Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Vesna Goldsworthy: Found In Translation

The Gazette's university became a book-tour staging post again last night when Vesna Goldsworthy, literature and creative writing lecturer at Kingston University, dropped by to talk about her memoir Chernobyl Strawberries.

Goldsworthy moved to England from Belgrade in 1986 (and 'England' rather than 'Britain' is deliberate on her part), and worked in publishing and the BBC World Service before returning to academia to teach English literature - rather than her old subject of comparative literature in translation, which isn't a strong point on UK syllabuses (syllabi?).

She began to write Chernobyl Strawberries as letters to her young son after she was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago. Finding solace in the letters while recovering from surgery, she wrote them up into a volume for friends and family which, one of her friends being her literary agent, ended up at Atlantic Books. The rest is serialisation in The Times, appearances at Hay on Wye, and translation into German and Serbian.

Goldworthy's previous book, Inventing Ruritania, took a post-colonial approach to English literature's depictions of the Balkans as a 'Wild East'. Murder on the Orient Express, The Balkan Trilogy, and Gazette childhood favourite The Prisoner of Zenda are all accounted for. (She discusses many of the same themes in an article for Eurozine.) Giving it a title wasn't an easy task, nor was it helped by one individual's suggestion of Inventing Transylvania in the belief that Bram Stoker - or the Rocky Horror team?! - had done precisely that.

She sees the two books as 'companion volumes' now - not just through representations of the Balkans, but through the writing of Olivia Manning, whose Balkan Trilogy, based on her experiences in Romania and Greece during her husband's work for the British Council in 1940, inhabited a similar borderland between novel and biography.

Manning called her work a novel, Goldsworthy a memoir (or 'reminiscences' for the Serbian translation), but their territory isn't too far apart; Dragana Obradović, writing for Balkan Academic News, has captured the ambiguity far better than me.

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