Essential New Literature of Lesser-Known Languages of Europe
Welcome to this issue featuring lesser-known languages of Europe!
The cultural diversity of Europe did not truly become clear to me until working on this anthology. There are a total of 46 member states of the Council of Europe, which already leads to an astounding number of cultural and linguistic representation on the continent. When considering that most countries also have at least one regional language—most nations boast many, many more—Europe becomes much more nuanced in terms of language diversity. Calculating the total number of lesser-known languages or the number of speakers of these languages is quite difficult as politics and history often affect the acceptance and recognition of each of these languages. That said, this anthology by no means attempts to fully represent all the regional languages that exist in this incredibly diverse continent.
With all of these complexities, creating this anthology of lesser-known languages raised a lot of questions for our editing team. How do we define a lesser-known language? What does it mean to publish a translation of a language that is already less represented than European national languages? How can eleven excerpts represent an entire continent full of regional languages and cultures?
Differentiating between a “known” and “lesser-known” language was the most important step in deciding how to approach this volume. We could not simply eliminate anything that is considered a national language. For example, Irish is one of the official languages of Ireland, yet its history, number of speakers, and international spread surely make it different than English, the country’s second official language. A language that holds minority status in a country—like Ukrainian in Poland—did not qualify by our standards due to Ukrainian being the primary publishing and national language of Ukraine. Every language was looked at on a case-by-case basis.
We spent a few meetings debating the ethics of continuing our publishing trends as we have only published literature in English original or translation. Without delving into language politics, we decided to publish our first bilingual edition, meaning that all English translations are accompanied by their original text. Even if you cannot read the original language, we hope that its placement in this anthology showcases the linguistic diversity of the continent of Europe. Creathing this anthology has even inspired us to implement this practice in our future publications as well.
To reiteratre, it is impossible to capture all of Europe in one volume. This curated anthology is merely a sampling of the impressive contemporary literature appearing in languages that are only lesser-known to those outside of their communities. In the end, like all European literary works, they remain pieces of art and cultural productions that reveal something about Europe and the world in which we all inhabit. It is, thus, of major importance that these authors do not remain limited by the language in which they write. Their works speak to countless audiences who, by the chance of birth, cannot read the original languages.
Tim Saunder’s Fenten Feryl, translated by the author from Cornish as Virgil’s Fountain, explores Virgil’s mystical spring in Cornwall that helps sailors reflect on past and upcoming travels, a foresight only granted by the ancient poet. These are followed up by poems from Pierobežas by Ligija Purinaša, translated from Latgalian by Jayde Will as Borderlands. Purinaša explores the social borders that we put up around ourselves and between others.
The excerpt from Jeff Schinker’s “Karoshi” translated under the same title from the Luxembourgish by Alasdair Reinert depicts how an artist struggles in a neoliberal society where economic productivity outweighs creativity. Supplying refuge from the stressful environment of capitalistic venture, Kim Simonsen’s poems translated from Faroese by Randi Ward plunge us into the natural world, connecting us to everything that surrounds us. Enjoy poems from two of his poetry collections.
The child narrator of Boris Sandler’s short story “The Old Well Underneath the Old Walnut Tree” translated from Yiddish by Jordan Kutzik escapes to his mother’s childhood home in a fever dream. While he never actually visited her home, the narrator creates the place and people from his mother’s stories. Stories are also important in Mich Beyer’s Planedenn paotr e bluenn, translated from Breton as The Destiny of the One who Wrote by Kuzul ar Brezhoneg. A friend lies dying and his final wish is to hear the story of the narrator’s bike trip around France when WWI was breaking out.
Mixing verse and novelistic genre, Máire Zepf’s Nóinín, translated from Irish by the author as Daisy, tells of the struggles of a teenage girl who meets her soulmate online. Interestingly, this YA fiction parallels Itxaro Borda’s Euri zitalari esker, translated from the author’s French translation of the Basque by Clayton McKee as Thanks to the Acid Rain, insofar as relationships are often misunderstood by others. Amaia simply cannot seem to join her lover until her work affairs have fully ended—something that her lover just cannot understand.
Our last three works present an air of mysticism tied to our world. Olena Duc-Fajfer’s poems, translated from Lemko by Elaine Rusinko and Bogdan Horbal, reveal the multiple facets that make up our world and our spirit, changing as we journey through life. Next, Máret Anne Sara’s Ilmmiid Gaskkas, translated from Sámi by Laura A. Janda as In Between Worlds, describes the liminal spaces existing between us and the spiritual world in Sámi beliefs. We end with Alija Krasnići’s poems translated from the author’s Serbian translation of the Romani by Teodora Avramovic. These poems illustrate ideas of fate and fortune, connecting us to the mystical components of the world.
