Lidija Dimkovska, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
About the author:
Lidija Dimkovska was born in 1971 in Skopje, Macedonia. She is a poet, novelist, essayist, and translator. She studied Comparative Literature at the University of Skopje and took a PhD in Romanian Literature at the University of Bucharest, Romania. She has worked as a lecturer of Macedonian language and literature at the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures, University of Bucharest, and as a lecturer of World Literature at the University of Nova Gorica, Slovenia. Since 2001 she has been living in Ljubljana, Slovenia, as a freelance writer and translator of Romanian and Slovenian literature into Macedonian. She has participated at numerous international literary festivals and was a writer-in-residence in Iowa, Berlin, Graz, Split, Vienna, Salzburg, Tirana, and London. She is a president of the jury for the Vilenica international literary award in Slovenia.
Besides A Spare Life, she has published two more novels:
- Скриена камера/ Hidden Camera (Magor, Skopje, 2004, / II edition Ili-Ili, Skopje, 2013, award of Writers’ Union of Macedonia for the best prose book of the year (2005) and shortlisted for the “Utrinski vesnik” award for the best novel of the year (2005). A screenplay based on the novel is available, too.
Translations of Hidden Camera:
- Slovenian (Cankarjeva, Ljubljana, 2006)
- Slovakian (Kalligram, Bratislava, 2007)
- Polish (PIW, Warszawa, 2010)
- Bulgarian (Balkani, Sofia, 2010)
- Serbian (Agora, 2016)
- Croatian (VBZ, Zagreb, 2017)
- Latvian (Mansards, Riga, 2018)
- Albanian (Tirana Times, in print, 2019)
- Romanian (Minerva, Bucharest, planned in 2019)
2. Но-Уи/ No-Yes, (Ili-Ili, Skopje, 2016, II edition 2018, short-listed for the Award of Writers’ Association of Macedonia for the best prose book of the year (2018), and short-listed for the international award ”Balkanika” for the best book in the Balkan countries in 2017.
In 2019 it is planned to be translated and published in Slovenian, Croatian, Bulgarian, Turkish and Polish.
Foe 2019 the translator of the novel Non-Oui recieved a NEA grant for the translation of the novel in English.
For Italy the rights belong to the literray agency Tempi Iregollari firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the other countries please contact:
ul. Vasil Glavinov 3
1000 Skopje, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
Contact person: Igor Angelkov - e-mail: email@example.com
In Macedonian (original):
- “The Offspring of the East” (1992, together with Boris Cavkoski, literary award for best poetry debut book),
- “The Fire of Letters”(1994),
- “Bitten Nails”(1998),
- “ Nobel vs. Nobel” (2001, second edition 2002, short-listed for the Macedonian poetry award “Brothers Miladinov”),
- “Ideal Weight” (selected poetry in Macedonian, edition “130 books of Macedonian literature,”2008),
- “pH Neutral for Life and Death”, 2009
- “In Black and White”, 2016 (short-listed for the Award of Writers’ Association of Macedonia for the best poetry book of the year (2017).
- "Meta-Hanging on Meta-Linden" (translated in Romanian, Vinea, Bucharest, 2001, literary award at the international poetry festival "Poesis" in Satu Mare, Romania),
- "Nobel vs. Nobel" (translated in Slovenian, Aleph, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 2004),
- “Do Not Awaken Them with Hammers” (translated in English, Ugly Duckling Press, New York, U.S., 2006),
- “pH Neutral for Life and Death”, (translated in Slovenian, Cankarjeva, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 2012)
- Difference (translated in Romanian, Tracus Arte, Bucharest, Romania, 2012)
- “pH Neutral History” (translated in English, Copper Canyon Press, the USA, 2012, shortlisted for 2013 Best Translated Book Award).
