Montenegro

Gospa od Škrpjela (Our Lady of the Rocks)

Having just returned from a holiday in Montenegro, I thought that I would take the opportunity to talk briefly about Montenegrin literature. But first a quick word about Montenegro and our holiday there. The photo at left shows the Gospa od Škrpjela (Our Lady of the Rocks), visible from our bedroom window in Perast. The story goes that a fisherman found an icon on a rock there. He had no idea how it got there but clearly some divine intervention was involved. As a result, the locals decided to build a shrine to the Virgin Mary. It was only a small rock but, over a period of time, they brought rocks, stones, wrecked ships and whatever else they could find and built up the small island you can now see. On the rock is the shrine, a small church which contains a series of beautiful paintings by Tripo Kokolja.

Perast from museum balcony

We stayed part of the time in Perast, a beautiful little port town on the Bay of Kotor, which has now been developed for tourism but which used to be a major seafaring port, with a fleet of 100 ships and very active in warfare at sea, though they were raided by Barbary pirates when the fleet was out and the women and children left behind were taken into slavery. The museum from whose balcony the pictured at left was taken has a lot about Perast’s seafaring past.

Budva from on high

We also visited Budva (see left), Kotor, Herceg-Novi, Sveti Stefan, the old capital of Cetinje and Kolašin and the splendid national park Biogradska Gora, one of the oldest in Europe and very unspoilt. A lovely holiday and one I would recommend with one proviso, the drivers who are dangerous and think nothing of overtaking at 70 mph on hairpin bends. Most people I have mentioned Montenegro to have only a limited idea as to where it is (despite it twice drawing with England in the European Nations Cup qualifiers). Nevertheless, it has a long and distinguished history and was the only part of that region to resist the Ottomans, who eventually gave up trying to conquer Montenegro. (Tennyson even wrote a poem about it.) I discovered it by reading the essential Vanished Kingdoms of Europe by Norman Davies, where there is a chapter on the Kingdom of the Black Mountain, i.e. Montenegro between 1910 and 1918. (This book, by the way, is without a doubt my favourite book of the last year or so and everyone should read it. Even if you are professional historian, you will learn a lot.)

But I wanted to talk about the Montenegrin novel. I only have only one Montenegrin novel on my website, a book that is sadly out of print. Indeed, to buy it in English will cost you £121.23 from Amazon UK, $177.78 from Amazon US and $149.99 from abebooks. It is in print in Spanish and, though out of print in French, readily available at not too great a price and available for €19 on Amazon Germany. Sorry for my usual rant about availability of books translated into English. Though he has written several other books, this is the only one translated into English though, of course, several others are available in French and one other in German. Ho hum.

If you are not aware of the very wonderful Istros Books, you should be. They are publishing new works by Eastern European authors, including two Montenegrin authors – Andrej Nikolaidis and Ognjen Spahić. I shall certainly get round to Nikolaidis’ The Coming and Spahić’s Hansen’s Children sometime soon. You can read an except from a Nikolaidis novel in English here and a Spahić story in English here. There are other new Montenegrin novelists. The Economist mentions three – Nikolaidis, Spahić and Balša Brković. Neither he nor his father, also a writer, have been published in English but one of his father’s novels (see photo above) has been translated into German and I will get to it eventually. Jevrem Brković was a strong supporter of Montenegrin independence from Serbia. The Economist does mention one other writer – Igor Luksic, whose day job is Prime Minister of Montenegro. His literary work has not been published in English but you can read his blog in English though it is about politics, not literature. I would be interested in reading Dragana Kršenković Brković. She is primarily a playwright (see examples in English here and here) but has written a novel (link in Montenegrin) called Izgubljeni pečat which means The Lost Seal.

Milovan Djilas

There are some other older Montenegrin writers who were, of course, known as Yugoslavian writers but who are from Montenegro. Milovan Đilas (mainly known as Milovan Djilas in the West) is probably Montenegro’s best-known writer and many of his books were translated into English. However, nearly all of these were non-fiction, often criticising his former Communist comrades. He did write several novels but only one, translated as Under the Colours, has been translated into English. It is a historical novel about Montenegro’s struggle for freedom. Mirko Kovač is another writer who has not been translated into English but has been translated into Dutch, French, German, Italian, Swedish and most of the Slavonic languages. Miodrag Bulatović has been translated into English and I have copies of all three. Though all out of print they are not too difficult to obtain.

