The Established Woman’s Voice in Macedonian Prose

Notes, May 06


Borka Avramova, Girl 1, 1966

    The first collection of stories “Execution” („Растрел“) by Jovan Boshkovski (Јован Бошковски) in Macedonian standard language was published in 1947. It is prose writing which “with its specific analytic approach and with the emphasis on the psychological nuances (...) precedes the narrative technique of (Blaze) Koneski” (Георгиевски, 1985: 8), the one from his story collection “Vineyard” („Лозје“) (1955). The statement of Miodrag Drugovac (Миодраг Друговац) is also in this context when he says that the significance of this collection “is not only of historically-literary character”, referring to the significance that this collection has as the first one published, because Boshkovski, as altruist and humanist, in his first stories “plunges not so much into contradictions of the time as into the soul of the heroes” (1990: 278).1

    However, the Macedonian authors who have marked with their writing passion the first half of the twentieth century, i.e. were writing in the years before this key year – 1947, were also creatively inclined towards the narrative technique! They mainly wrote in Bulgarian and in Serbian, but occasionally, depending on the objective conditions, they also published texts in Macedonian, i.e. more specifically, in some of the Macedonian dialects. In this period, the number of newspapers, magazines, calendars oriented towards the Macedonian national, social and literary issues was also large, although most frequently under a completely different conceptual or national cloak. Those writers-Macedonians who published something in their own language, often signed their texts under pseudonyms and initials, or even published them as folk aphorisms, such as in the case of Trajko Kitanchev’s (Трајко Китанчев) work “Marko Krale Loses his Strength” („Марко Крале си ја губи силата“) or the poem “The Lamentation for Mara” („Оплакувањето на Мара“) by Eftim Sprostranov (Ефтим Спространов). However, several names were distinguished in the writing of prose: Nikola Djerov (Никола Џеров) with his story collection “To the South” („На југ“) published in Bulgarian; Tomo Smiljanić-Bradina (Томо Смиљаниќ-Брадина), who launched the edition “Library Macedonia” („Библиотека Маћедонија“), within which he published the books “On the Mountain and other Stories from Macedonia” („На планини и друге приповетке из Македоније“) and “Stojna and other Stories from Macedonia” („Стојна и друге приповетке из Македоније“); Angelko Krstić (Ангелко Крстиќ) with the story collection “Stories” („Приповетке“) (as well as the novel “Trajan” („Трајан“)), all published in the then Serbo-Croatian language (the official language of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia). Other writers also write stories in this period: Anton Panov, Anton Popov, Ivan Tochko, Stale Popov, Kocho Racin (Антон Панов, Антон Попов, Иван Точко, Стале Попов, Кочо Рацин). In this context, we should mention the published collection of stories and sketches in Macedonian folk language “Lightshadows” („Светлосенки“) (Видин, 1942) by Nikola Kirov Majski (Никола Киров Мајски), which should be viewed as a predecessor of „Растрел“ from 1947 as the first story collection in Macedonian folk language.

    More than 70 years after those first published story collections, we stand facing the challenge of numerous modernizations of the implicit poetic and communication strategies of the Macedonian story writers. The road is long and thorny. From the “women writers who were not widely recognized and were not professionally engaged in writing” as exceptional representatives of the multi-vocal singing in the nineteenth century, through those so-called “rare beasts” in the predominantly male Macedonian literary canon and courageous writers who promote possibilities for writing about women’s experiences in the twentieth century, to the exceptional women-writers with established authorial voice in the twenty-first century. “The literariness of women (...) should be sought back to the investments of the folk singers and women-troubadours in the symbolic bowl called women’s writing, who, although they did not have the title literary masters, with their inspiration represent force that early opposed the concept of literary (male) mastery. (...) This history is necessary precisely in order to establish the female order, and through it – to establish their own voice and expression” (Котеска, 2003: 87). Jasna Koteska (Јасна Котеска) is the first one who successfully made the map of Macedonian women periodization through her doctoral thesis on Macedonian women’s writing defended in July 2002, which was published as a book the following year. Thus, after more than 15 years from that first mapping, we have the opportunity to see how/where the Macedonian women-story writers stand.