- »Decent Girl«(ranslated in German, Edition Korrespondenzen, Vienna, Austria, shortlisted for the German literary prize »Brucke Berlin«, 2013),
- “pH Neutral for Life and Death”, (translated in Polish, Slowo/Obraz/Terytoria, shortlisted for the International poetry prize “European Poet of the Freedom”, Gdansk, Poland, 2016) ),
- “The closest to the most distant” (translated in Serbian, KOV, Vrsac, Serbia, 2016, European Award for poetry Petru Krdu, 2016).
- “In Black and White” (translated in Slovenian, Cankarjeva, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 2017)
- “Comment c‘est” (What is it like), (translated in French, Voix Vives & Al Manar, France, 2018)
- “In Black and White” (translated in German, Parassitenpresse, Koln, Germany, planned for 2019).
ul. Vasil Glavinov 3
1000 Skopje, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
Contact person: Igor Angelkov - e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Bulgaria: Colibri
- Czech Republic: Vetrne mlyny
- Croatia: Ljevak
- Hungary: Napkút Kiadó Kft
- Italy: Atmosphere Libri
- Slovenia: Modrijan
- Serbia: Agora
- The USA: Two Lines Press (longlisted for The Best Translated Book Award 2017)
- Romania: Casa cartii de stiinta (2019)
РЕЗЕРВЕН ЖИВОТ (A Spare Life)
A Spare Life is an original story about two Macedonian Siamese twins joined at the head, Srebra and Zlata, and their struggle for individuality, privacy and a life of their own. The story is told by Zlata and begins in 1984, in a June suburban afternoon in Skopje, and it ends on August 18, 2012, at the exact same location. The game the characters play is the same: Fortune Telling (who’s going to marry whom, at what age, how many children will they have, what city will they live in and will their husbands be rich or poor). Later in the novel, their prophecies come true, but in a tragic fashion. In the beginning, Srebra and Zlata (the names are a play on ‘silver’ and ‘gold’, respectively) get to play the game; in the end, it belongs to Zlata’s daughters, Marta and Marija, also twins. The circle is complete, including 28 years of living, growing, suffering pain, and experiencing love and hate. There is also darkness due to death, the separation of conjoined twins, and the break-up of joint Yugoslav republics and autonomous regions. Srebra is left on the outside: the circle closes without her, for she ‘does not survive’, much like the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia after its split. Up to 1996, the action takes place in Skopje, Macedonia, and from 1996 to 2012 in Skopje and London. The novel takes in the death of a child, the heavy burden of guilt, hatred, weddings and funerals, incest, murder, passport falsification, a poverty of the soul disguised as social poverty, faith and God, holidays and traditions, masturbation, family dysfunction to the nth degree, and acculturation. The novel is a personal, political, and historical story about the time we live in and the people we identify with.
Translated by Christina E. Kramer (Two Lines Press, San Francisco, the USA, 2016)
I work as a journalist for Radio Global. It’s a radio station that, in 2006, after much bickering and a tug-of-war with the government, got permission from the Council of Radio Broadcasters to broadcast in Macedonia. It was founded by someone who came back from the United States with a PhD in media management. When I applied for the job, he told me, “Our station will be different because it’ll be global, not just Macedonian.” He added that the radio’s editorial offices would never close; there would be three journalists on duty three nights a week, collecting news from foreign agencies, and then immediately—at most, fifteen minutes later—broadcasting that news in Macedonian to a Macedonian audience. Therefore, it was important for each journalist to have an excellent command of a foreign language: English, French, German, Chinese, Russian, Japanese, Arabic, Greek, or Spanish. We also had a journalist, Avni, who spoke Albanian, because our director wanted to comply with the Ohrid Framework Agreement, which had provisions for the wider use of Albanian in the country. He hired other journalists who knew languages not represented in the editorial office. “We want world coverage,” the