Literature, theater, and film


This compilation features books of the Central European University Press, published since its establishment in 1993, that have some relevance to literature, theater, or film. After the latest release, titles in the backlist are arranged by content: contemporary topics are on top, older themes below. For more substantial information about the content and availability, please click on the covers of the book, or on the links inserted into the citations.

“Saturday, September 29, 1973. A car travelling westward toward Vienna on the autobahn suddenly pulls into a lay-by. The driver and sole occupant is overcome by emotion. Austrian Radio has just announced the death of W.H. Auden in Vienna the previous evening. The tall, elegant figure of Stella Musulin suddenly looks frail and vulnerable. A line of Auden’s echoes in her head: ‘The words of the dead man / Are modified in the guts of the living.’”—The Poet & the Baroness.
“That night Auden appears to Stella in a dream in which the two friends debate aspects of Martin Luther’s translations of sacred texts. Auden is quoting, ‘…and the dead shall be raised incorruptible.’”
‘’’Not everything about Wystan Auden was very appetising, his private life was a mess. But he was kind, generous and unpretentious, and personally, I was devoted to him’. From Stella Musulin’s journals.”
“Our earth in 1969 / Is not the planet I call mine”
“Like Joyce, Auden was in search of home for most of his life.”

“After the war Russian writers had to contend with a strong antisemitic undercurrent, and the fact that most of the Jewish victims were not exactly ‘Soviet,’ as they stemmed from the newly annexed Soviet lands in Western Ukraine, the Baltics, and Belarus.”—Growing in the Shadow of Antifascism.
“In his 1979 novel Heavy Sand, Rybakov used common Soviet war narratives to embed the Holocaust in a Soviet-Jewish family history.”
“I survey eight novels by non-Jewish authors published between 1956 and 1969, in which Holocaust themes play a significant part. Their styles range from doctrinaire socialist realism to more innovative documentary and psychological approaches, and even proto-post-modernism. But all were fully a part of the official literary and publishing system, with the backing of the literary machinery of the state.”
“These novels hammer out a shared past and solidarity—one that may not have been there in reality, but which was an aspiration that arguably did its part to keep division and antisemitism at bay.”

“Women of all national groups were monolingual, except for the ladies of the nobility who often knew German and French, and who travelled and read international literature.”—Multicultural Cities of the Habsburg Empire.
“All towns with at least 50,000 inhabitants were able to mobilize their elite for the building of a theater. Just as cities wanted to be known as a ‘Schulstadt,’ they also wanted to be a ‘Theaterstadt.’”
“In Lemberg, once the Poles ruled the city, the Ruthenian theater was confined to associative and amateur performances held in the Narodnyi dim.”
“In Pozsony and Temesvar, the apparent victory over the domination of German culture was to prove illusory and ephemeral as Magyarization did not survive the post-Trianon changes in these cities.”
“The repertoire of the Czernowitz theater was, as everywhere else, a combination of classical drama, opera, and operetta.”
“Sharing the stage in Fiume was certainly not as easy. Italian theater was clearly dominant, and the Hungarians got the smaller part of the theater season.”

“When György Konrád returned to the village where he was born, he learnt that out of two hundred Jewish children only seven came back.”—More Nights than Days.
“Ceija Stojka, an Austrian Roma girl, describes the difficulties she had to confront when she decided to write about the war. Her surviving family members preferred to forget the past and did not support her project.”
“One day Julian Tuwim, visits the orphanage. He is shocked to encounter those little cynics in the bodies of seven-year-olds. Tuwim would pass them quickly without looking and run to the new-borns, to whom he would read his poems for hours.”
“One of the aims of this book is to rescue from oblivion the messages the Holocaust’s child survivors hoped to transmit to us. The second part of this book explores works written by child survivors of the Cambodian, Bosnian, and Rwandan genocides. What will today’s Kurdish, Yazidi, Rohingya, and Darfuri children tell us tomorrow?”

Books with a literary focus on the backlist of CEU Press:

“In an age of intensified migration in Europe, transnational women writers are an enriching and challenging factor in many European literatures thanks to the many issues discussed in their novels: identity, nationality, ethnicity, gender and language.”—Times of Mobility.
“Although the concept ‘transnational’ is neither simple nor unproblematic in itself, its rise would be impossible without rethinking other related concepts such as identity and border, the globalization and migration that occurred with postmodernism.”
“How long does a migrating author need to reside in a place and take on its social and political concerns before the writer is accepted as ‘one of ours,’ and how is this transformation connected with translation?”
“Monica Ali’s work, in its engagement with British and Irish modernist precursors (Joyce and Woolf), transculturates the contemporary British novel, re/forming it into a re/newed literary tradition, one that is national, transnational, and translational.”

