Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Rudolf Vogel Medal for Richard Swartz

At its annual meeting on 13 February 2010 the Südosteuropa-Gesellschaft (Southeast Europe Association) awarded a Rudolf Vogel Medal to the Swedish journalist and writer Richard Swartz . This distinction, which is annually bestowed on a renowned journalist who writes about the Southeast of Europe, goes for the first time to a foreign author. Richard Swartz lives in Vienna and works for the Stockholm daily Svenska Dagbladet, the German Süddeutsche Zeitung and other international newspapers. He has published a number of critically acclaimed books about Southeastern Europe, many of them translated into German and some into English: Room Service. Reports from Eastern Europe translated from the Swedish by Linda Haverty Rugg, New Press, 1998 and A House in Istria, translated from the Swedish by Anna Paterson, New Directions, 2002. about Room Service:

Room Service offers detailed images of the people and places of Richard Swartz's adopted slice of Europe, and thoughtful reflection on his status as a privileged outsider. We meet Serbian poets and priests in the service of war, the bewitching wife of a Romanian bigot, a Czech factory manager turned hotel porter in the wake of 1968, Ceaucescu's masseuse, the king of all the gypsies, a cantor who is the last survivor of a Jewish community, and many others - famous, infamous, and anonymous - who take their places in a fascinating, moving, and sometimes cuttingly funny history of a region at the brink of enormous change. A rich, literary portrait of Eastern Europe in transition. about A House in Istria

In formerly communist Eastern Europe, there are many empty houses. Inhabited in turn by very different families -- Jews, fascists, communists -- the houses now stand empty, decaying, the objects of countless lawsuits.
Richard Swartz's quirky and marvelous first novel revolves around one such house and the Western European man obsessed with it. Narrated by his wife, the action takes place over just seven blazing hot days in Istria, formerly Yugoslavia. His obsession drags his poor wife, a native of Istria, into long burlesque conversations with lawyers and owners; her out-of-control husband (who doesn't speak the language) involves them in surreal scenes with nearly insane characters. Since everything the husband knows (and everything the reader knows) must be channeled through the wife, we enter a world in which nothing is directly intelligible and everything is skewed. The unusual, antic, hilarious style calls Capek, Gogol, and Kafka all to mind.

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