Serbian Evening of Literature and Music

The first in a series of events at the EBRD: Window on the Balkans

Window on the Balkans: An Evening of Serbian Literature and Music
February 22, 2014

by Tijana Delić BRITIC British Serb Magazine

The evening began with a brief introduction from the new Serbian Ambassador, H.E. Dr Ognjen Pribicevic and this was followed by the event itself. The event was a mix of literature, music and discussion chaired by Ms. Milica Delevic, Deputy Secretary General of the EBRD.

The event began with a performance of ‘Sto se bore misli moje’ (‘My Thoughts are Restless’ by the nineteenth century composer Kornilije Stankovic) played by Kim Burton on the accordion. Kim Burton is an accomplished accordion player and has written on South Eastern European music for The Rough Guide to World Music a standard reference work that you can reliably consult for any musical information you may need whether you’re a professional in the music world or an enthusiastic amateur.

This wonderful musical opening was followed by acclaimed writer Jelena Lengold reading from her superb body of work. Jelena Lengold has written both poetry and prose in Serbian, but her work has been translated into both English and Italian. Her book Fairground Magician won the European Union Prize for Literature in 2011. She first read us her poem ‘Passion’ in English and then in Serbian, as there were a fair number of Serbian speakers in the audience. It is rare treat to be able to hear the poem in translation as well the original language at one event and even more delightful to have it read to you by the author herself. She followed this with the opening of her story ‘Love Me Tender’ (inspired by the famous Elvis Presley song of the same name) from her book. She tantalised and teased us with this excerpt leaving me hungry to find out the end and I’m sure that many other audience members felt as I did. I can’t wait to get my hands on the book!

This first literary delight, gave way to more delights from Kim Burton. This time we heard, ‘Imam jednu zelju’ (‘I Have One Wish’ a very popular Serbian song that has been covered by many artists).  This performance definitely left the audience wishing for more.

Following Kim, was Vesna Goldsworthy. Vesna is a professor of English Literature (at the University of Kingston), a historian, novelist and poet; a true Renaissance woman. She has written in both Serbian and English and her works have been translated into many languages. Of course it will come as no surprise that Vesna is also an accomplished translator of literature herself. Vesna read to us her poem ‘Rebecca’ a work dedicated to Rebecca West. West was an author, travel writer, journalist and literary critic who travelled to Yugoslavia a few times. On one of these trips she went to Macedonia with Stanislav Vinaver, a Serbian man of letters and this poem is dedicated to this trip.

Vesna Goldsworthy followed her poem with two extracts from her memoir Chernobyl Strawberries. Both The Times newspaper and BBC Radio 4 have serialized this book and I have no doubt those readers and listeners eagerly awaited each and every installment having listened to Vesna reading to us this evening. She made us laugh and smile with her witty and sparkling prose.

With spirits now high we were further uplifted by Kim Burton expertly playing a lively kolo that had us all tapping our feet with many of us itching to dance!

All these readings and the wonderful music were concluded with an interesting discussion with a question and answer session. This incredible evening would not have been possible without publisher Susan Curtis-Kojakovic (founder of Istros Books) who has brought these writers to our attention.