“Many residents of east Ukraine have nurtured a distinctive regional identity, which is now decisive for Ukraine’s next steps as a country. The expression this identity finds at the intersection of literature and memory.” 

“Whether satiric or realistic, novels written after the 1971 coup in Turkey elaborate the ways masculinities and femininities settled in the traumatized power hierarchy of the period, questioning modernist utopias and authoritarian pressures.”

The latest novel in the CEU Press Classics series, Avala is Falling is about a young person’s search for her own identity. The author, Biljana Jovanović (1953-1996), poet, novelist and playwright, was a feminist, pro-democracy activist, death-penalty opponent, underground pedagogue, and anti-war organizer. She “was among the first women writers to introduce a new kind of self-conscious female character to South-Slavic literature. The novels are peppered with references to everyday life under former Yugoslav ‘soft communism’”—from the Biographical Dictionary.
When published in Belgrade in 1978, “It was greeted as an example of a kind of text described as ‘jeans-prose’ because of the narrative style: a first-person narrator’s rebellious, youthful tone, colored by adolescent slang. She is seen to use her body as a way of understanding herself and her position in the world: her provocative behavior and style of dress defy social convention and give her a kind of power she is not always sure she wants.”— about the novel in Voices in the Shadows.

“In the twentieth century, the literary engagement of despots either in the making or already in power was by no means limited to openly propagandistic texts. It in fact covers a broad spectrum: from the founding of state-religious book cults (Hitler, Mao, Niyazov), to literary-critical submissions (Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, Kim Jong-il), to the writing of novels (al-Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein), and onward to the duet of rifle shots and lyric recitations (Karadžić).”
From the Introduction of the book on literary output of political strongmen.
“Sometimes artistic production taking place at the height of a tyrant’s power bears witness to loneliness or indeed weariness of power.”

“Literature for girls was a veritable battlefield upon which various emancipation concepts clashed with socialist traditions and influences, and later also with Catholic, progressive, and reactionary ones.”—Reassessing Communism.
“Tendentious anti-communist literature emerged upon the collapse of Stalinism in Poland, and it bloomed in the 1980s. Although it was subject to some criticism around the breakthrough of 1989, it is still a dominant literary form of presenting communism, completely naturalized by most authors and readers, regardless of their current ideological and political orientation.”
Miazga by Andrzejewski and Nierzeczywistosć by Brandys mark milestones in the crystallization of the views of Polish leftist intelligentsia concerning communism.”
“In Miłosz’s belief, the greatest problem of Polish society and culture was nationalism. After 1989, he dedicated a lot of work to demythologizing the image of prewar Poland, which made him the object of harsh attacks from the anti-communist right.”

“In the cultures of the communist era, dramatists expressed in their plays the politically forbidden. To paraphrase Solzhenitsyn’s dictum about writers in the Soviet Union, plays are powerfully subversive and insurrectional, and dramatists function as a second (or shadow) government.”
Playwrights used the stage to voice their denunciation of the oppressive political regime by drawing from the classical plays of Shakespeare, Molière, or Chekhov. Plays by Romanian, Hungarian and Bulgarian dramatists are examined, who are “retrofitting” the past by adapting the political crimes and horrifying tactics of totalitarianism to the classical theatre to reveal the region’s traumatic history.
“By transforming, editing, or reshuffling classical models in order to foreground their own political and cultural circumstances, these plays have been instrumental in identifying the conspiratorial, conniving, and scheming politics of the communist era in Eastern Europe.”

Besides being a pioneer in science-fiction, The House of a Thousand Floors is highly regarded for its general merits as psychological literature. Jan Weiss (1892–1972) was one of the founders of Czech science fiction, alongside Karel Čapek whose futuristic plays and novels are known to English-language readers. Both writers had a disturbingly prophetic vision unparalleled by their successors.
The novel tells the story of a dream in fever of a soldier wounded in World War I. He finds himself in the stairway of a gigantic (and kafkaesque) tower-like building, which is a metaphor for modern society. After a number of surrealistic encounters in the building, during which he is hailed as a liberator by many and is hunted by the cruel security guards, the main character finds Tamara and faces the cruel lord of Mullerdom.
This is the 17th member of the CEU Press Classics series.

