Posted by: koolwine | August 1, 2015

Return Trip: Macedonia

Back in April I posted “Freud’s Sister.” The book was written by a Macedonian but since it was set in Austria, I didn’t get a sense of the country at all. In the post, I noted that I couldn’t find any pieces of contemporary literature set in Macedonia. Not long after, I received an email from Christina E. Kramer, the translator of “Freud’s Sister”. She told me that her translations included the first two volumes of Luan Starova’s Balkan saga, in which the land that is now known as Macedonia figures prominently. She graciously mailed me a copy of each. They turned out to be exactly what I was hoping for – windows into Macedonia.

My Father’s Books 

by Luan Starova • Translated by Christina E. Kramer
Originally published in Macedonia as Tatkovite knigi, 1992
University of Wisconsin Press, 2012 • 197 pgs

my fathers books by luan starova
Summary:  The question “What is your nationality?” seems like a no-brainer. But what if your country has changed borders or names, or been politically dismantled? What if any or all of these changes happened several times during your lifetime? Luan Starova’s father experienced the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. He moved his family from place to place as the Balkan region splintered into countries with ever-shifting boundaries. The only constant in the senior Starova’s life was his personal library. He delved into it daily to make sense of the region’s unrelenting turmoil. In the brief but telling reminiscences that make up My Father’s Books, Luan Starova pays homage to his father, and shares the vital role that literature played in his family.

Genre: Memoir
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In those rare moments when, bent over his opened books, he considered his fate, seeking solutions to the Balkan history of his family, in those moments when he thought he was fully prepared to begin writing the history of the Balkans through the decline of three empires (Ottoman, Fascist, and Stalinist) with which the life of his family had collided, my father began to ask himself which was his fatherland: the fatherland of his ancestors or the fatherland of his descendants?

He was deeply convinced, and no one and nothing could dissuade him from this belief, that his library remained his ultimate fatherland. It was filled with books in various languages, in various scripts, from various eras. Here, too, was the great globe he rotated when he was unable to confirm his true homeland.


The Time of the Goats 

by Luan Starova • Translated by Christina E. Kramer
Originally published in Macedonia as Vremeto na kozite, 1993
University of Wisconsin Press, 2012 • 154 pgs

the time of the goats by luan starova
Summary:  In a complete style change from My Father’s Books, Starova straightforwardly tells a story from his youth in 1940s Yugoslavia (now Macedonia). Starova’s family and many others in the city of Skopje are starving, but they are about to fall into some luck. Local goatherds have been forced out of their mountain homes by the Communist government and sent into the city to work in factories. The officials didn’t dream that the goatherds would bring their flocks with them. The cheese and milk that the goats produce save the populace from starvation, but the central government demands a full-scale slaughter of the goats. Starova’s father and a charismatic goatherd named Changa attempt to save the animals from the lunacy of communism.

Genre: Memoir

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(On a scale of 1-5, with 1 book = turned off and 5 books = lit up)


It was not easy for my father to make sense of this time of the goats, to enter it and submit to it. He thought that the banal question—whether to ban goats in the first years of Communism—had become a true test, a first obstacle on which Communism had stumbled, and from that moment it began its collapse due to its powerlessness to engage for long with the reality of the way life was truly lived…

Unlike my father, Mother did not contemplate the weight of history theoretically. For my mother, history was us—her hungry children with no goats, and all the well-fed children in those families with goats.


  1. The Time of the Goats sounds fascinating! I’ve put it on my list to read for Macedonia.


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