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 gets to explore unfamiliar territory through Layag: European Classics in Filipino—the very first Filipino anthology of short stories. With contributions from eleven European nations it has a story of its own, as the longtime ambition of Czech Ambassador Jaroslav Olša, Jr.
The last decade—after the signing of the Lisbon Treaty eight years ago—Europe became even more integrated economic and political bloc. However, it still remains also a whole continent with rich diversity of languages, cultures, and that is 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 fourteen short stories by writers from eleven European countries.
This literary tour of Europe, translated into Filipino, features Nobel Award for literature laureates, such as Italian Luigi Pirandello and Polish Henryk Sienkiewicz, and global all-time favorites: Austrian Stefan Zweig, French Guy de Maupassant, Czech Karel Apek, and German Erich Kästner. And moreover, yet unknown in the Philippines, masters of their national literatures from Denmark, Hungary, Slovakia, Spain and Switzerland, are included.
It is the very first time that such a selection of short stories by different European writers have been combined in one book in Filipino. This pionering anthology, published by Anvil in cooperation with Manila cluster of EUNIC, a European network comprising of cultural institutes and embassies, was spearheaded by Jaroslav Olša, jr., Czech Ambassador to the Philippines. A former translator, editor and publisher himself, Olša, who came to Manila in 2014, is persuaded that 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,“ Ambassador Olša said.
The result is noticeable: famous Prague writer Franz Kafka saw recently editions of The Metamorphosis in Filipino and Bikolano; acclaimed pre-World War 2 Karel Apek´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 Apek´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 century 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, Ambassador Olša 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, and already three new countries, which did not 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,“ as Andrea PasionFlores, Anvil´s general manager, said during the Layag´s launch.
As Ambassador Olša 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 that he would be able to persuade more countries to be involved. He adds, “It’s rewarding for everybody. Thanks to such projects, many Filipinos can learn about the diversity of the European countries the way, which is much different from promotional brochures and leaflets. It is a genuine mean 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 seriously looks 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 is a lot which could be done,“ ambassador adds with a promising smile on his face.