By Michael Biggins, Translator and UW Slavic Librarian
Archipelago Books, a New York-based non-profit publisher that in the ten years it has existed has made major contributions to the availability of great works of world literature in English translation, is now making its first venture in Slovene literature with the publication of Newcomers, a highly autographical novel by Lojze Kovačič (1928-2004) that was first published in Slovenia in the mid-1980s. A Bildungsroman that follows its protagonist’s maturation from young boy to young man over the course of the twentieth century’s most tumultuous decade – from 1938 to 1948 –each of the three volumes of Newcomers focuses on a progressively higher stage in the process of growth, from the young boy’s search for safety and his quest for power in Book One, to the adolescent’s discovery of sex and love in Book Two, and culminating in the young man’s emergence as a gifted creative artist in Book Three. The arc of this development takes place amid extreme material deprivation, inter-ethnic hostility, occupation by Axis powers, civil war and revolution, all of which marked life in the northwest corner of Yugoslavia at the time. As a fifty-five-year-old narrator looking back, Kovačič does a seamless job of channeling his boyhood, adolescent and young adult selves – all of them preternaturally observant – to produce one of the most perceptive and vibrant accounts of that time available in any literature. Newcomers is often referred to as the great twentieth-century Slovenian novel. Book One, which Archipelago just published this May, will be followed by Books Two and Three in English translation in 2018 and 2019.
Michael Biggins will speak on his translation of Lojze Kovačič’s Newcomers on July 20th at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC and on July 21st at the Community Bookstore in New York City (Park Slope, Brooklyn).