I have always enjoyed anthologies and collections of stories and poetry because of the variety of different voices, subjects and styles. Sometimes there are stories that you knew already so you relive the emotions and landscapes that you remember and cherish, and it feels comforting to know that you have them on your shelves. But it happens almost every time that along with your favourites, there are short stories which you have not known and you are curious to read. There is also a different scenario. Namely, sometimes an anthology can serve as an introduction to a certain theme, genre or a country.
The Dedalus Book of Slovak Literature, which was an inspiration for this entry, turned out to be such an introduction for me. There is a wide range of subject matter and styles that take you into the heart of Slovakia.
The first story in the anthology is ‘Tinker’s Christmas’ written by Martin Kukučín (1860-1928), who is one of the most important Slovak authors of his period. It is a realistic portrayal of life in Slovakia in the late nineteenth century during the Hungarisation of the country. Through the eyes of Durko, the reader observes an individual’s struggles during the turbulent times before WW1. As Durko comes back home, he does not recognise the dramatic changes that have taken place and tries to make sense of the new situation. Very different is ‘Edita’s Eye’ by Gejza Vámoš (1901-1956). Aside from his literary achievements, Vámoš was a doctor and worked in China during WW11. ‘Edita’s Eye’ is a somewhat grotesque story whose narrator ponders on creation and existence. Edita is a strange character and the narrative is ambiguous so that the reader is never quite certain what the author intends so you feel you should read it again. A total change of feel and atmosphere comes with Vladimir Balla’s story ‘Pregnancy’. Born in 1967, Balla is an economist and a journalist. ‘Pregnancy’ takes place in a non-specified location or time. The characters seem to be bored with themselves as the reader first encounters them. They treat one another disrespectfully although they seem to have a close bond as well. There are sudden turns of action although they all seem absurd and we are left with the feeling of uncertainty as the story provides us with one last surprise at the end.
These three stories are my favourite ones in the anthology. The Dedalus Book of Slovak Literature is an excellent introduction to the Slovak literary world and its concerns. It was a voyage of discovery for me during which, for me, unknown writers brought alive a country I knew nothing about. I am grateful to them for giving me a glimpse of Slovak history and culture.