Saturday, April 29, 2017

‘Euro-lit’ sets sail in Filipino–thanks to Czech envoy

By  BusinessMirror

FOR the first time in our country’s long literary history, short stories by different European classical writers have been combined into one book in Filipino called Layag—thanks largely to the pioneering anthology spearheaded by Jaroslav Olša Jr., Czech ambassador to the Philippines.

In Photo: (From left) Danish Ambassador Jan Top Christensen, Polish Honorary Consul General Fernando Lising, Italian Ambassador Massimo Roscgino, Czech Ambassador Jaroslav Olša Jr., German Ambassador Gordon Kricke, Anvil Publishing General Manager Andrea Pasion-Flores, Hungarian Ambassador Jozsef Bencze, Austrian Chargé d’Affaires Gabriele Zobl-Kratschmann, Instituto Cervantes Director Carlos Madrid and European Union Ambassador Franz Jessen
The 200-page collection contains 14 stories and was launched at the ambassador’s Fort Bonifacio Global City residence, with several foreign envoys in attendance.
A virtual literary tour-de-force of Europe translated into Filipino, it features Nobel Prize awardees for literature laureates, such as Italian Luigi Pirandello, Polish Henryk Sienkiewicz and global all-time favorites: Austrian Stefan Zweig, French Guy de Maupassant, Czech Karel Čapek and German Erich Kastner, as well as some literary greats from Denmark, Hungary, Slovakia, Spain and Switzerland, whose works are yet to be read by our countrymen.
Among the guests at the book launch was General Manager Andrea Pasion-Flores of Anvil Publishing, which produced the book, in cooperation with the Manila cluster of the European Union National Institutes for Culture.
She said, “This book is especially meaningful, as it speaks to the Filipino, like a message of hope in a bottle that is dropped in the ocean to find its way to these shores. Layag sails forth unafraid.”
Layag, a word that literally, in Filipino—both in Tagalog and Visaya—means a sail in English: It is the fabric that propels travel on a boat, and layag, a verb that means ‘to sail’ or to cross waters; or in its more figurative form maglayag, to travel, to navigate, to set a voyage,” Pasion-Flores remarked.  

Book signing at Dia del Libro

Author becomes envoy
Olša said he started publishing “‘half-legal, half-illegal’ genre magazines before the Soviet Union fragmented. After that, I became a professional and began translating books before I joined the diplomatic service,” he confessed during a cocktail party to mark the event.
“Books were close to my mind all the time, since I was doing similar literary projects during [my stint in] Zimbabwe,” one of his first foreign postings, according to him, in 2000.
An author of books and articles on the history, culture and literature of Asia and Africa, he said he had done a similar project in South Korea. The envoy added he is discussing the possibility of other anthologies by Europeans in Bicolano, Ilocano, Hiligaynon and Waray.
“I embarked to promote both Czech and European literature in the Philippines; [to] establish and maintain the literary traffic also in a two-way manner,” he said.
The result is noticeable: famous Prague-based writer Franz Kafka’s work saw recent iterations in Filipino and Bikolano. Acclaimed pre-World War II Čapek’s drama R. U. R. Rossum’s Universal Robots was staged by Tanghalang Ateneo and was published by the Czech Embassy in Filipino.
Plans for Cebuano editions are being made in the near future, and soon, the selection of Čapek’s short stories will be published in two volumes in Bikolano.
Among upcoming titles is a compilation of Czech writing from the late 19th to early 21st centuries in Filipino, to be published by the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino, and a reciprocal anthology of 39 short stories to be written by contemporary Philippine writers, due for publishing in the Czech Republic by mid-2017, he said.
“I do anything connected to literature wherever I am posted,“ Olša explained.
He said that, after more than five centuries when the first Europeans set foot on Philippine soil, it is now the Filipinos’ turn to explore unfamiliar territory through Layag. And for those who are drawn to books, it is important to take note of the significance of this anthology, 500 years—half a millennia—since the publication of Doctrina Christiana, the first foreign book published in Tagalog, in 1593.
European Classics in Filipino—the very first anthology of short stories in our local language, with contributions from 11 European nations—has a story of its own: A longtime ambition of Olša, he said in the last decade, after the signing of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, Europe became even more an integrated economic and political bloc. However, it still remains as a whole continent, with a rich diversity of languages and cultures that keep attracting tourists and scholars from all over the world.
Published by Anvil, in cooperation with Eunic, a European network comprised of cultural institutes and embassies, the publication of the book was spearheaded by the ambassador.
A former translator, editor and publisher himself, Olša, who came to Manila in 2014, is persuaded that literature is a very effective tool of cultural promotion and means of being visible to the public.
“There are many tools for public diplomacy, such as films, music and the arts. But I believe literature is something that has a really long-lasting impact,” he said. “Therefore, I embarked to promote both Czech and European literature in the Philippines, and establish and maintain a two-way literary traffic.”
Furthermore, Olša wants the presence of Europe in Philippine literature to widen and deepen. The cooperation with Anvil will bring more anthologies of contemporary writers from around Europe.
Already, three other countries, namely, Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands, expressed their great interest for a similar project.
As Olša has been quite involved in every single book, from recommending some of the stories and persuading publishers to find outstanding authors to partake on literary projects, he is optimistic he would be able to persuade more countries to be involved.
He added: “It’s rewarding for everybody. Thanks to [these kinds of] projects, many Filipinos can learn about the diversity of the European countries in this way, which is much different from promotional brochures and leaflets,” Olša said. “It is a genuine means of generating interest, in a way that trade and investments cannot possibly do.” 
The next step could be in the form of more translations, ideally to other Filipino languages, which he seriously looks into.

“We already have some partners who might be interested to cooperate with us to bring European stories to other languages, such as kapampangan and waray. There is a lot more that could be done,” the amiable Ambassador announced with a promising smile.

With a report from Recto Mercene
Image Credits: Jimbo Albano

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