Literary roundup: Poetry during Auschwitz and Slovak, Czech and Hungarian novels

At Tablet there is an essay on Yiddish poet Simkha-Bunim Shayevitch, (also written as Simcha Bunem Shayevich) whose two poems were found “after the war among the heaps of rubble left in the empty ghetto of Lodz.” The essay was written by Yiddish author Chava Rosenfarb, who died last year, and makes the tragic story all the more moving for it being about her “mentor and friend.” A prose writer who switched to poetry once in the ghetto, one of whose surviving poems was a farewell to his five year-old daughter, his story is devastating and powerful.

History is full of lost literary works, and 20th century Jewish writers from Eastern Europe have an especially prominent place, with Bruno Schulz’s Messiah and Isaak Babel’s lost work being some of the best-known examples. From the description here the loss of Shayevitch’s epic poem of the Łódź Ghetto can be added to the list.

There are also some fragments of Shayevitch poems included in the Poetry in Hell project (Warsaw Ghetto Poems from the Ringelblum Archives).

Seven Days to the Funeral

At Two Lines you can now read the excerpt from Ján Rozner’s Seven Days to the Funeral translated by Julia Sherwood. Other content made available online includes a poem by Arseny Tarkovsky.

Interview with Petra Procházková

Sherwood also translated Czech journalist Petra Procházková’s debut novel Freshta. The novel’s publisher Stork Press has an interview with Procházková on its website in which the writer talks about setting a novel in Afghanistan, her experiences there as a journalist and humanitarian aid worker, as well as the western media tendency to generalize. She also refers to a special Afghan variety of corruption, where they will accept bribes but then do nothing in return.

The story of a Russian-Tajik woman with an Afghan husband has special resonance for Procházková, who is likewise married to an Afghan, providing her with a partially insider’s view that she discusses in the interview.

Hungarian books

Hungarian Literature Online (HLO) has presented a number of interesting looking novels lately. There is a review of Másik halál (Another Death) by Ferenc Barnás, a short excerpt from László Végel’s Memoirs of a Pimp and a review of Zsolt Láng’s novel of Hungarian life in Romania Beasts of the Earth, the third in the series Bestiarium Transylvaniae.

Albahari’s cheerful note

As was previously noted, Canadian-Jewish-Serbian writer David Albahari won the Vilenica Prize in Slovenia. In his acceptance speech he said postmodernist writers have to be as cunning as a fox because they have to “turn any situation to their advantage” (in their books I assume).

Even more entertaining though is a short Slovenian intro to an interview with the writer. It opens with the statement that Albahari “has come to realise that life is no paradise, as it seems at first, but [is] in fact a sequence of losses that leads us to our death.” If you want to read more you have to pay or be a subscriber, but I just can’t imagine this opening, ending in death, being a big sell to get new paying customers. Then again, don’t a lot of people want to know what comes after death?

Photo – Doctor taking care of a boy’s hand in the Łódź Ghetto

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