Meet the Translator: Michael Biggins presents Newcomers by Lojze Kovačič
Time & Location
About the Event
Newcomers, the first volume of this three-part autobiographical series begins in 1938 with the expulsion of the Kovačič family from their home in Switzerland, eventually leading to their settlement in the father’s home country of Slovenia. Before leaving their home, the ten-year-old son of the family imagines his father’s country as one of beauty and fairytales, but as they make their way to the land of their exile, the family realizes that any efforts to make this place a home will be in vain. Confronted by misery, hunger, and hostility, the young boy refuses to learn Slovenian and falls silent, his surroundings becoming a social, cultural, and mental abyss.
In this second part of the famous Slovenian writer’s autobiographical novel, the narrator details the dangers and humiliations of his boyhood living in occupied Slovenia in the Second World War. The second part of Lojze Kovačič’s autobiographical novel, considered by some to be the most important Slovenian novel of the 20th century, describes his half-German family’s life in Ljubljana during the Second World War. The young protagonist Bubi is a perpetual outsider – exiled from Switzerland in 1938, his family returns home to Ljubljana, where their half-German background makes them stick out in local society. Reeling from the loss of his home in Switzerland, and surrounded by a language he can’t quite master, Bubi confronts the challenges and humiliations of growing up in a strange environment. Narrated with uncanny naïveté, the novel flits between memories of tenderness and shocking violence as Bubi navigates friendship, family, and his burgeoning sexuality in a land under hostile occupation.
Narrated by the boy with uncanny naiveté, the novel follows his family’s journey in a fragmented mosaic of memories. Some are innocent and tender, while others are miserable and ruthless, resulting in a profound and heart-wrenching description of a period torn apart by conflict, reflected in the author’s powerful and innovative command of language.
About Michael Biggins
Michael Biggins is responsible as translator for a number of the classics of twentieth-century Slovenian iiterature published in English, including Slovenia’s internationally best-selling novel of all time, Vladimir Bartol’s Alamut (Scala House 2004, reissued by North Atlantic 2007), Triestine Slovenian author Boris Pahor’s memoir of survival in Nazi concentration camps titled Necropolis, (Harcourt 1995, reissued by Dalkey Archive in 2010), the three-volume auto-fictional novel Newcomers by Lojze Kovačič (Archipelago 2016-2024), Drago Jančar’s epic tale of plague, religious persecution and survival in late medieval Europe The Galley Slave, (Dalkey Archive 2011), The Errors of Young Tjaž by Austrian Carinthian Slovene novelist Florjan Lipuš (Dalkey Archive 2013), several collections of poetry by Tomaž Šalamun, and most recently The Masochist, a novel set in fin de siècle Vienna and Central Europe by Katja Perat (Istros 2020). In 2021 he became the first non-Slovenian recipient of the Primož Trubar Award for lifelong contributions to advancing and preserving Slovenia’s written cultural heritage.
President of the international Society for Slovene Studies since 2017, and Honorary Consul of Slovenia for Washington State since 2018, he lives in Seattle and teaches Slovenian language and literature, as well as Slavic to English literary translation at the University of Washington, where his primary employment is as curator of the university library’s nationally significant collection of over a half million volumes in more than twenty languages across the spectrum of Slavic and East European studies.
About Lojze Kovačič
Lojze Kovačič was born in Basel in 1928 to a German mother and Slovenian father. In 1938 the family was exiled to Slovenia, where Kovačič lived until his death in 2004. Considered to be one of Slovenia’s most significant authors of the 20th century, his works often relate to his own life and are constantly concerned with existential topics like life and death, displacement and exile, dream and reality. He has been compared to great Central European writers such as Danilo Kis, Sandor Marai, Imre Kertész and Ismail Kadaré. His work, which has now been rediscovered in several countries, consists of ten novels, novellas, essays and children’s books.
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