    Some time in 2007 a bright instance of discussion on this issue appeared in the Macedonian public, which, unfortunately, died out before it even developed into a debate. It all started from an interview with Elizabeta Sheleva (Елизабета Шелева) for the Croatian portal “Iskon”, in which she follows upon a statement by Dubravka Ugresic (Dubravka Ugrešić) that there is literature with capital L and, parallel with it, ghettoized  women’s literature.2 “In the lack of a strategic approach to such fundamental issues, in the dominant patriarchal mental disposition, women happen to be mentioned, but the approach to the media is not reciprocal and is not followed with such attention and adequate reaction as when men authors are concerned,” Elizabeta Sheleva says. Vesna Damchevska (Весна Дамчевска), in her text in the daily Vreme No 947 from 5 January 2007 emphasizes that the Macedonian women writers partly support the thesis that women’s literature in Macedonia and the Balkans is ghettoized. In this article, Olivera Kjorveziroska (Оливера Ќорвезироска) is also quoted saying that she completely agrees with Sheleva’s views, especially with the distinction between Literature with a capital letter (men’s literature) and the one with small letter – women’s literature. The raising of these issues stimulated me as well, and the following year, 2008, I published a text about “the pink ghetto in the sphere of the intellectual creation”, which later had a Croatian3, and also a Bulgarian version4. I wrote then:

    “The pink ghetto in Macedonian literature is a fact. Women who write, especially those who write prose, as well as drama, often remain unnoticed. When we say unnoticed, we refer, above all, to being unnoticed by criticism. Despite all its transformations, it has remained the primary promoter of literature, and as such it deals little with works written by women. Even when those women receive one of the well known recognitions, their contemporaries, or to be more precise, their male colleagues pay little attention to them. (...) It is a fact that other women writers or women critics write about women writers. Even then, they do it sporadically, rarely and briefly, and are read by only a few. Are the reasons for this situation due to the space of the literary work itself, i.e. are they due to our orthodoxy... male axis, in which all great-great-grandfathers, great-grandfathers, grandfathers, fathers and sons live simultaneously, as Goran Stefanovski (Горан Стефановски) says (Форум, 13 March 1999), so that in such a world there is neither space nor need for women’s rights, tolerance and democracy? But let us also be sufficiently self-critical. Perhaps 
the reasons are in ourselves, i.e. in the works by the women authors, i.e. in what is called anxiety (fear) of authorship, or as Bakovska (Баковска) concludes, inability for full creative expression of the writer, who due to complex and fears from authorities (or classical self-censure) of which she is often barely aware, does not manage to write works that according to its values and artistic strength would be equal to those written by her male colleagues.” (2008: 97)

    Let us, however, go back to the Macedonian short story and the Macedonian story writers.

    “The crucial difference between the poetic and the prose expression in Macedonia,” Koteska writes, “is in the significantly smaller number of women writers who decide to write prose, which can lead to the conclusion that the female voice in Macedonia is, above all, the lyrical, poetic voice (...)... in the prose corpus the greatest part is dedicated to short stories and novels for children. Even when they write prose for adults, the women writers most frequently call their short stories dreams, notes, phantasies...” (Котеска, 2003: 105-106). The first story collection by a woman “A Song of Fires” („Песна за огновите“) was published as late as 1966, whereas the first novel written by a woman entitled “Hot Earth” („Жешка земја“) was published in 1968. Both were written by Kata Misirkova-Rumenova, and they deal with the so-called Aegean theme (the theme of the children refugees and generally the refugees and the exiled from Aegean Macedonia / the north part of Greece), which in the 1960ies and the 1970ies was one of the dominant themes in the contemporary Macedonian literature. These works by Misirkova-Rumenova “largely follow the dominant literature models which, according to Showalter, characterize the appearance of women’s literature, which means,” as Jasna Koteska emphasizes, “that the metaphor female man is most typical for this oeuvre” (2003: 107). However, 1966 and 1968 are not the years when women’s writing was published for the first time. Thus, the book “Zoki Poki” („Зоки Поки“) by Olivera Nikolova (Оливера Николова) was published in1963, which is in fact a collection of short stories for children, and the following year, 1964, the first novel for children was published, “I Love My City” („Го љубам својот град“) by Kata Misirkova-Rumenova. But it was the second generation of women writers born in the 1940ies and 1950ies that established the female voice of Macedonian prose. “Unlike the first prose works, which are imitations, the second generation reveals the possibilities for writing about women’s experiences” (Котеска, 2003: 108, emphasis is mine) through the experiences offered by the story collections “Scarbo in My Yard” („Скарбо во мојот двор“) and “Water Sign” („Воден знак“) by Jadranka Vladova (Јадранка Владова), and “Another Time” („Друго време“) by Katica Kjulavkova (Катица Ќулавкова). The third generation, those born in the 1960ies and 1970ies, continue the narration in the style of Vladova, Koteska concludes (2003: 109).