  • Essays of thirty-three writers from thirty-three countries about common values of Europe.
  • An intersection of literary works on how twentieth century dictatorships are overcome.
  • The comprehensive analysis of literary resistance to east-European communism pays tribute to non-conformist writers, intellectuals, and samizdat editors.
  • A compelling analysis of the works 19th and 20th century Polish woman writers.
  • Probably the most exhaustive book ever published on women’s writing in south-east Europe.
  • The effect of the Darwinian theory on Greek culture, focusing on Xenopoulos (1867-1951), novelist, journalist and playwright.
  • A concise history of Russian-Jewish literary prose,highlighting the oeuvre of 18 representative authors.

Books with a variety of cultural themes (contemporary topics on top, historical subjects below):

“How was it that the rockers and punks were able to sing and listen to such critical songs during martial law, at a time when Solidarity activists and others were being locked up and when heavy censorship was reimposed on book publishing and the media?”—from a book on current values in Poland.
“A number of rock, punk, and heavy metal bands have displayed what may be broadly called ‘anti-system tendencies,’ by which I mean tendencies to subject the political system, the Church, Polish thinking and ways of life, and even Poles’ orientation to the past, to severe criticism, parody, or mockery.”
“2007 is recognized as marking the beginning of one of the most noticeable trends in Polish cinematography after 1989—the cinema of national remembrance.”
In his film, “Wajda may seem even pro-feminist, since he concentrates on ‘daughters instead of sons’ who had to carry the burden of the Katyń lie.”

“Under Soviet rule, the theatre was a very special place in which, using Aesopic language, it was possible to say things about existential matters, ethics, morality, and human values”—Irena Veisaitė‘s memoir in conversations.
“Although each director had his or her own style and means of expression, the text sometimes had only a secondary role, allowing the visual plane to dominate. What was most important was the search for ways to make classical theatrical plots contemporary.”
“During a meeting of the Estonian Composers’ Union, Pärt made an open statement criticising the cultural policies of the day. It was clear afterwards that he would never again receive a state commission. That was when Arvo and Nora decided to emigrate.”
“Czesław Miłosz was tired of being endlessly asked whether he was a Pole or a Lithuanian. He said that he was the last citizen of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.”
“Koršunovas’s 2015 interpretation of Słobodzianek’s play Our Class at the Oslo National Theatre was definitely one of the most powerful theatre experiences I have had in recent years.”

Through carefully selected art projects, the book explores representations of the Holocaust in contemporary art practices. It illuminates the specific historical, cultural, and political circumstances that influence the way we speak—or do not speak—about the Holocaust. 

“In TV talk shows, guests had opportunities to present their crimes as daring mischiefs, armed robberies in Western Europe as ‘adventures.’ They considered themselves true representatives of Serbia, guerrilla fighters against the brutal and unfair sanctions imposed by capitalist countries. The importance of this subculture was confirmed by Janko Baljak’s documentary Vidimo se u čitulji, one of the most compelling portraits of Serbia in the 1990s.”—An Older and More Beautiful Belgrade.
“Belgrade’s countercultural projects as examples of anti-capitalist bottom-up culture seek out unfamiliar and marginal locations in order to separate themselves from the official favoring of spaces which symbolize the success of rising capitalism in Serbia.”
“The main character in the movie Fitzcarraldo was led by his obsession to build an opera house in the Amazon jungle. He didn’t succeed. But Ljubiša Ristić did. In the desolate facilities of a sugar refinery long-abandoned buildings were renovated for this unconventional theater director.”

“Lviv inspired the notion of one local culture that was distinctive, a distinctive type of jazz (‘L’vov jazz’) and a distinctive urban sociability of song and dance (‘only in Lwów’).”—Lviv and Wrocław.
“Those artists coming from prewar Soviet Ukraine to Lviv considered the local actors ‘totally illiterate,’ and took it upon themselves to re-educate and ‘raise their artistic qualifications with radical and not always efficient methods.’”
“The British curator hoped that the artistic projects might have engaged with the fact of its German, Jewish, and Czech contributions to the urban character of modern Wrocław, its tragic loss of the Jewish community through the WW2, and the forced expulsions of the German populations from Lower Silesia and Wrocław.”
“Andrukhovych, Neborak and Irvanets’ (the Bu-Ba-Bu) subjected Ukrainian national identity to self-mocking scrutiny, rereading and re-interpreting the national culture and the national past and re-assessing the poet’s duties in relation to these.”

