East European Prose in Translation

Spring 2017

Swarthmore College

Wednesdays 1:15-4:00
Kohlberg 114

Sibelan Forrester
Kohlberg 340
Office phone: 610-328-8162
Email: sforres1@swarthmore.edu
URL: http://www.swarthmore.edu/Humanities/sforres1/
Office hours:

...or by appointment

Course Information | Readings | Assignments | Other Sources | Syllabus

The course will focus on three primary areas: first, to introduce you to a variety of prose works by major twentieth-century writers from Eastern Europe, including some basic historical and cultural background of the region, literary movements, and techniques of analysis that can help to elucidate the literature’s meaning. Second, this is a Writing Intensive Course, and writing will be a central focus of our work, illuminating our discussions of the literature and the course assignments. Third, we will create a temporary intentional intellectual community on the basis of this work. This may seem obvious, but it's worth thinking about consciously.

Besides class meetings, each one (after the first) devoted to a particular author and book, you meet with me outside of class, plus at least once with another student from our class, to discuss your writing.

Goals of the Writing Course:

  1. to practice every stage of the writing process, especially revision, with comments and suggestions from other readers
  2. to learn to use reading, writing, and class discussion to support and critique one another's ideas
  3. to learn to give good, useful feedback to other writers (and to accept it ourselves)
  4. to discover how writing can multiply your knowledge as well as your understanding of a subject

Be sure to purchase all the books you need before the Bookstore returns unsold copies to publishers, several weeks into the semester. If you have questions about editions, let me know. If you can read any of them in the original language, I encourage you to do so. (If you don’t own the book in the original language, plan ahead to get it through Inter-Library Loan.)

If the cost of books is prohibitive, arrange to share with someone else in the class. Copies on reserve in McCabe are intended for use if you forgot your copy at home, or for people who are sharing copies to bring to class for discussion. I chose these editions with an eye to cost, but (unfortunately!) translated literature from Eastern Europe, besides a few famous Heavies, is simply on the expensive side. The United States is not the world’s best market for translated literature: it’s hard for unknown foreign authors to break into print, and works by less famous writers tend to go out of print quickly. This, besides the cost of books, has in part dictated the choice of readings.

By purchasing these books, even if it feels like a hardship now, you are voting with your dollars for more published translations of East European writing, and this is unquestionably a good thing. Not to mention how nice they look as you’re reading on the train — or standing on your bookshelf, some day when you’re in medical school.

A general note about spelling: as you’ll notice, several of the authors we are reading have diacritical marks in their names. Let me know if you need help finding the various Unicode alphabets that are now included in all word processors, and please be sure to use them in your printed work. I won’t count off if you miss one occasionally, but doing your best to include them is simple courtesy.

Accommodations Statement:

If you believe that you need accommodations for a disability, please contact Leslie Hempling in the Office of Student Disability Services, located in Parrish 130, or e-mail lhempli1 to set up an appointment to discuss your needs and the process for requesting accommodations. Leslie Hempling is responsible for reviewing and approving disability-related accommodation requests and, as appropriate, she will issue students with documented disabilities an Accommodation Authorization Letter. Since accommodations may require early planning and are not retroactive, please contact her as soon as possible. For details about the Student Disabilities Service and the accomodations process, visit http://www.swarthmore.edu/x7687.xml.

You are also welcome to contact me privately to discuss your academic needs. However, all disability-related accommodations must be arranged through Leslie Hempling in the Office Of Student Disability Services.


Course books


Every week, Reading notes or other kinds of posts on the course blog (30% of your grade, along with attendance and participation)

Aim for about 500 words of notes on the reading, questions, and responses to other comments and questions - 500 words or so per week. I hope there will be a nice mix of questions and comments posted before class and further discussion and reactions after class. If you prefer to send me comments and questions as e-mail or on paper, I’ll return them (with my own comments when applicable) the following week. This offers a chance to ask questions you might not want to bring up in class. All of these ways of addressing the readings give you a chance to float ideas that you might like to write about later in a low-pressure setting and get useful comments. This will be graded as +/- , folded into your overall grade for attendance and participation, mainly reflecting whether you wrote more or less that much every week, though if you are particularly thoughtful or active that always gets you points (tangible or intangible).

January 25, Short essay (5%), 2 pages

An informal two-page essay on what kinds of literature you enjoy, sorts of writing you like (to read or to write yourself), what you hope to learn about the topic of E European literature, and writing you would like to do in this class. Be lyrical and outrageous (or serious and brilliant). In essence: where are you starting from in your writing as class begins?

February 1, First paper (rough draft), 5-7 pages

A personal reading of Andrić or Singer, comparing their stories to stories you have heard from or about your own family, or motivating questions you now wish to ask (or wish you could ask) your family, or to investigate, on the basis of one (or both?) readings.