    This article makes an overview of the poetics of Olivera Nikolova (1936) through “Velvet Cover” („Кадифената покривка“) (2015), Vera Chejkovska (Вера Чејковска) (1954) and her “Chejka and Chajka” („Чејка и чајка“) (2015), Olivera Kjorveziroska (1965) and her “Sewn Stories” („(Со)шиени раскази“) (2017), Kalina Maleska (Калина Малеска) (1975) and her story collection “Clever Pejo, My Enemy” („Мојот непријател Итар Пејо“) (2016) and Rumena Buzharovska (Румена Бужаровска) (1981) through “My Husband” („Мојот маж“) (2016), which confirms the women’s need to read themselves in the previous women’s voice through the permanent dialogue that these authors have with themselves, but also with the other prose writers, predecessors, contemporaries, even followers. In such a way, this article continues upon what Jasna Koteska had read/detected in Macedonian women’s writing. Thus, these five established women voices are reflected in:

    the Dafina (Дафина) (from the nineteenth century) who “Alone with her poetic gift ornamented (the songs) and as a true improviser, dressed the given thought in words,” as Kiril Penushliski (Кирил Пенушлиски) (quoted according to Котеска, 2003: 92) writes, or

    the Viktorija Popstefanija (Викторија Попстефанија) (“an equal” to Dafina in terms of the passion for singing and the time in which she sings) of whom we know from the statements of Dragi Stefanija, or

    Cvetanka Organdjieva (Цветанка Органџиева), active member of the literary company “Jovan Duchic” from Veles (1939), and author of several poems written and published in the 1940ies in the magazines “Nov den” („Нов ден“) and “Idnina” („Иднина“), as well as in the daily newspaper “Nova Makedonija” („Нова Македонија“), and who is also mentioned marginally by Drugovac in “History of Macedonian Literature XX Century” („Историјата на македонската книжевност XX век“) (1990: 241).

    “These are women writers who are not established and are not professionally involved in writing, although they are predecessors, they are not part of the systematic periodization of the professional women writers in Macedonian literature.” (Котеска, 2003: 92)

    However, Olivera Nikolova is closest to them mostly in terms of age and the long working life. Her collection of novelettes “Velvet Cover”, which received the highest award “Stale Popov” of the Writers’ Association of Macedonia (DPM) in 2016, confirms what Koteska writes of Vladova and Kjulavkova: “... it is not a matter of rejecting the male society and culture, but of attempting to absorb it without amputating it”. As a matter of fact, this book of Nikolova with “seducing force” opens the theme of subjectivization of the woman”, thus displaying, as Koteska writes of Vladova and Kjulavkova, “the potency of woman’s investment in language” (2003: 108). Thus, when Kjorveziroska writes of Nikolova that her narration is excellent, “it is simultaneously so old fashioned and so modern,” it is clear that she, as well as those after her, look up to Nikolova’s narration. Because she simply offers “pure narrative mastery”. “In it, the narrative techniques and strategies on micro-level (on the level of the sentence) and macro level (on the level of the novelette, the book) are so subtly repeated, and permanently determine her recognizable style in the contemporary Macedonian literature.” (Ќорвезироска, 2016: 124)

