For the first time ever Vladimir Nazor’s tale of the legendary giant Jože and his struggle against his oppressors, centred around the Istrian hilltop town of Motovun, is available in English. I am very proud to have translated this extremely important piece of Croatian literature. I was helped by Andrea Gnjato who gave me linguistic advice with some of the dialectic structure of Nazor’s writing.
This edition has been translated and prepared according to the edition of the Collected Works of Vladimir Nazor book no. 12 – Istarski Bolovi (Istrian Pains) which was most probably published in 1930. It includes the translation of Nazor’s original foreword in which he explains the origins of the story and the development of the character of Jože the giant.
It is published by Naklada Kvarner (ISBN 978-953-7773-55-7).
Contact Naklada Kvarner direct to order a copy: naklada.kvarner(at)ri.t-com.hr
This is an interview conducted by Dario Sušanj for velikabritanija.net and published 09.09.2014.
Janko Polić Kamov, a Croatian writer and a poet, died at a very young age, but left behind a major work of Croatian modernist literature: the novel ‘Isušena kaljuža’ (‘The Dried Up Mire’). Literary critics often agree that his work was way ahead of the worldwide movements which were to follow in the years after his death, like surrealism and modernism, with writers such as Joyce, Kafka and Camus later leading the way, and they often label Kamov’s work as ‘revolutionary’. However, Kamov’s novel and much of his work has never been translated into English and an Englishman living in Croatia, Martin Mayhew, is now working on translating Kamov’s important novel. As Martin is doing this, he is also compiling a unique glossary of archaic and almost forgotten Croatian words and phrases which he hopes will be useful to any future translators who may embark on a difficult task of translating a work of Croatian modernist literature into English.
“They set off on a walk. Across the square passed a funeral, a long cortège of men, women and some kind of craftsmen’s guild. The music slowly followed the sad and boring step, under the gloomy sky, on the unbearable Sunday, which had closed the shops, cleaned the marketplace, brought people out for a walk or made them yawn at the windows of their houses. It was after noon. There were people at the side, who were looking blankly at the procession. The colourful robes, both genders, young and old, all with the same looks, which were neither of sadness nor curiosity, but of a kind of long, protracted and half-dead look, that notices nothing, but sees everything. The tolling of bells rang out like somebody’s voices breaking up then returning, sinking and re-merging like a castaway at sea. Arsen stared at the coffin. Behind it there cried one young woman, throwing her head wildly into a handkerchief and twitching her shoulders as though wanting to shake off some burden.”
– An excerpt from the yet unpublished translation of “The Dried Up Mire” by Janko Polić Kamov, as translated by Martin Mayhew
Martin Mayhew has
been living in Rijeka, Croatia, for about ten years; he first visited the
country in 2000 as a journalist, on a tour organised by the Croatian
Tourist Board, but in 2003 he moved from his hometown of Brighton to the
city of Rijeka, one of the main ports in the Northern Adriatic and a city known
for having a lively cultural and also alternative scene, not much unlike his
own Brighton. As his association with Rijeka grew stronger and stronger, it is
no wonder, of course, that Martin, as a lover of good literature, also quickly
found out about the works of Rijeka-born writer and poet Janko Polić Kamov who had been briefly active in the
early years of the 20th century. Martin decided to embark on a challenging
and difficult task – we could even call it a linguistic adventure – to
translate Kamov’s most important work, “The Dried Up Mire”, into English. This
has never been done before, probably owing mostly to the complexity of the task
and the fact that Kamov’s work is still not well known and recognised outside
the region – even though he is often compared to other modernists such as Joyce
Martin recently published a few excerpts from his yet unpublished translation on his blog, hoping, of course, to be able to find a publisher who would be interested into bringing this key work of Croatian modernist literature one step closer to the English-speaking audience across the world. This is why I caught up with Martin, asking him a few questions about the challenges he faced whilst working on this translation.