Although I’d like to see fluent and elegant writing and a well-organized approach in this paper, think of it as a chance to write in a less formal and more personal way about your reactions to Andrić or Singer. One or the other book should suggest ways to think about your own family or local history, so you can use the text as a point to jump into something beyond the text, writing from a base of knowledge and returning to the book for reference as you follow your thoughts. So, the paper is about how you (as a reader specifically located in time and space) are reading, your reactions, your equipment as a reader, and a chance to analyze your family history.

If this assignment makes you nervous, talk to me.

February 15, First paper, final draft (10%)

A personal reading or reaction to one of the works we are reading first, 5–7 pages. Please save your rough draft (with professsor's comments) to attach to the final copy or include as an additional attachment (give each document a suitable title) when you hand the paper in. Paper is fine, a document attached to e-mail is better, or some mix of the two.

March 15, Second paper (rough draft), 6-8 pages

A comparative reading of one book we’re reading in class combined with one work we will not read, chosen eiher from the examples in Michael Henry Heim’s list of suggested readings, from the other works listed on each author’s page, or else in consultation with the instructor. (If you would prefer, compare one of the works we’ve read or some other relevant EE work of literature with a movie version; choose this in consultation with the instructor.)

March 29, Second paper, final draft (10%), 6-8 pages

A comparative reading of one of the books we’re reading in class combined with one work we will not read. Please include any draft paper copies with comments, or attach the documents with comments tracked by "track changes."

April 12, Third paper (rough draft), 10-12 pages

A standard academic paper with footnotes, referring to the literature on one (or more) of our authors and/or to literary criticism or some other body of scholarly knowledge to support your reading of a work/works we have read in class. Choose your topic after consultation with the instructor. Bring two copies of your rough draft on November 14, or be prepared to send the document out twice: this time you’ll also read and critique each other’s papers, so you’ll meet to consult with the person who read your paper and with the person whose paper you read (it can be the same person in one longer meeting). Do not throw away the comments they give you!!! Instead, append that copy and the WA copy to the final version, since they (like you) will receive a grade on them.

April 12-21, Read/critique someone else's paper (5%)

Read and comment on the rough draft of someone else’s paper written for the class. If the paper really seems perfect, comment on the things you like about it. SAVE the comments you got from another person.

April 26, Third paper, final draft (15%), 10-12 pages

Do not throw away the comments you got from someone else!!! Instead, attach them to the final draft, or include those documents as attachments to e-mail to me.

May 3 (after the semester ends), Extra credit book review (5%)

If anyone wants extra credit: write a two-page artsy book review of one book we did not read for class, or of a film based on a work of EE literature; see the list of Michael Henry Heim's suggestions given here (or the lists of other works at the bottom of the web page about each author). The book you read/film you watched for the second paper would be a good choice here.

About writing assignments in general: I'm very happy to re-grade any writing (except the final exam) that you want to revise once you've seen your grade and my final comments. Keep in mind, though, that it makes more sense to keep up with work that is currently due than to keep reworking old projects.

Final exam (20%)

The final examination will be a self-scheduled, three-hour written take-home combining short answer questions with essay questions. Due to me on paper or as an e-mail attachment by 5 p.m. on May 11.

Other Useful Resources:

Anthologies, Essays and Scholarship on the Region, Its History, Culture, Etc.

Other wonderful works of EE Lit to consider:

I've already referred to Michael Henry Heim's list of recommended readings, but here it is one more time.


January 18: Introduction: the course, and the history and culture of Eastern Europe

January 25: Ivo Andrić, The Bridge on the Drina
Short essay #1 due (two pages)

February 1: Isaac Bashevis Singer, The Collected Stories: read through p. 249 ("Henne Fire"), though it's great if you want to read more and have time to
First paper, rough draft due

February 8: Jaan Kross, Professor Martens’ Departure
(meetings with your WA)

February 15: Ismail Kadare, The File on H.
First paper, final draft due (include first draft copies when you turn it in)

February 22: Miroslav Krleza, The Return of Philip Latinowicz

March 1: Danilo Kiš, Garden, Ashes

March 8: Fall Break!

March 15: Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Second paper, final draft due

March 22: Magda Szabo, The Door

March 29: Stanisław Lem, The Cyberiad
Third paper, rough draft due

April 5: Iva Pekárková, Gimme the Money

April 12: Milica Mićić Dimovska, The Cataract
Third paper, final draft due

April 19: Goce Smilevski, Freud's Sister

April 26: Dubravka Ugrešić, The Museum of Unconditional Surrender
(meetings with the WA and with each other)

May 3: Extra credit due, if you want to do it.

May 11: take-home final exam due to me by 5 p.m. (on paper in my office, or better as an e-mail attachment).