    And who would not want her story, the stories of Kjorveziroska, of Maleska, of Bužarovska to achieve such mastery, too? Yet, in this selected company of established narrators, perhaps the most differentiated one is the poet Vera Chejkovska, who has been evaluated as “radically anti-traditional in regard to the overall Macedonian poetry”, whose poetry has been called “quantum poetry”, “noesis-and-poesis”, “poetry of holograms”, “poetry of the riddle” (Георги Старделов), poetry that offers “new sensibility” (Милан Ѓурчинов, Матеја Матевски), verses that offer  “poetics of transformation” (Ката Ќулавкова)5... In 2015, two years after her last poetry collection “My Lightening” („Моите веди“) for which she received the “Brakja Miladinovci” award at the Struga Poetry Evenings, Chejkovska published a story collection “Chejka and Chajka” in the same publishing house “Ili-Ili” (Или-Или), which before that re-published the story collection “My Husband” by Rumena Bužarovska (second edition), and then, the following 2016 it published a third edition of this book, as well as the story collection “Clever Pejo, My Enemy” by Kalina Maleska, and in 2017 it published the latest story collection of Olivera Kjorveziroska, “Sewn Stories”. But her prose is at the right place as a bridge between the old fashioned-modern of Nikolova and the postmodern of the trio Kjorveziroska-Maleska-Buzharovska.

    The theme of murder in different variants is interwoven through the six novelettes by Nikolova. “Six pseudo-biographical, psychological-fictional portraits of 7 real women from the world and domestic history, but also present, famous and imprinted into the collective memory as murderers” (Ќорвезироска, 2016: 122), starting from the one about the marquise Marie Madeleine de Brinvillier from the seventeenth century to the one about the courtesan, Christian and Muslim Magzin Pipo (Магзин Пипо) from the twenty-first century, attempt to shed light on the first impulses for the act of murder and the passion to kill. Following the development of the feeling which leads to the desire to take someone’s life, Nikolova with “The Velvet Cover” confirms her passion for research and analysis/digging into the crucial historical and social themes (which she showed in her novel “Rosica’s Dolls” („Куклите на Росица“)), and leaves the impression of an exciting and exceptionally well composed stories. In this time interval of several centuries (seventeenth – twenty-first), she also situates the story of Mara Buneva from Tetovo, the murderer of Velimir Prelić, which she interweaves unusually, but exceptionally convincingly, with the one about Mencha Karnichu from Krushevo, the love of Vancho Mihajlov, and the murderer of Todor Panica.

    The prose journey of Chejkovska, on the other hand, takes place through the thirteen short stories with autobiographical touch. The poet Chejkovska exceptionally skillfully swims in the prose waters as well, bravely following upon the best in the Macedonian narrative tradition, including the narrative experience of Nikolova, especially when she situates the everyday personal and family experiences and travels in the unordinary, unusual and (sur)real, with many elements of prose surprises that are indicated in the title itself, “Chejka and Chajka”, as words whose origin we do not, and for which the author develops an exciting story.

    But let us turn to the trio Kjorveziroska-Maleska-Buzharovska. Kjorveziroska praises almost all her colleagues women-writers, except Chejkovska (but it is most probably so because she sees in her a strong poetic expression, but not a significant narrative expression). In her book of “love-critical interpretations and situations” entitled „Еден текст и една жена“ (“A Text and A Woman”), Olivera Kjorveziroska dedicates to her literary mother two other texts, “The Warm Hand of the Phantasy” (2016: 108-118) and “The Heart of Meaning” (2016: 119-121) in  addition to the one in which she discusses “Velvet Cover”, and where she speaks with great praise about the narrative mastery of Olivera Nikolova.

    On the other hand, the two story collections of Buzharovska and Maleska end with afterword by Kjorveziroska. She includes one of them, the one about Buzharovska, in her book “One Text and One Woman”. Asked by the journalist Mimoza Petrevska-Georgieva how she chooses the authors she writes about, in an interview for “Nova Makedonija” daily, Kjorveziroska says: “I do not choose authors when I write criticism. I choose works, I always choose a text. The personal taste is a legitimate criterion. The essential issue of competence is the character of the personal taste: how well formed it is, raised, educated, fiery, violent, controlled. While preparing my latest book, I had so much material that I literally enjoyed the comfort of choice. You can easily cook whatever you want – when in the fridge you have products from green markets and from supermarkets, but you also have desire. I wanted to make a book only about Macedonian authors, to write “our” book with which I would support the national literature, and I would also heal the infecting theses that there is no literary criticism in Macedonia, or that literary criticism must be boring.” („Нова Македонија“, 27.07.2016, emphasis is mine)

