Europe through diverse eyes

In Photo: The cover of the book Layag. Czech Ambassador Jaroslav Olsa Jr., Anvil Publishing General Manager Andrea Pasion-Flores and Danish Ambassador Jan Top Christense

MORE than five centuries ago, the first Europeans set foot on Philippine soil after miles upon miles of sailing the world’s hitherto impassable oceans. Now, it’s the Filipinos who get to explore unfamiliar territory through Layag: European Classics in Filipino, the very first Filipino anthology of short stories. With contributions from 11 European nations, it has a story of its own—as the longtime ambition of Czech Ambassador Jaroslav Olsa Jr.

Over the last decade, after the signing of the Lisbon Treaty eight years ago, Europe became even more an integrated economic and political bloc. However, it still remains also a whole continent with a rich diversity of languages and cultures, and that’s what keeps attracting tourists and scholars from all around the world. A sample of the best of Europe’s literary culture was unveiled to the Philippine public in the anthology Layag, which contains 14 short stories by writers from 11 European countries. This literary tour of Europe, translated into Filipino, features Nobel Award for Literature laureates Italian Luigi Pirandello and Polish Henryk Sienkiewicz, and such global all-time favorites as Austrian Stefan Zweig, French Guy de Maupassant, Czech Karel Capek and German Erich Kästner. Moreover, yet unknown in the Philippines, masters of their national literatures from Denmark, Hungary, Slovakia, Spain and Switzerland are included.

It’s the very first time that such a selection of short stories by different European writers has been combined in one book in Filipino. This pioneering anthology, published by Anvil, in cooperation with Manila cluster of Eunic, a European network comprising of cultural institutes and embassies, was spearheaded by Olsa. A former translator, editor and publisher himself, Olsa, who came to Manila in 2014, believes literature is a very effective tool of cultural promotion and visibility to the public.

”There are many tools for public diplomacy, such as films, music and the arts. But I believe literature is something that has a really long-lasting impact,” he said. “Therefore, I embarked to promote both Czech and European literature in the Philippines, and establish and maintain the literary traffic in a two-way, too.”

The result is noticeable: famous Prague writer Franz Kafka saw recently editions of  The Metamorphosis in Filipino and Bikolano; acclaimed pre-World War II Karel Capek’s drama R. U. R. Rossum’s Universal Robots was staged by Tanghalang Ateneo and published by the Czech Embassy in Filipino. Plans for Cebuano editions are being made in the near future, and soon, the selection of  Capek’s short stories will be published in two volumes in Bikolano.

Among the upcoming titles are the anthology of Czech writing, from the late 19th to early 21st centuries in Filipino, to be published by Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino, and a reciprocal anthology of 39 short stories written by contemporary Philippine writers, due for publishing in the Czech Republic by mid-2017.

Furthermore, Olsa wants the presence of  Europe in Philippine literature to widen and deepen. The cooperation with Anvil Publishing will bring more anthologies of contemporary writers from around Europe, plus already three new countries that didn’t participate in Layag but nevertheless expressed their great interest, namely, Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands.

Thus, this and following books could be “like a message of  hope in a bottle that’s dropped in the ocean to find its way to these shores,” said Andrea Pasion-Flores, Anvil general manager.

As Olsa has been quite involved in every single book, from recommending some of the stories and persuading publishers to find outstanding authors to partake on literary projects, he is optimistic he would be able to persuade more countries to be involved. He added, “It’s rewarding for everybody. Thanks to such projects, many Filipinos can learn about the diversity of European countries, which is much different from promotional brochures and leaflets,” Olsa said.

“It’s a genuine means of generating interest in a way that trade and investment can’t possibly do.” The next step could be translations to other Filipino languages to which he’s seriously looking into. “We already have some partners who might be interested to cooperate with us to bring European stories to other languages, such as Pangasinan and Waray-Waray. There’s a lot that could be done,” the ambassador said with a promising smile on his face.