director said. “You journalists will establish connections with your listeners, anticipate the kinds of comments that will be called in, and you’ll encourage them to call.” “But what if we hear, at two in the morning, something like a terrorist attack in Paris?” I asked. “Everyone will be asleep. Wouldn’t it be better to use it as the lead story on the early morning news?” “You really think so?” he said, staring at me in astonishment. “Believe it or not, there are many people, too many, who aren’t asleep at two in the morning, for one reason or another,” he said, adding, “If they already can’t sleep, they can at least be the first to hear breaking news. We will be instant radio, no matter how American that sounds. We’ll announce news from the global to the local, which is why we call ourselves Radio Global.” I accepted the job. I didn’t have any other opportunities for employment. I had graduated in law with very low scores. I didn’t have a master’s or doctorate. I had never gone back to request the torn-up master’s diploma on migration studies from the University of London. But I knew English, and the director wanted people with a great deal of life experience. That’s what he asked, looking at me skeptically, “Has anything really happened to you in your life?” “I had a sister, a twin. We had conjoined heads. We lived like that until we were twenty-four years old. Then we went to London for an operation and Srebra did not survive. Later, I returned to London. There, I completed a master’s thesis on migration in literature, but I refused the degree because my mentor revealed my life story to everyone, which I had wanted to keep secret. My boyfriend was killed at the Bulgaria-Macedonia border. He was a counterfeiter of passports, but I didn’t know that. I was framed. I was pregnant. I gave birth to twin girls. Ten months later, I had to leave them and go to prison. I spent seven months in Idrizovo. Then I sued the state, and was paid 20,000 euros in compensation for false imprisonment. Marta and Marija are now five years old.” I told him all this in one breath. He looked at me, jaw-dropped. “Oh, that was you! Then you are quite aware,” he said, “that every pain is both local and global. Yours is precisely that.” And he hired me. All my colleagues have interesting life stories. Most often, they had returned from abroad because of some turn of fate or because they were consumed by nostalgia. They’re all interesting, open, spirited. Everyone has a degree, some from Skopje, some from universities in the world’s largest cities. We are all about the same age. They have families and children, either scattered around the globe, or here, in Skopje. Some hurry home after work, others go anywhere but home. I’m one of those who never goes for coffee or lunch in town, but hurries home, where Marta and Marija wait for me. They were five years old when I started. My father gave up the big room for us, and we partitioned it with a bookshelf so I could have a desk with a computer and a bed. Marta and Marija have their own corner where they sleep, play, and study. My father sleeps in the small room. He never complains. Because I’m a single mother, our American-Macedonian director gives me some privileges. I work four hours a day, from eight till noon. But three times a week, I have night duty in the editorial room. I collect a wide variety of news items, which I translate as quickly as possible and then report to our listeners. They call in immediately with comments and questions. Even I couldn’t believe how many people in Macedonia are awake in the middle of the night. Cups of coffee, cans of Red Bull, and coffee-filled Ferrero Rocher chocolates keep me on my feet. Of course, there are also my two colleagues, with whom I often laugh, not for any particular reason, except exhaustion and too much caffeine in our veins. Night brings people closer than day does. But it also divides them. Impure friendship is a contamination of one’s inner space, a poison that requires removal and purification from the toxic substances: a path, a prayer, a cleansing of the body and soul. Loneliness can be an ascetic cure for the heart, the soul, and the mind. But our friendship at Radio Global was pure, equitable…an eco-friendship.