    This is what Kjorveziroska writes about Buzharovska: “This is the best short story collection of Rumena Buzharovska so far, but also one of the best short story collections published in the country in the last few years. (...) The eleven short stories told by as many different women in first person, largely surpasses the numbers of the concerned destinies, the number of the gender, women, men, mothers and children, of lovers and friends, of amateurs, stereotypes and misapprehensions, of becoming aware and sobering from the powerful, transient alcohol of youthful (and not only that) love. In the book in which women narrate about their husbands, and the text is neither intended (only) for the ones, nor (only) for the others, since they are written in a third, beyond-gender way, and you may expect to find anything, but what the title promises.” (Ќорвезироска, in Бужаровска, 2016: 127, emphasis is mine) (Ќорвезироска, 2016: 94, emphasis is mine)

    In the afterword “Small (Prose) Hurricane” (Ќорвезироска, in Малеска, 2016: 145-152), Kjorveziroska shows herself to be exceptionally well acquainted with the narrative technique of Maleska, and she says that with her first story in this collection (“Clever Pejo, My Enemy”), she does what she had previously done with the story “A House on the Drim River” („На Дрим куќа да имам“) in her previous collection “The Naming of the Insect” („Именување на инсектот“), for which Kjorveziroska wrote her own interpretation and included it in her book “A Text and A Woman” under the title “Translator’s Lava or Narrative Tear” („Преведувачка лава или раскажувачка солза“) (2016: 98-107). In it, she wrote that it is almost sad that the author has left it on the level of a longer story: “With an elaborate traditional style of opening and plunging into the story, Maleska in this story is a true genre smuggler, who in the predicted length of a story inspired at least thinking about another, much longer. A House on the Drim River is a novel masked as a story or a story that swallowed a whole novel.” (Ќорвезироска, 2016: 100, the emphasis is mine). In regard to the story “Clever Pejo, My Enemy”, she wrote:

    “... I express a great reader’s sorrow that it did not become independent and larger so that it may become a short novel – (post)modernist presentation of the Itar (Clever) Pejo tradition in the Macedonian literary history, of the collective memory and folk inheritance. (...) This excellent narrative I-point of an invented character contrasted to Clever Pejo completely conquers the reader’s sympathies, and skillfully, with a well-controlled equilibrium, moves the narrative of the new possible literary truth on the tightened rope between the imagined character and his enemy – the folk hero.” (Ќорвезироска, in Малеска, 2016: 146-147)

    The book “Clever Pejo, My Enemy”, organized through 19 stories in different extensive format and one short play, treats the relation “between good and evil, between the moral and the violation in society, in the home, in the office, on the street...” (Ќорвезироска, in Малеска, 2016: 152)

    However, the gender narration in the style of Jadranka Vladova, mostly manifested in the works of Olivera Kjorveziroska, which was noted and emphasized by Jasna Koteska in 2002, is still present today. After “Knitted Stories” („(С)плетени раскази“), for which she received the prestigious award for best prose of DPM in 2003, Kjorveziroska published “Sewn Stories”. “Knitted Stories” suggested a “female view in perceiving the world”, and promoted the emancipation of women’s writing in contemporary Macedonian literature, especially in contemporary Macedonian prose. The yarn that Kjorveziroska offered then “... is a coded message in which the meanings are interwoven into the clearly visible stitches of Marija Misleva, through her narrated life in such an unusual, and yet very usual way: “Marija understood that she could put on literature as she could put any sweater that her grandmother knitted, regardless of the fact that her grandmother is no longer alive, and that she hadn’t studied literature.” (Ќорвезироска, 2003: 8) A bit later, she adds: “She would grab someone else’s, any, text, and she would put it on her needles, stitch after stitch. Then she was quickly counting, she was calculated something. At the same time, however, she was careful which words she would put on which needle. For, it is not which words would come from which side... she came to the conclusion that she is doing best when she puts the changeable words on the left, and the unchangeable on the right needle” (Ќорвезироска, 2003: 9)” (Мојсова-Чепишевска, 2007: 187).

