celebrated timeless tales written by European literary masters and Nobel laureates for literature, “Agos” features 14 contemporary short stories from 12 countries that were written by some of Europe’s most promising authors.
The book is the brainchild of Czech Ambassador Jaroslav Olša Jr. and was published with the cooperation of the European Union National Institutes of Culture (Eunic) Philippines, a network of European embassies, consulates and cultural agencies based in Manila focused on cultural diplomacy and cultural relations.
Handpicked by Olša and translated by writer Susana B. Borrero, the stories in “Agos” come from all corners of the European continent, among them Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic and Spain. The ambassador also noted that the anthology includes a story from a writer from Greenland, a self-governing Danish territory.
During the book’s launch, Olša said the idea to promote cultural connections through literary translations was inspired by a Swedish ambassador in South Korea, himself a writer and translator, who spearheaded a similar project. The Czech ambassador said that when he came to the Philippines, he saw an opportunity to do the same here.
“Literature is something that’s a bit overlooked by diplomats,” said Olša, also the president of Eunic Philippines. 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.
“Agos” offers “glimpses of European life now, portraying characters with cell phones and not castles,” according to Andrea Pasion-Flores, general manager of Anvil, which published the anthology.
The stories in the collection, she 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.”
“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 book. “This dropping of the bottle is an act of hope that these stories, chosen by Ambassador Olša, are carried to the Filipino swiftly.”
The book launch coincided with National Book Store’s European Literature Fair, a three-week event that sought to broaden Filipino readers’ literary and cultural horizons not only by highlighting European classics and modern bestsellers but also by introducing a slew of books by some of Europe’s biggest and newest literary stars.
Olša said that by bringing books not often available in the Philippines, National Book Store showcased the diversity and variety of European literature, demonstrating that there was more to Western literature than American or British books.
The Czech ambassador, who co-wrote and co-edited the only Czech encyclopedia of science fiction, recommended in particular the novel “Spaceman of Bohemia” by Czech-American Jaroslav Kalfar.
“It’s quite interesting because [Kalfar 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 Inquirer Super during the event.
Kalfar’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.
A plan to bring European literature to the provinces was in the works, too. In an interview with Inquirer Super, Olša said that a couple of years ago, they already began a project with Ateneo de Naga University to translate foreign literary works into Bikol. Some of these include those written by Franz Kafka, Karel Capek, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and Shakespeare, he said.
“By discussing [the project] with Kristian Cordero, who’s the person behind this, 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 Inquirer Super that the anthology will present 40 short stories written by “contemporary Filipino writers of the last 25 years.”
“It’s a very eclectic selection,” he said, adding that not only will the stories feature 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 in National Book Store.