Borislav Pekić was a totally original novelist. Four of his novels have been translated into English, though only two are still in print. Sadly, his most interesting work has not. His seven-volume Zlatno runo (it means Golden Fleece) has not been translated into English. The first three volumes have been translated into French but the last one appeared in 2004 and, despite the promise of the fourth, it has yet to appear. I am still hoping that it (and the remaining three) will appear. Mihailo Lalić‘s Lelejska gora has been translated as The Wailing Mountain, though it is long since out of print. If you read Montenegrin, you can read it online. It may be a small country but it still has made its contribution to world literature.

12 Replies to “Montenegro”

  1. What a wonderfully thourough and interesting post. I was aware of Milovan Đilas, but Mirko Kovač had completely slipped my radar. And – even better – a novel of his called “Malvinas levnadshistoria” (“The life of Malvina”) is available at my local library.

    I hope you enjoyed your holiday (and given those gorgeous photos, I’m sure you did). It’s definitely somewhere I’d love to travel in the future! 🙂

    1. Tack så mycket! I can certainly recommend Montenegro if you beware of the drivers. I was not aware of Mirko Kovač’s Malvina : životopis Malvine Trifković which is, of course, available in French, Dutch, Italian and Swedish but not English.

  2. I’m glad that you find so many great authors from Montenegro, and that you enjoyed the country. Apart from Pekic and Djilas, probably the most famous writer that’s considered Montenegrin is Danilo Kis. His father was Hungarian Jew from Vojvodina province of Serbia, and his mother was Montenegrin. He spent part of his life in Cetinje living with his maternal uncle, and, according to his wife, always privately considered himself Montenegrin (although it is legitimate to consider him a Serbian writer as well since he lived in Belgrade for more then two decades and wrote mostly in Serbian variation of the language). Also, Camil Sijaric is very good novelist, and some of his works are avaliable in mostly Eastern European languages.

    1. Thanks very much for your comments. I had always considered Kiš, as Serbian as he was born in what is now Serbia but was not aware that his mother was Montenegrin nor that he considered himself Montenegrin. Several of his books have been translated into English and I read a couple of them many years ago and intend to reread and review them. I had never heard of Ćamil Sijarić but I see that Kuću kućom čine lastavice, Raška zemlja Rascija and Bihorci have all been translated into German (nothing in English, of course) so I will certainly read one or two of them. Many thanks for the suggestions.

      1. You’re welcome. There’s always an issue between ex-yu republics to which one of them which writer belongs, it’s always the best to consider them both, like in cases of Kis, Pekic, Selimovic, Andric, Dizdar, Desnica, Kulenovic… (or, like Mirko Kovac, who is ethnic Montegrin, considers himself Montenegrin, but was born in Herzegovina, write in many novels about Herzegovina, wrote in Serbian, lived in Belgrade, then moved to Croatia, writes in Croatian now…).
        Sijaric is interesting since he is Montenegrin Muslim, dealt with distinct subjects about the life of Muslims of Northern Montenegro, Bihorci is his most famous work. There are other important Muslim Montenegrin writers, one is Husein Basic (1938-2007) who hasn’t been translated yet I think, but the other one is Zuvdija Hodzic whose most important work (considered the most imporant novel of Montenegrin literature of the 1990’s) has just been published in Italy, “La stella di Davide” and there are translation in some Slavic languages and in Albanian. Another Montenegrin novelist worth mentioning is Cedo Vukovic, but I doubt he is translated in western languages.

        1. Thanks for all the tips. As you say Husein Basic and Cedo Vukovic do not seem to have been translated into any Western European languages. I shall look forward to La stella di Davide, which is published in Italian next month, by Besa, a publisher I had not come across before. I take your point about the nationality of writers from the former Yugoslavia but it is not limited to them. I have a brief page on the issue on my site (http://www.themodernnovel.com/main/nation.htm). As I say there, “I have decided to put writers into the nationality I feel they were most associated with” so I would probably put (or have put) Kiš as Serbian, Pekić and Kovać as Montenegrin, Selimović, Kulenović and Andrić as Bosnian. Dizdar is a poet so won’t appear on my website. I would love to read Desnica’s Proljeća Ivana Galeba but it has only been partially translated into English. It has been translated into Italian but I have been unable to find a copy. I would hate to have to determine his nationality. Thanks again.