We had mounted ten clocks on the wall of the office like those in hotels that show various local times: one set for Skopje, one for London, for New York, Beijing, Tokyo, Moscow, and other cities around the globe. Radio Global was the first station in Macedonia to learn on November 5, 2006, that Saddam Hussein had been sentenced to death. On February 15, 2008, we broadcast the proposal suggested by UN moderator Nimitz for renaming Macedonia: The Democratic Republic of Macedonia. “Like the Congo?” a listener asked. “So will our language be Democratic Macedonian? And will the people be called Democratic Macedonians?” Some of our listeners thought it was the most acceptable proposal. They thought that once the name question was resolved the country could turn to economy, employment, and human rights issues. I was at work when the news came in that Kosovo had declared independence. It was only two days after the Nimitz proposal for renaming Macedonia. While reporting on air, “After dreaming for thirty years of becoming its own country, Kosovo today declared its independence,” I recalled when Srebra and I were teenagers—standing behind the curtain separating the kitchen and the dining room, twirling the ends of our hair and tugging at each other’s—and a TV anchor said that Kosovo was refusing to abandon its desire to become its own republic. A few days later, some relatives came to visit from Prishtina and said, “There’s no living with those damn Shiptars.” I had been completely baffled, but Srebra was upset. Our temples were pounding. Srebra said that, most likely, the Albanians in Kosovo were saying the same thing about them: “There’s no living with these Serbs!” I didn’t know why people couldn’t live with each other. “So let them separate!” I said to Srebra. “They can’t. They have conjoined heads just like us. Still…” She was silent a moment before adding, “With surgical intervention they might. But blood will flow, and people will die.” That same year, at midnight on July 23, 2008, just as I was starting my shift in the editorial office, I learned that Radovan Karadžić had finally been captured. He had been living in Belgrade under an assumed name as “a spiritual explorer, with white hair and beard, dressing in black clothes, a doctor of alternative medicine and contributor to the magazine Healthy Life.” It was the biggest farce of the twenty-first century. That criminal with an intellectual’s face who, behind tear-free glasses, watched death take those he’d condemned. He had wandered around for thirteen years, traveling by bus and appearing at seminars. He had written articles, eaten, drunk, slept, dreamed. What had he dreamed of all those years? Did he have nightmares, or, under his assumed name, Dragan Dabić, did he have no ugly memories from his past? “The greatest psychopath of the new century has been arrested.” That’s what I said on air, and a flood of calls immediately came pouring in from listeners who were still awake. Some rejoiced; others felt pity for him. The year 2008 was also the year the Summer Olympics took place in Beijing. The editorial office heard the news that, at the last minute, the president of the Chinese politburo replaced the little girl who was to open the Olympic Games with a song with another little girl, a prettier one, who, in- stead of singing, was simply going to lip-synch. The girl who had actually sung on the recording had crooked teeth and was deemed unsuitable to display to an international audience. I asked the listeners what they thought—would the Olympics be the greatest anguish in that girl’s life? What impact would this event have on her? What would happen to her when she grew up? One listener said that it would be a good topic for research and someone would surely remember her and seek her out after ten or twenty years to learn what effect this political move in China had had on her life.
On March 25, 2010, I received a call from an editor at the Economist asking if I wanted her to send us an article they’d just published called “What’s in a Name?” before it went online. I translated it live on air, encouraging my listeners to phone in with questions and comments at the end. Ac- cording to the Economist, and to our radio station, that article received more worldwide commentary than any other. That day, we broadcast only news. No one felt like hearing about entertainment, but the listeners who called in still gave extremely amusing commentary. Or, perhaps more accurately— tragicomic. We all laughed at our own expense. On August 30, 2010, the BBC reported from a collapsed mine in Chile that the miners had made their first phone calls. Psychologists had advised the families to sound as positive and optimistic as possible. Each miner was allowed a one-minute call. Reality around the globe was becoming more and more like science fiction. Reality in Macedonia even more so. At noon on September 13, 2010, just as I was about to leave for home, all of Skopje’s media outlets received an interesting tidbit of information: “Residents of Volkovo, just outside of Skopje, are to receive garbage cans.” Those of us in the editorial office laughed: What, they didn’t have them before? The government constantly flooded Macedonian media and its citizens with slogans: Start a family. Have a third child. Choose life. Open your heart. Realize your potential. Knowledge is strength; knowledge is power. Macedonia—timeless. Macedonia—snow-covered. Read more. Be kinder. And on and on. I asked Marija and Marta if they discussed the slogans at school, and if so, how people reacted to them. “We don’t talk about them,” Marta said. “But some of the teachers repeat them when they try to give us advice. Especially the one that goes, ‘Knowledge is strength; knowledge is power.’” “They seem to think that one is very insightful,” said Marija, always more critical than Marta, through her laugh- ter. “What about when our gym teacher called on Mia today and asked her to repeat that dirty sentence after him?” Marija said. “What sentence?” I asked. Marta turned red, but Marija bravely stated, “‘Maxi-maxi, prick like a taxi.’ Is that normal?” No, no it wasn’t normal, just as nothing else was normal. Especially when you’re a journalist, you’re bombarded every day with all sorts of information, and you see that it’s not just your country, but the whole world that is turned upside down. Still, you feel the most sympathy for your own country…not for your country as a country, but for the people in it.