    But why did she replace the so successful knitting with sewing? Is it because with the sewing she can more easily, and also more seductively, host her women and men writing friends in her short stories, and in such way easily make the writers Nikolova, Maleska and Buzharovska literary characters? Among the four cycles of the story collection, the second („Слеп бод“) is filled with stories in which the protagonists are Olivera Nikolova (“Sugar City” („Шеќерен град“)), although she also has a place in a story („Шимшир-порти“) from the previous cycle „Основен бод“, but also Rumena Buzharovska (“The Text and the City” („Текстот и градот“)), and Kalina Maleska, who meets the well-known Marija Misleva from “Knitted Stories” (“A Wonderful Day” („Крајно убав ден“)). The specificity of this cycle is certainly that in its nine stories, the authors Cane Andreevski, Zvezdan (Georgievski), Petar Andonovski, Lile Dirjan, Vladimir Lukash, Sasho Kokalanov... are also hosted.

    “In the narrative world of Sewn Stories by Olivera Kjorveziroska, to sew and to re-sew the world means to write/re-write/over-write/post-write the world. To search for its meaning, to fight against meaninglessness through writing” (Смилевски, in Ќорвезироска, 2017: 166). “She chooses the symbol of creation as opposed to destruction, of unification as opposed to dissolution – and that is the needle and the thread. Such intention to interweave the text and the texture, the literature and the handcraft, the writing and the sewing is present in the title of the work and in the naming of the cycles, and in the way in which the short stories were created: through the characters and their thinking, feeling and acting, as well as through the language with which those characters, thoughts, feelings and acts are narrated.” Also, “... we get an impression that in the course of the writing/sewing, she had in mind Italo Calvino’s thought that literature (and not only literature) can create anti-bodies that will oppose the spreading of the language plague,” Goce Smilevski states in his afterword towards this short story collection by Olivera Kjorveziroska (Смилевски, in Ќорвезироска, 2017: 173, emphasis is mine).

    In that context, these five books by established women’s voices in the Macedonian prose are a true example of literature that creates strong anti-bodies prepared for a true fight “against the loss of the intellectual strength and directness of language” (Смилевски, in Ќорвезироска, 2017: 171). In fact, the authors Nikolova, Chejkovska, Kjorveziroska, Maleska and Buzharovska write stories also with an exciting application of metatextuality, “with which the relation of women towards language is parodied and the sentimentalist (allegedly female) discourse is undermined (Котеска, 2003: 180).

Translated by Kalina Maleska

1 “The Liberation War and the reconstruction are two major preoccupations, with the same conceptual foundations, but without epic scope, with superficial observation and reporter’s sketching of the event and the character („Немиот скитник“). In general, the reporter’s narrative has a characteristic of a constant in the stories that show strife towards a respective profound observation of the human intimate drama („Непријатели“, „Растрел“, „Земјата на Панко Бисерин“)” – Miodrag Drugovac explains in “The History of Macedonian Literature XX Century” („Историјата на македонската книжевност XX век“) (1990: 278).
2 Certain thinkers consider that a bigger problem in the Macedonian cultural, and literary, environment are the clan structures and movements on various bases present in among the Macedonian writers. In this context, I would refer to the thoughts of Irena Pavlova de Odoriko, who says: “Literature in Macedonia should defend its integrity, which is greatly jeopardized, and not the gender. Today, in our country literature, not only written by women, is ghettoized, as, in fact Macedonia is ghettoized in certain contexts in relation to the world. There are various groups in the literature in our country, there are patriarchal structures, but as movements, as atmospheres, there are clan groups, and even state interests and dependences are known to literature.” (from the text of Vesna Damchevska “Gender Ghettoization of Literature (Women’s literature is the One with Small Letter)” in the daily newspaper Vreme No 947 from 5 January 2007).
3 Мојсова-Чепишевска, Весна. „Розевото гето“ in: Riječ (časopis za slavensku filologiju). Rijeka: 2009, god.15., sv. 2, 241-252.
4 Мойсова-Чепишевска, Весна. „Розовото гето /върху македонския опит/“ in: Славяните и техните контакти. София: 2010, 277-284. 5 (on 29. 05. 2017)


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