Martin, this is a rather predictable question to begin
with, but why Kamov? Except for the obvious Rijeka connection, how and why have
you decided to translate his works?
When I first came to Croatia in 2000 I
was given a copy of ‘Southerly Thoughts and Other Short Stories’ a collection
of stories by Croatian writers. Amongst the collection were two by Janko Polić
Kamov which grabbed my attention as being something extraordinary, gritty,
uncompromising. A couple of years later when I began working as a translator in
Rijeka I was approached to make an offer to translate his novel ‘Isušena
Kaljuža’ into English. Unfortunately that deal did not come to fruition and so
I decided to continue personally with the translation of Kamov’s work,
primarily of his short stories which along the way would allow me to continue
with the English version of his novel, the first chapter of which I had already
completed and shelved. For me the more I translate his work, the more I relate
to it, which is also something I think other readers experience and just
recently I have discovered that there are also other people working on the
translations of his works into two other languages.
Why do you feel that ‘The Dried Up Mire’ (‘Isušena
kaljuža’) is or could be relevant to the English-speaking audiences today?
So many people here in Rijeka tell me
that ‘Kaljuža’, and Kamov’s work in general, is very important for the history
of Croatian literature, because it is said that his work was way ahead of the
worldwide movements which were to follow after his death. Surrealism,
modernism, avant-garde, existentialism and revolutionary are some of the labels
which have been attached to his work. In his work he refers to the political
events which were happening in Croatia (at his time under Austro-Hungarian
rule), he was against the system and briefly spent time in prison for his
political beliefs. In this sense he could be seen as a champion for
independence or more clearly a champion against repression, hypocrisy, elitism
etc. in general. His work deals mostly with the human condition, internal
conflicts, heaven and hell, madness, the dark sides of life, society, sex,
alcohol, violence, death and religion. He was an early pavement writer. So, in
this way his relevance to the English-speaking audience is important in that
his work, when translated well into English, will shed light on the history and
literature of this part of the world, in a specific period of time but even
more so on a style which pre-dates the movements which were approaching on the
Would you compare Kamov’s work to any of his
contemporaries in the English-speaking world or, generally, in Europe? Kamov’s
life was cut very short by illness, and while ‘Kaljuža’ is his most important
work, who knows whether he might have even had a chance to be compared to the
likes of Joyce and others, had he just lived longer?
Firstly I must say that I am not
literary expert. My study of literature ended with secondary school Shakespeare
in England, but saying that I do like to read, and Kamov’s work, for me, is
exceptional and it certainly deserves to be translated well and published. In
that way literary scholars can come to their conclusions about it. Yes,
Croatian literary circles have compared Kamov to Joyce, Kafka and Camus and
have concluded that ‘Isušena kaljuža’ is in the top ten of Croatian writing, if
not number one. He himself was influenced by the writers of his time and makes
references to them in his work. It would seem that his work was ignored or
maybe even suppressed during his lifetime due to its content and possibly
because of other, more influential writers. He wrote the novel from 1906-1909
but it didn’t see the light of day until 1957, almost fifty years after his
death. If he had lived who knows what may have become of him.
I have followed your posts on Facebook as you worked
on this translation and it seems you stumbled upon many Croatian words
which have proven difficult, or at least challenging, to translate into English
or even properly explain using modern Croatian. How difficult was it really to
translate a modernist novel containing so many archaic words?
Janko Polić Kamov was born in Rijeka,
modern day Croatia but then part of the Austria-Hungary, on 17 November 1886,
and died at a very young age, being just 23, on 8 August 1910 in Barcelona,
Kamov’s work includes a vocabulary a lot
of which doesn’t seem to fit into what is today known as modern Croatian.