Rave Media Reviews:
Reviewed by Natasha Gilmore
November 4, 2016
With its masterful writing and epic scope, it is certain to find its own footing as an enduring work of world literature.
Late in the novel A Spare Life, by Lidija Dimkovska, a character asserts that “every pain is both local and global,” an encapsulation for the grand scope of this powerful and intimate family saga set among the political strife of the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia.
Zlata and Srebra are sisters born conjoined at the head. Their names, “gold” and “silver,” are looked upon as a cruel joke for their fate, which draws ridicule in their 1980s Skopje suburb. The girls come of age amidst their own physical struggles, and their attachment, along with their attendant frustrations and hopes at separation, often parallel the political turmoil of the time.
When the sisters face a serious personal disagreement, the separation becomes a necessity, and they travel to London to undergo the operation, “so [they] could separate from each other—as if [they] were two former republics of Yugoslavia … by mutual agreement.”
The book’s power is not only in its metaphor, which is effected with a deft hand, but in its scope, which shows the power, subtlety, and difficulties of sustained intimacy for women over generations. The very physical connection the women have is a recurrent theme, as is the separation of head and heart: “That is how it is with people; their hearts are in their heads, and their heads in their hearts,” Zlata observes.
Dimkovksa’s writing is a revelation in economy. There is not a wasted word, not an erroneous character. The plot could border on the melodramatic but instead unfolds in a breathless saga of tragedy and depth that is rendered in beautiful, resilient, and spare prose.
Dimkovksa earned the European Union Prize for Literature, and her last work to be translated into English was nominated for a Best Translated Book Award in 2013. A Spare Life is a rare work of insight—both political and personal—and with its masterful writing and epic scope, it is certain to find its own footing as an enduring work of world literature.
World Literature Today:
Reviewed by Lori Feathers:
Dimkovska’s memorable depiction of the twins’ claustrophobic existence is riveting. The girls’ conjoined heads restrict nearly all of their physical movements—bending, stepping, or turning by one requires the other, instantaneously, to do the same. Even going to the bathroom is a shared project: one sits on a trashcan next to the toilet while the other empties herself. Dimkovska’s depiction of the girls’ dismal lives is leavened with wry humor, as when Zlata concludes that replicating Sylvia Plath’s suicide would be impossible because standard-size ovens offer too little space to stuff two heads.
The girls live with the awful reality that their joined bodies subjugate their separate, individual personalities, and the psychological consequences of this are enormous. Srebra enrolls in law school, forcing Zlata to become a law student as well. And when Srebra falls in love with Darko, Zlata is unable to absent herself from their every kiss and intimacy. Each girl is the other’s unwilling captor, and this fact erases nearly all sibling affection. The two cannot even argue properly because in order to make eye contact with one another they must be facing a mirror. Dimkovska explores these nightmarish burdens with sensitivity and beautifully articulated writing that shines in Christina Kramer’s translation.
The twins decide to undergo a high-risk separation surgery when they are twenty-four. The procedure’s uncertain outcome parallels the existential threat facing Macedonia from ethnic hatreds roiling it. Through these intersecting public and personal tragedies, A Spare Life poignantly reveals universal truths about the inability to ever become completely severed from the circumstances of your birth. (Editorial note: Read an interview from this issue with Dimkovska.)
