Describing a Shaken World Kindly
In the accompanying programme of Book World Prague, Friday evening was dedicated to a literary debate with two outstanding European authors - the Portuguese novelist António Lobo Antunes and Slovenian playwright, novelist and author of essays Drago Jančar. The debate, with its deliberately noir title "Writing the Shaking of the World", was held in the Gulliver airship at the DOX gallery and was moderated by the book fair's programme manager Guillaume Basset. The "shaking world" from the title stood for the reflection of history in contemporary literature - not just classical history (i.e. the past), but also the present, which will only become history in the future.
Both authors grew up and came of age against the backdrop of some truly dramatic historical events. Drago Jančar was born in a family of Yugoslavian guerrilla fighters against Slovenia's occupation during WWII. As a young man entering the literary milieu he adopted the attitude of opposing Tito's socialist leadership of Yugoslavia and bore witness, after the fall of the Yugoslavian regime in the 1990s, to the terrible Balkans war. António Lobo Antunes's childhood was in no way easier - he grew up under Portugal's dictatorial regime and spent the most sensitive period of maturing into a young man fighting a war in Angola in the early 1970s. Thus both authors have enjoyed more than their fair share of a shaking world. But despite that - or perhaps precisely because of that -, their take on history is on one hand unfalteringly categorical, while at the same time being understanding and generous. The ingrained humanism of both of them transformed the debate, which could well have ended in desperate defeatism, into an evening full of gentle personal reconciliation with history and a positive outlook. This is maybe the most important mission of any writer, who, unlike a journalist, is obliged to see the world in a more optimistic context, while not concealing any of history's horrors. On Friday evening our two authors managed to share this talent of theirs with the entire audience.