“At some point during my research, poetic fragments began to infiltrate my writing, parallel to or sometimes replacing the scholarly formulations of my subject. Simple factual details of my observations took on metaphorical meaning. My writing gradually became a journey toward a poetic language that echoed and emulated the spiritual poetic sound-milieu it attempted to describe.”
Based on extensive interviews, musical recordings, photographs and erudite analyses, a poetic testimony of the scholar of traditional Jewish music.
“This text is a series of prose poems, and the images are metaphors for the music through which I descended to the depths of prayer.”

“The aesthetic phenomenon of the underground in East-Central Europe is by no means knotted to the state-socialist context. Indeed, it has endured since the Romantic period, subtly adapting its poetic and rhetorical strategies, and perhaps it survives in the essence of postmodernism.”—Underground Modernity.
“The true underground as it took shape on both sides of the Iron Curtain in the 1980s—excluding several pioneers—would be unimaginable without its embeddedness in rock music, folk, and blues; in performance art, happenings, and actionism.”
“The underground cannot escape the city, nor does it wish to—in spite of escapist tendencies and disaffiliations.”
“The year 1989 transformed the circumstances of all forms of art and public space in the region. While censorship, infiltration, and bans on publishing or performance largely vanished, new selection mechanisms arose in the form of state subsidy policy and the market.”

“Cultural imperialism, as a part of American diplomacy that serves to export American values, became an important factor in U.S. foreign policy in the second half of the twentieth century, when the idea gained ground inside the administration that America should ‘sell’ the American way of life to the non-American world.”
A monograph on the Americanization of Yugoslav culture in the sixties.
“The premiere of the Partisan spectacle The Battle on the Neretva was attended by its main actors from abroad—Sergei Bondarchuk, Yul Brynner, Franco Nero, Orson Welles etc.”
“Observing that jazz had fallen onto favorable soil in Yugoslavia, Washington moved to support directly the popularization of jazz, and in May 1956, Dizzie Gillespie gave two concerts in Belgrade.”
“Thanks to Americanization, Yugoslav society developed through the acceptance of the codes of Western culture and Western values.”
“What is communism?” Belgrade hippies responded, “Something beautiful and very far away.”

“It is not the sword but culture that can sustain and make the Hungarian homeland great once again.” Accordingly, on this battlefield, artists, architects, and filmmakers became warriors, just as their paintings, buildings, movies, and other cultural products became weaponry.
The analysis of an early example of soft power.
“Could a happy audience of Béla Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle—as magnificent as it is—change the way a foreign government viewed Hungarian political goals?”
“Cultural diplomacy did help establish Hungary’s legitimacy in the international arena, contribute to the modernization of the country, and establish a set of enduring images of Hungary.”

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria thought himself an expert in artistic matters, and he judged the church designed by Jože Plečnik a mishmash of a Russian bath + stables + a temple to Venus. The Archduke had intervened to prevent his appointment to succeed Otto Wagner as professor of architecture in Vienna. This is the antecedent to Plečnik’s connection to Prague, which lasted twenty-five years.
The restoration of Prague Castle was a collaboration of three remarkable figures: President Masaryk, his daughter Alice, and the Slovenian architect. Jože Plečnik integrated reverence for classical architecture into distinctly modern designs. Their shared vision saw the Castle as the sacred center of the new republic, even the new Europe.
Plečnik refused any suggestion of modern upgrades to churches, such as central heating. “Such modern garbage does not belong in a Catholic cathedral of the Lord. A Catholic church is not a cinema, or a bar or a theater—it’s Calvary.”

The renowned British scholar discusses the Renaissance in Italy, elsewhere in Europe, and in the world beyond Europe as a prime example of cultural hybridization, a process whereby something new that emerges from the combination of diverse older elements.

Dispersed in four countries; many of its pages cropped, cut into four, or lost forever; still, in its fragmented state the Hungarian Angevin Legendary is a unique iconographic medieval treasure, presenting fifty-eight legends on richly gilded folios fully covered by miniatures.

Further titles on the arts and literature from the CEU Press backlist:

  • Essays discuss the “museumizing” of the communist past in post-1989 east-central Europe;
  • Essays on women and war mirrored in the arts, ranging from women in novels, films and songs or on posters around World War II, up to recent armed conflicts;
  • The evolution of modernism as reflected in the representation of national cultures;
  • The development of the Bauhaus school of architecture and applied design;
  • Metamorphosis as subject, device and philosophical tenet in twentieth-century Russian culture.