          1. Yes, it’s just like you wrote in your text, it is sometimes very complicated to determine someone’s nationality, although in ex-Yu it gets much more sensitive then about e.g. Canetti or Nabokov.
            You would probably list them right that way, although it depends on, as you said, someone’s particular feeling that this or that writer belongs to this or that literature. For example, Pekic was ethnic Montenegrin, born in Podgorica, but spent almost all his life in Belgrade and London, wrote in Serbian, considered himself Serb. Selimovic wrote a public letter in which he asked to be considered Serbian writer, lived in Belgrade, married a Serbian woman, same with Kulenovic, and Andric was ethnic Croat, from Bosnia, writing almost exclusively about Bosnia, but lived most of his mature life in Belgrade, wrote in Serbian, considered himself a Serbian writer, and, by some, even a Serbian nationalist. Dizdar was Bosnian Muslim, but declared Croat, and Desnica (whose works, particularly Proljeca Ivana Galeba are wonderful prose) was a Serb, but from Croatia (like Nikola Tesla or Rade Serbedzija), writing in Croatian.
            Speaking about Yugoslav authors whose nationality is easier to trace, hope you had/would have a chance to read some of the works by Milos Crnjanski, Miroslav Krleza, Ranko Marinkovic, Svetislav Basara, Slobodan Novak, Vitomil Zupan, Radoslav Petkovic, Miljenko Jergovic, Aleksandar Tisma, Vladimir Bartol, Dzevad Karahasan, Lojze Kovacic, Bora Cosic, Boris Pahor, David Albahari, Dubravka Ugresic, Mirjana Novakovic, Jovan Pavlovski and Goran Petrovic.

          2. Thanks for all the suggestions. I am familiar with Crnjanski (called Tsernianski in the UK and France), Krleza (several books in English), Basara, Jergovic (I have his massive Dvori od oraha in German), Tisma, Bartol, Karahasan (in German only), Kovacic (in French only), Bora Cosic (and Dobrica Cosic), Pahor (German only), Albahari (recently available in English), Ugresic, Novakovic (French only) and Petrovic (French only). The others are new to me and I shall certainly check them out. Marinkovic’s Kiklop is available in English, as are Novak’s Mirisi, zlato i tamja,and Zupan’s Menuet za kitaro. Jovan Pavlovski’s Makedonija včera i denes has been translated into English, French and German but not his fiction. Radoslav Petkovic’s work seems to be readily available in French (but not English). It is sad that so little is available in English. Once again many thanks for all your wonderful suggestions.

  3. You’re most welcome. Thank you for your wonderful site!
    p.s. Geopoetika publishing house from Belgrade publishes Serbian novels and stories in English translation, they published Radoslav Petkovic’s main novel “Destiny, Annotated”
    http://www.geopoetika.com/book.php?id=2372
    Mirjana Novakovic’s ” Fear and Servant”, Vladimir Tasic’s “Farewell Gift”, etc.
    And Kiklop by Marinkovic is realy an important work, recently selected as the best Croatian novel ever, Mirisi, zlato i tamjan came 2nd
    http://www.jutarnji.hr/izbor-najboljeg-hrvatskog-romana–a-pobjednik-je—-kiklop-ranka-marinkovica/913483/

    1. Thanks for the link to Geopoetika though most of their books in English seem difficult to get hold of in the UK. I do have Kiklop and have ordered Mirisi, zlato i tamjan, so shall look forward to reading them. Thanks again for your wonderful suggestions.

  4. Just returned form Bar in the south. Very interesting country. I have been posting some nano-thoughts on my blog http://www.shortstaycarpark.wordpress.com.
    I am interested in reading a novel which would give me a good flavour of the country and its history but they all seem to be out of print.
    Any other suggestions? I read only in English.
    Thanks

    1. There isn’t really one novel that meets your criteria but Borislav Pekic may well be the finest Montenegrin novelist. His How to Quiet a Vampire, The Houses of Belgrade and The Apology and the Last Days are in print in the UK (though Eason’s does not appear to have them in stock). His best book is only available in French – a mammoth seven volume work, with only three translated into French. Istros Books (http://istrosbooks.com/) specialises in fiction from the region and they have published Andrej Nikolaidis and Ognjen Spahić from Montenegro. Thanks for commenting and thanks for your interesting blog.

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