Slavic versions of words from French, German, Italian are mixed in with what
are now Serbian and Bosnian today which makes their translation into English a
real investigation. This together with the fact that he uses two verb tenses –
imperfect and aorist – which are virtually unused these days, and the
flashbacks and surrealism in the stories which seem unconnected and random,
plus the unusual syntactical structure of his sentences, means that translating
his work, for me, has almost become a process of interpretation. Every now and
then I will post a word on Facebook which I am struggling with and invite my
friends to offer a solution, sometimes causing heated, but mostly good
You are also compiling a glossary of terms as you
continue working on this translation. Do you feel this could be useful and
relevant to other translators who might eventually decide to translate other
works of literature from this period?
Yes, as I am translating his work I am compiling a
glossary of almost every word he uses in all of his works – it contains at
least three English equivalents of each word. In this way I don’t need to
remember every single word when it appears again as I translate. In compiling
this I have also compiled a dictionary of late 19th and
early 20th centuries
Serbo-Croatian to English from free online resources as well as a large
selection of Croatian dialectal words. In this way I’m trying to use the
English vocabulary from the same period as he wrote. In the end the final
glossary of possibly 50,000 words should be a unique collection, which could be
useful for the translation of similar period works.
Give us a top three words which you think even the
native Croatian readers today would have trouble understanding and let’s see
whether our readers have a problem with them! What are your English
translations for these?
Well as Croatian is not my native tongue is it not so
easy for me to say. Much of the time it is the context in which he uses the
words and expressions which take time to translate. Here are three such
examples in no particular order: none are a
woman’s breasts (origin is still unclear), budlaj –
werewolf (unknown origin), bilikum – a
special cup (German origin). Modern Croats would certainly have trouble
understanding these without a proper explanation.
Another point to be taken into
consideration is that over the decades various editions of his works have had
some slight amendments made by publishers and editors – they have changed some
spellings or even omitted words for whatever reasons, so I am trying to use the
originally published versions for my translation.
Would you like to see any other Croatian authors translated into English? Any that you plan to do yourself, should you be successful in finding a publisher for Kamov’s work?
There is enough of Kamov’s work to be translated and published as a complete anthology. This would be a great personal achievement. Of course if the cultural, literary or even academic entities in Croatia could provide funding for such a venture in order to push Croatian literature out further into the English speaking world, it would be a great step forward in the appreciation of all the literature from this part of the world. I am sure that there are many Croatian authors, past and present, who deserve to be translated. In fact today in Rijeka itself there are numerous young writers, many of whom are admirers of Kamov’s work.
Are you in contact with any publishers, in
Croatia or in the UK, who might be interested in publishing your
translation when it’s finished?
Yes, I have been communicating
sporadically with a couple of publishers in Croatia and the UK who have shown
interest, but due to the economic climate in Croatia being as it is, and the
fact that publishers outside the country have yet to fully appreciate Kamov’s
work, it is proving difficult to make an impression.
Thank you so much for your time and this interview, Martin. Should our readers wish to find out more about you, I suggest they have a look at your blog and, of course, if they feel that they can help you in finding a publisher and finishing your work, they are certainly free to get in touch!
This interview was conducted by Dario Sušanj for velikabritanija.net and published 09.09.2014.
Since this interview I have published my first book of my translations of Kamov’s works – a collection of 12 short stories – ‘Farces & Novellas‘ (May 2018) which is available at Amazon (paperback) and all other online ebook stores.
Gustav Mahler was amongst the many great composers, artists, celebrities, nobility and royalty who spent their holidays resting and finding inspiration on the Opatija Riviera. During one of his stays he composed his Symphony No. 4 and this was the basis of this unique exhibition put together by the Croatian Museum of Tourism. Director of the museum Gabrijela Krmpotić Kos researched and uncovered many details of his stay and they provide a superb insight into his compositions, reputation and life. The exhibition is part of the ongoing ‘Famous Guests in Opatija’ series.
This is another excellent exhibition which I was proud to be part of as the English translator. More information here.