Reviewed by Olivera Kjorveziroska:
I cannot recall reading in Macedonian a more nuanced and precise rendition of artistically ‘handled’ political implications, subtle and clever political allusions, but also radical stances articulated as ‘art’. Yet, Backup Life’s body is not the body politic of a political novel, in any one way. It is a powerful, massive body of a fierce personal saga, belonging to an individual who, both literally and symbolically, has been merged with the Other, with an Otherness without which it is left in constant mortal danger... It is truly magical to read a novel this complex, this worldly, in one’s native language, accompanied by all the possible nuanced meanings of the atribute “worldly”.
In the English translation:
“Lidija Dimkovska enriches our contemporary museum of literary wonders with her powerful, grotesque, weird details and episodes told within the merry old novelistic tradition.”
— Dubravka Ugrešić, author of Baba Laid an Egg
“A Spare Life uses the boldest of metaphors – the life of conjoined twins – to embody the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia. This strange and wonderful novel brings to mind Elena Ferrante and Magda Szabó in the acuity of its social observation and the depth of its mordant humor.”— Katie Kitamura, author of The Longshot and A Separation
“Dimkovska has an eye for detail befitting of a poet and the stark, unrelenting prose of a master storyteller. A Spare Life is a weird and wonderful book, capturing the quirk and complexity of both a declining Yugoslavia, and the inseparable lives of two sisters with clarity, wit, and heart.” — Sara Nović, author of Girl at War, finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize
Fans of Elena Ferrante & Magda Szabo will not want to miss A SPARE LIFE! This novel by celebrated Macedonian poet Lidija Dimkovska follows Zlata and Srebra, twins born conjoined at the head. The twins come of age as their native Macedonia struggles to declare independence from communist Yugoslavia. Though their poverty-stricken childhood is marred by alienation and disappointment, Zlata and Srebra develop distinct identities and aspirations, hinging on a long-held belief that they will one day be separated by surgeons in London. A lyrical and devastating meditation on tragedy, national identity, diaspora, and hope, A SPARE LIFE is one of the most powerful novels I read in 2016. (less)
Marketing/Sales & Media Opportunities:
In original the novel A Spare Life has had four editions published by the poublishing house Ili-Ili from Skopje, Macedonia.
A screenplay based on the novel A Spare Life by Saso Ognenovski already exists in English and Serbian/Croatian translation. The screenwriter is looking for a director of the film.
Skriena Kamera (Hidden Camera)
2004 Award of Writer's Union of Macedonia for the best prose book of the year and short-listed for the “Utrinski vesnik” award for the best novel of the year. It has been translated in Slovenian (Cankarjeva, Ljubljana, 2006), Slovakian (Kalligram, Bratislava, 2007), Polish (PIW, Warszawa, 2010) and Bulgarian (Balkani, Sofia, 2010).
pH Neutral History, Copper Canyon Press, the US, ISBN 978-1-55659-375-8
pH Neutral History, 2012, poetry collection translated in English by Ljubica Arsovska and Peggy Reid, shortlisted for The Best Translated Book Award 2013.
Anstandiges Madchen, Edition Korrespondenzen, Vienna, Austria, ISBN 978-3-902113-73-3
Anstandiges Madchen, 2010, poetry collection translated in German by Alexander Sitzmann, shortlisted for the German literary »Brucke Berlin Prize«.
COMMENT C'EST et autres poemes
Traduit du macedonien par Harita Wybrands, Voix Vives & Al Manar, 2018, France.
- Special mention for cultural heritage at the EUPL Writing Contest “A European Story: EUPL Winners Write Europe”, for the short story "When I left "Karl Liebkenht", Vienna, Austria, 2018.
- European poetry prize “Petru Krdu”, 2016.
- Writers’ Association of Macedonia Award for the best prose book of the year for the novel A Spare Life, 2013.
- Tudor Arghezi international poetry prize, Romania, 2012.
- Hubert Burda prize for young East European poets, Offenburg, Germany, 2009.
- Writers’ Association of Macedonia Award for the best prose book of the year for the novel Hidden Camera, 2005.