Adding a lot of beauty and creative depth to these pages are the photos taken by Thomas Porte. He transports us around the world as he travels on his bike, capturing stunning images of what he experiences. Special thanks also go out to veteran editor, Joe Williams, and intern Veronika Miskowiec for their support on this issue and the project more generally.
— Clayton McKee, Director of Trafika Europe
In Loving Memory
Andrew Singer (1965–2023)
We’ve got a lot of people to thank for their help in this issue. Click here for a full list of collaborators and our gratitude.
Fenten Feryl / Virgil’s Fountain
Cornish and English by Tim Saunders
The Nine Shires of Cornwall lie at the crossroad of the seas, and it is from here that spirited people set sail for the four quarters of the compass.
Pierobežas / Borderlands
by Ligija Purinaša, translated from Latgalian by Jayde Will
is a little like dying
a longing for refinement
is forever drowning
by Kim Simonsen, translated from Faroese by Randi Ward
My cold hand touches the rain-soaked
fence, itsmells of earth here;
I hear the wings of birds.
Nóinín / Daisy
Irish and English by Máire Zepf
She tells stories
of life before Google.
In the stone Age.
by Olena Duc-Fajfer, translated from Lemko by Elaine Rusinko and Bogdan Horbal
is not somebody else’s word
it is a piece of space
in the absolute
Romani by Alija Krasnići, translated from author’s Serbian translation by Teodora Avramovic
You wanted to become a source of dreams yes
You tell fortunes of the unfortunate dark-skinned with ashes
She spoke your grandmother’s tongue of fire
And thirst quenched from the rivers of your forefathers
“Karoshi” from Sabotage
by Jeff Schinker, translated from Luxembourgish by Alasdair Reinert
You slowly awaken only to suspend your disbelief. It feels as though you were beamed from another world, reincarnated. It is as if some higher power had booked the wrong destination for you at Karma HQ and one were suddenly reborn as an ant or some crawling midget.
Planedenn paotr e bluenn / Destiny of the One Who Wrote
by Mich Beyer, translated from Breton by Kuzul ar Brezhoneg
I was stunned. Absolutely bewildered. I could not believe it. Nor did I understand the reason for his request. That was so unexpected and came as such a shock that I stayed silent, as if paralyzed.
דער אַלטער ברונעם אונטערן אַלטן נוסנבוים / “The Old Well Underneath the Old Walnut Tree”
by Boris Sandler, translated from Yiddish by Jordan Kutzik
Not understanding why, I spread my arms wide to the sky as hundreds of generations have done before me and as hundreds of generations after me will probably do. A song tears out of my heart, light and clear like those stars that traveled all the way from the bottom of the old well underneath the old walnut tree up high into the heavens.
Euri zitalari esker / Thanks to the Acid Rain
Basque by Itxaro Borda, translated from the author’s French translation by Clayton McKee
Suddenly, between Dune and Hyperion, I saw the black notebook from my last investigation. I didn’t dare pick it up because I’d failed my duty to bring the people responsible for Martin d’Otsabide’s suicide to justice.
Ilmmiid Gaskkas / In Between Worlds
by Máret Anne Sara, translated from Sámi by Laura A. Janda
All around were abandoned backhoes and dump trucks like huge shadows in the darkness. It was a long way home. Especially now that they had to push a dead dirt bike. Lemme reasoned that there would be some streetlights along the road to light the way, but that was a detour.
Meet the Photographer
Thomas Porte studied architecture, which directed his gaze toward interpreting land and the way that lands interact and influence a group of individuals, the way that it permeates the sensibility of everyone and awakens a feeling of belonging. The natural environment determines activities, lifestyles, and the construction of what is collective and what is social. The land comes out of every individual welcomed by it. Initially very urban, the spaces I photographed were gradually ruralized, desertified even, because it’s in these lands that the observation of these phenomena culminate. The city and its uniformity flattened many of these salient points.
Biking accompanied this change of view, preferring the liminal spaces and intermediate areas that are less frequented and that completely escape human domination. These are the side roads that lead him to establish new contact with the lands that he was crossing in a more immersive, yet simultaneously fragile way, letting himself be touched by the people met along the way.
The series of photos presented in this collection were taken throughout a one-year cycling journey during which Thomas camped, fully immersed in nature. It was a journey across places and seasons. It provoked a shift in his personal development and spurred a change in his viewpoint. The medium of architecture has now become the inhabited landscape. It was the openness of the landscape that captivated him, and he stepped aside from his professional work upon his return because he joined a landscaping company.
His photographic approach is closely tied to his knowledge base which causes him to view the world according to certain prisms. The relationship between people and their land is strengthened. Living it combines with putting down roots. Like a tree, people develop, grow, and take shape through the earth. It’s this permeation of land that Thomas seeks to reveal in his photographic work.