Templum’s anthology The World’s Ten Best Short Stories (2019) is a true breath of fresh air in the world of literature published in the Macedonian language. Such a book is a rarity in our publishing history – not only is this an anthology of the short story compiled by sincerely subjective criteria, but we also have the pleasure of reading a collection of essays written by contemporary Macedonian authors, essays dedicated to the stories featured in the book.
So what is the concept of this anthology? Ten contemporary Macedonian authors pick their favorite short story and then follow it up by an essay. The idea is the editor-in-chief’s, Nikola Gelevski, who himself is part of the project. This makes for an unstable product, risky too, in that there is a danger the book will offer a limited perspective of world literature in terms of gender, language, cultural or other types of identities. Gelevski, too, points this out in the foreword: “Whether we will at least try to capture this vast field containing centuries filled with hundreds of authors, thousands of stories and a multitude of languages depends on the personal choice of the authors in this anthology”. Gelevski indicates that he had first shared this idea with Liljana Dirjan (1953 – 2017), who had happily accepted the invitation to be a part of such an endeavor. Thus, Gelevski dedicates the anthology to her.
Due to its unusual concept, the pleasure thus book offers is twofold: first there is the discovery of finding which author chose which story, and then there is the discovery of why the authors chose that particular story. This is why this book reminded me of the well-known poetry anthologies Poems That Make Grown Men Cry: 100 Men On The Words That Move Them (Simon & Schuster, 2014) which includes poems chosen by Ken Loach, Stephen Fry, Keneth Branagh and John Le Carre, and Poems That Make Grown Women Cry (Simon & Schuster, 2017) which features Judy Dench, Elena Ferrante, Carol Ann Duffy and Yoko Ono. Following the same model as its Macedonian prose counterpart, the selectors also provide a brief explanation of their choice.
I, too, happily accepted the invitation to join this endeavor. I felt that the concept provided room for lighthearted questions such as – which story do you think is the best? Whose taste is most similar to yours? Mine, for instance, overlapped with Ivan Shopov’s. Kalina Maleska’s, too. Definitely Magdalena Horvat. And also Dimitrie Duracovski. There was also the question: which essay wins? I can’t decide between Magdalena Horvat and Olivera Kjorveziroska.
Apart from the joy of the discovery (the short story) and the explanation (the essay), this anthology offers the pleasure of the translated text. Keeping in mind that these are stories from all over the globe, it was expected that many of them – if not all – will have to be or have already been translated into Macedonian. This would allow certain insight into the culture and history of translation into Macedonian, as well as the pleasure of choosing one’s favorite translation. I am torn between Viktor Šikov and Magdalena Horvat.
This anthology features Liljana Dirjan with Akinari Ueda, Ivan Šopov with Nikolai Gogol, Kalina Maleska with Jack London, Dimitrie Duracovski with James Joyce, Vladimir Martinovski with Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Lidija Dimkovska with Marina Tsvetaeva, Nikola Gelevski with Jorge Luis Borges, Rumena Bužarovska (myself) with Flannery O’Connor, Olivera Kjorveziroska with Petre M. Andreevski and Magdalena Horvat with Lucia Berlin. The stories are lined up chronologically, by chance reflecting the development of this modern genre – with the exception of the Japanese short story from the end of the 18th century. The modern short story is a form characteristic as of the 19th century, so wrapping up this anthology with Lucia Berlin’s “A Manual for Cleaning Women” symbolically emphasizes the importance of this genre in the 21st century American literary tradition.
As someone featured in this anthology, I will dare uncover some details undetectable if you were to just pick up the book. The instructions given to us by Nikola Gelevski were quite open: we had no restrictions regarding length, language and time of publication, and although he knew exactly which stories we had chosen, he never tried to influence us in order to diversify the anthology’s content. Further, the editor didn’t give us concise instructions about the essay, apart from telling us it needed to be short – which is also subjective. He also gave us the option of translating the stories we chose ourselves – something Magdalena Horvat and I opted for.