Friday, March 31, 2006

Pekić's Writings in London

Following Pekić's immigration to London in 1971, the Yugoslav authorities still considered him persona non grata and for several years they prevented his books from being published in Yugoslavia. Finally, in 1975, Uspenje i sunovrat Ikara Gubelkijana (The Rise and Fall of Icarus Gubelkian) appeared. It was later translated into Polish in 1980, Hungarian in 1982, Czech in 1985 and French in 1992.

In 1977 he sent the manuscript of Kako upokojiti Vampira (How to Quiet a Vampire) to an anonymous literary competition. The Association of Yugoslav Publishers recognized it as the best novel of the year and promptly published it. It was subsequently translated into Czech in 1980, Polish in 1985, and Italian in 1992, with an English translation finally appearing in 2005. Based in part on Pekić’s own prison experiences, this novel offers an insight into the methods, logic and psychology of a modern totalitarian regime.

Odbrana i poslednji dani (The Defence and the Last Days, 1977) was published in Polish and Hungarian in 1982, Czech in 1983,French in 1989 and Swedish in 2003. These three novels essentially dealt with contrasting types of collaboration in Yugoslavia at different levels during World War II.

In 1978, after more than two decades of preparation, investigation and study, the first volume of Zlatno runo, I-VII (The Golden Fleece, 1978-1986) was published, fully establishing Pekić as one of the most important Serbian authors. In 1987 he received the highly prestigious "Njegoš" award for this work, marking it as one of the most important contemporary prose writings in Yugoslavia.

The Golden Fleece prompted comparison by international critics to James Joyce’s Ulysses and its narrative patterns of classical myths, to Thomas Mann’s Buddenbroks and its long family history and evolution of pre-war society, and to Aldous Huxley’s Point Counter Point and its inner tensions created through a maze of conflicting perspectives; yet The Golden Fleece was also hailed as unique. One of the novel’s obvious distinctions is its enormous scope and thematic complexity. The Golden Fleece describes the wanderings of generations of the Negovans, and through them explores the history of the Balkans.

The first, second and the third volumes were published in French in 2002, 2003, and 2005 with the remaining four volumes to be published annually, completing all seven volumes by the year 2009.

During the 1980s Pekić created something entirely new. He had been collecting material for a book about the lost island of Atlantis, with the intention to give “a new, although poetical, explanation of the roots, development, and the end of our civilization”. Despite the classical sources that inspired his anthropological interests, Pekić decided to project his new vision into the future and thus avoid the restrictions of the ‘historical models’, which he had inevitably had to confront in his earlier remakes of ancient myths.

The result was three novels: Besnilo (Rabies, 1983), Atlantida (Atlantis, 1988) and 1999 (in 1984). The novel Rabies together with The Golden Fleece and The Years the Locusts Have Devoured, were selected by readers as the best novels in the years from 1982-1991. All of them were reprinted numerous times in Yugoslavia. Rabies was published in Spanish in 1988, and Hungarian in 1994. For Atlantis Pekić won the Croatian “Goran” award in 1988. At the end of 1984 Pekić's twelve volume Selected Works appeared, winning him an award from the Union of Serbian Writers.

Godine koje su pojeli skakavci (The Years the Locusts Have Devoured, in three volumes) was published between 1987 and 1990. Two parts of the 1st volume were translated into English and published in literary magazines in London. These are Pekić’s memoirs with an account of the post-war days and the life and persecutions of the bourgeoisie under the communist rule. The account is not purely autobiographical in the classical sense, since Pekić also deals with life in general in Belgrade after the Second World War. He also depicts prison life as a unique civilization and the civilization of ‘freedom’ as a special kind of prison. This trilogy was selected as the best memoir and received the “Milos Crnjanski" award.

The gothic stories Novi Jerusalim (The New Jerusalem) were published in 1989, and Pekić accepted the “Majska Rukovanja” award in Montenegro in 1990 for his literary and cultural achievements. Two stories from the book were published in French and English in different anthologies. “Čovek koji je jeo smrt” (The Man who ate death) was published in France also as a separate book.

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