Place: Sarajevo

Translation Tuesday: The Judgement of Richard Richter by Igor Štiks

An excerpt from acclaimed writer Igor Štiks' soon-to-be-published novel, in translation.

Igor Štiks is no stranger to Asymptote. As his April 2012 interview with us states, he was born in Bosnia, wrote his books in Croatia, and now divides his time between Edinburgh and Belgrade. The title character of Štiks’ soon-to-be-published novel, The Judgement of Richard Richter, is a Viennese writer and journalist who retreats from Paris and a painful divorce to his childhood home of Vienna just as he’s turning fifty, in 1992. In the midst of remodeling the apartment where he’d been raised by his aunt Ingrid, he stumbles on a letter written by his late mother, hidden in a blue notebook, tucked behind a bookcase in a wall he’d been demolishing.

From the unsent letter, he learns that his father was a man Richard had never heard of—someone called Jakob Schneider, a leftist Jewish antiwar activist from Sarajevo. Just then, in April of 1992, the war is breaking out in Bosnia. Moved by this unexpected information about his parentage and the mounting hostilities in Bosnia, Richter decides to go to Sarajevo to report from there as a war correspondent and, while he’s there, to search for more information about his father.

Once he arrives he is quickly caught up in the reality of the war and, at first, he sets aside his search for his father. Instead he finds a student, Ivor, to serve as his guide and translator, and he and Ivor decide to shoot a film about a play which is being rehearsed, amid the terrifying conditions of the siege, by a Sarajevo theater, based on a script adapted from the novel, Homo Faber, by Max Frisch. While working on the play he falls in love with Alma, the play’s leading actress. It is from this love affair and the outcome of the search for his father that he flees with such shame and horror, as described in the opening sentences of the excerpt, which we’re thrilled to present to you today in contributing editor Ellen Elias-Bursac’s excellent translation.

When the United Nations transport aircraft took off from Sarajevo on the morning of July 7, I was convinced that shame would strike me dead right there if I looked back once more at the city. I stayed in the seat I’d been assigned and fended off the desire to gaze one last time through the window at Sarajevo as I fled. I held my face in my hands, dropped my head to my knees, and didn’t even rise to lift a hand and wave to the besieged city I’d arrived in as a journalist in mid-May—only to desert it that day like a coward running from my own personal catastrophe, which had intertwined so strangely with the city’s calamity. Coward-like, I repeat, with no word of farewell. Or better, like a beggar in disguise, because there was nothing left of the old Richard Richter but, perhaps, the name on the accreditation ID that allowed him to board the aircraft as simply and painlessly as if hailing a cab to whisk him away from a war he had no tie to whatsoever.

And the tears that dripped onto the grimy iron deck of the aircraft, finding their way through his tightly squeezed fingers, might be perceived as nothing more than a perfectly reasonable human response to what he’d been through, a reaction to the stress that is invariably a part of the work of a journalist, a release of emotions now that the danger had finally passed, after our famous writer, valiant correspondent, and shrewd analyst of this tragic European war at the century’s end had chosen to withdraw. Perhaps to write a fat new book about his experiences and the bravery it took to be there, on the spot, before anybody else could, to open the eyes of Europe—as long as the honorarium was generous enough. No one knew that the man they took pains to extract from the plane that hot day in Split when the plane had landed was no longer the man listed on the ID attached to his shirt. No longer did he answer to that name.

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The Borders Project Reading: Atlanta’s Narrative Collective + Sarajevo Writers’ Workshop

The word “borders” could suggest both the presence and the absence of limits.

The Borders Project gave its first reading in Atlanta recently. A multi-genre literary collaboration between the Sarajevo Writers’ Workshop and Atlanta’s Narrative Collective, the project aims to examine all sorts of boundary lines—physical, temporal, emotional, relational, among others—and their implications. Eighteen writers and one translator came together to create work in two languages. In this essay, Stacy Mattingly, founder and co-founder of the two constituent collectives, follows the process to the Atlanta reading.

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The Warhorse coffee shop at Atlanta’s Goat Farm Arts Center is a long room with a garage door on one end and a wall of bookshelves on the other. Hanging from the ceiling in front of the books is a large screen. On it is the face of a friend of mine in Sarajevo. The background is a field of stars. Selma Asotić is a head floating in outer space, reciting her English poem “The Nation.”

“You are /everything which does not love me. / You are / the curse I hide under my tongue …”

Those present are fixated on the image. Some make references in jest to Star Wars. We take photos to post online for Selma and others. Danny Davis, the Goat Farm’s technical director, stands at a ladder positioned below a projector and tells us not to worry—that starry background will definitely be gone before our event.

I am just relieved all the videos from overseas are working.

My colleagues and I are doing a run-through of our reading for The Borders Project, a literary collaboration involving two writing groups—Narrative Collective in Atlanta, Georgia, and the Sarajevo Writers’ Workshop (SWW) in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I belong to both, having launched SWW in 2012 and co-founded Narrative Collective with poet L.S. McKee in 2014.

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Graphic Novel in Translation: Karim Zaimović’s “The Invisible Man from Sarajevo,” Part V

Part V in Asymptote blog's first-ever graphic novel in translation

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Graphic Novel in Translation: Karim Zaimović’s “The Invisible Man from Sarajevo,” Part IV

Part IV in Asymptote blog's first-ever graphic novel in translation

Click here for parts I, II, and III in this series. 

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Graphic Novel in Translation: Karim Zaimović’s “The Invisible Man from Sarajevo,” Part III

Part III in Asymptote blog's first-ever graphic novel in translation

Click here for Parts I and II in this series. 

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Graphic Novel in Translation: Karim Zaimović’s “The Invisible Man from Sarajevo,” Part II

Part II of Asymptote blog's first-ever graphic-novel-in-translation

For Part I in this series, click here

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Download part one, part two, and part three.

Karim Zaimović (1971-1995) was a comic strip artist and writer for the weekly magazine BH Dani in Sarajevo. During the war he hosted a radio show on Radio Wall, Sarajevo, called “Joseph and His Brothers.” At 24, he was killed in Sarajevo, in August 1995, only three months before the Dayton Peace Accords brought an end to the fighting. His stories and the transcripts of his radio shows were lovingly assembled in the book, The Secret of Raspberry Jam, by his friends and colleagues, and were produced for the stage in a play of the same name by theater director Selma Spahić.

Aleksandar Brezar was born in Sarajevo in 1984. He has worked as a journalist at Radio 202 and a translator on several documentary films and other film-related projects for PBS, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Al Jazeera English, among others. His translations have appeared in the Massachusetts Review, Brooklyn Rail, Asymptote, Peščanik, and Lupiga. His graphic novel adaptation of Karim Zaimović’s story “The Secret of Nikola Tesla,” illustrated by Enis Čišić, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2015.

Boris Stapić is a graphic designer and illustrator from Sarajevo. He studied in Zagreb, Croatia, at the School of Applied Arts and Design, and at the Academy of Fine Arts in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He has worked at several advertising agencies as a designer and creative director. Boris has co-founded the TripleClaim Game Collective, a video game, app, and new media studio. Of the adaptation, he says, “adapting the original text was a great challenge because Karim’s stories seem to arise from an external creative impulse. They are a melting pot of ideas, obsessions and anxieties of the entire twentieth century, and a playful and engaging literary game of motifs and intimate fascinations.