On Winged Wheels to Opatija’s Riviera– 145th anniversary of the building of the Vienna – Opatija – Rijeka and the Budapest – Rijeka railway and 110th anniversary of Opatija’s tramway is an extensive and fascinating exhibition by the Croatian Museum of Tourism being held in Opatija’s famous Villa Angiolina until June 2019.
The arrival of the railway and the electric tramway meant the rapid development of tourism in Opatija and the whole region. The exhibition details every step of the construction, implementation and running of the whole system even including human stories of the workers, drivers and the local people involved.
This is another excellent project which I am glad to have been involved as the English translator, working on the exhibition texts and promotional materials.
You can find more info here. Plus a report by HRT TV here.
Another superb exhibition by the Croatian Museum of Tourism in Opatija which featured the stunning photographs of Karl Kaser. Until recently the Croatian public was unaware of the photographic archive of the Viennese lawyer Karl Kaser in which, thanks to his diligent descendants, there are over four hundred preserved photographic motifs of the Croatian Adriatic coast taken in the last decade of the 19th century and first decade of the 20th. On 208 pages the images offer a glimpse into a bygone era and feature almost every aspect of life on the Adriatic coast of over 100 years ago. With extensive text written by Mirjana Kos, it has been published as a three-language edition (Croatian, German and English).
I am very happy to have been involved in the English translation of this marvellous book.
You can find more info about the collection and exhibition here
The first ever monograph dedicated to the municipality of Kanfanar in Istria was published in September 2018. It is a superb trilingual (HR, IT, ENG) hardback book featuring the history, people, settlements and customs, the beautiful landscapes, agriculture and food, the industry and the attractions of this municipality which is celebrating 25 years since its establishment. The authors are Marko Jelenić, Ivana Maružin and Dragan Ogurlić (editor). The texts are accompanied by top quality photography and I am proud to have been involved in the translation of such an excellent edition.
‘Kako čitati prostorni plan’ is a new exhibition on Rijeka’s Korzo which explains the intricacies of spatial planing in Primorje-Gorski Kotar County. Written and produced by the Zavod za prostorno uređenje Primorsko-goranske županije it is a major effort to explain the importance of environmental planning to the general public of the county, which itself is celebrating 25 years of its foundation.
Over 10 boards of 20 panels, it explains the history, development, current status and importance of spatial planning in the county.
I am very honoured to have been in involved in the translation of such an important and interesting project about the county in which I live.
The exhibition on Rijeka’s Korzo runs until 12.10.2018 and all the online information in English is available here.
I am honoured to have been involved in the translation of this monograph of the famous Croatian artist Ivo Kalina (1925-1995). It is lavishly illustrated with his works of art from all periods of his life. The texts were written by Berislav Valušek, Ervin Dubrović and Milan Bešlić.
The monograph accompanies the retrospective exhibition of his work being shown in Volosko at Galerije Gal http://www.galerijagal.hr/
The 2016 edition – volume 9 of IKON – the annual journal of iconographic studies published by the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Rijeka. This is a high quality, beautifully illustrated, publication examining the religious iconography of paintings, murals and ecclesiastical art history. It was my pleasure to work with the editor, Marina Vicelja-Matijašić, again in the proofreading of the English translations in this issue.
It’s August, 36 degrees outside. I’m sitting in a darkened room in front of my computer translating a hundred, thousand, maybe a million pages – I don’t know how many. I’m the only person in the building. My cat spends more time outside than I do – he looks surprised from his lazy position on the wall if I step outside into the garden. No email, no chats, no ništa. All my clients have gone on their holidays, to the coast, to their relatives – I’m holding all their translation commitments, their project applications and editors’ demands in my darkened room. It’s a public holiday, you say? They mean nothing to me any more, nor weekends. I sense the people over the road having a barbeque. I only smell their grilled meat and cigarettes. I hear their loud swearing and crappy music, I’ve never had any idea who they are or what they look like. I’ll go to the beach later and I bet I’ll forget my bloody towel again like I did yesterday and take the bus home in my swimming trunks, soaking wet.