A book from every country – Slovenia

I realise we are not, and probably now never will be (at least not on this trip), in Slovenia, but I had the book, so I was jolly well going to read it.

It’s the next best thing to being there, right? I’ll get a real sense of Slovenia culture and identity, right?

Erm, wrong.

I didn’t so much choose a Slovenian book as have it chosen for me… I started with this list of Slovenian authors whose works have been translated into English. Guess how many of them Google had available? Yup. None.

So I outsourced the problem to my mother, who was coming to join us in Vienna and just asked her to get me any Slovenian novel she could find. Harder than you might hink, given that Slovenia is a pretty small country and has a publishing industry to match. Approximately 500 novels are published in Slovenia a year and I would suspect that relatively few of them make it into English.

Anyway, I got this one: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Evald Flisar, translated by the author and David Limon (so you’ve got to hope the translation was pretty much as the author wanted!)

It is, according to the blurb, the biggest selling Slovenian book ever. Only about two million people speak Slovenian as a first language and this book has sold over 65,000 copies. That equates to about one in every thirty Slovenian speakers who have bought a copy.

What better introduction to Slovenian culture could there be?

Only it was not at all what I was expecting. It’s set in the Himalayas for a start. I think Slovenia gets mentioned about twice. It’s the journey of a well-educated (bilingual with English) Slovenian young (ish) man on a search for enlightenment and features his musings and experiences along the way as he follows his guru up and down montains and through hill top villages and spends time in a Tantric monastery.

If it is, as I suppose it must be, given how many copies it sold, a good indication of Slovenian thought and culture, I’m expecting them all to do a lot of meditation and have an interest in Buddhism and mysticism.

I don’t think they do. But I may be wrong. Interestingly the epigraph in my current (Norwegian) book, is also by a Slovenian philosopher.

I’m being rude about the book though; which isn’t fair. For all of the mystic mumbo jumbo (and yes that is deliberately rude and there is quite a lot of that), there were many sentences that brought me up short with what felt like their apposite correctness. I rather wanted a pencil so I could underline them and come back to them.

At this historical moment in particular, what I took as the book’s central message – although it’s the sort of book that I suspect different readers would see different things in – seemed one that I need to remember: we can only be who we are now and where we are now. We cannot change the past and we cannot be in the future until we actually are there (by which time it is no longer the future). There is no point in raging against or trying to change now, you can only be in it.

We are supposed to be arriving in Paris in the next half an hour or so. We had first class tickets on the train leaving Grenoble earlier today. The car should have still been here in the village, ready to be driven back to the UK by my in-laws. We should have got rid of all our extraneous stuff and be down only to what we can carry. The adventure really should have started today.

But it hasn’t. And I am here. And now. I cannot change that. I can only live in this moment.

I’d probaby have reached that conclusion without the book, and I will undoubtedly have many, many, moments where I forget it, but I am trying to hold on to it.

Maybe this was the book I needed to read. Slovenian or not.

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4 Comments

  1. And we should have been saying a proud, if slightly anxious, farewell to you all, and climbing into your car for a high-rise drive home. Instead of which we do our daily walk round the gardens, meeting (at a safe distance) other grey-haired couples holding on to each other as they take brief exercise, some wishing that they still had a dog so that they would be allowed more than one outing per day. Just to cheer you up, I was thinking of two quotes from Burns: ‘the best laid plans o’ mice and men gang aft a’gley’ and ‘and forward, tho’ we canna see, we doubt and fear’. No! Let’s do Gloria Gaynor instead!

  2. From the hippy American poet Mary Pierce: ‘Sometimes I need only to stand where I am to be amazed.’

    • Correction – the hippy American poet Mary Oliver! I got her confused with Marge Piercy, also an American poet, though less of a hippy, and both of them confused with Mary Pierce, who is of course a tennis player, and not, as far as I know, a poet at all.

      • Ooh. I’ve heard of Mary Oliver! In fact (you’ll probably judge me for this) I have “I worried” printed out in my wallet. Another good one for the times I feel. I like Mary Pierce too. Although I admire different skills in her….

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