The Book: Vasko Popa, THE GOLDEN APPLE, chosen and translated by Andrew Harvey and Anne Pennington (from the original compilation, Od Zlata Jabuka, published by Prosveta of Belgrade, 1966). Anvil Press Poetry edition, 1980. Some slight wear to the dust jacket, but otherwise fine condition. Flyleaf inscribed, “Kevin Wignall, May 1987.”
First Read: 1987
Owned since: 1987
In the second year of college we were entitled to choose one “free” course that wouldn’t count towards our final degrees, thus encouraging us to experiment. I majored in Politics and International Relations, but for my free ninth I took “Post-War Eastern European Literature” with my friend Stephanie, an English Major (it was Steph who inscribed my name in the book – I’m not sure why).
Typically, I didn’t read most of the books at the time but have done so since. This one however, was different. It’s a collection of poems, proverbs, curses, riddles and stories from the folklore of what was then Yugoslavia and it’s quite magical.
I’d travelled through Yugoslavia the previous summer, a tortuous journey with unpleasant officials and brutal architecture in Belgrade. Yet there were glimpses here and there of a wonderful country and it was those fleeting memories that were brought to mind by reading The Golden Apple.
At the time I first read this book, it hardly seemed likely that the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc would crumble, let alone that Yugoslavia would disintegrate into one of the most brutal wars of the second half of the century. I remember telling someone as late as Spring 1989 that there would be a major conflict soon in Yugoslavia and he thought I was mad, but the war came. I used the conflict as a key part of the backdrop for Who is Conrad Hirst?, but in Conrad’s memories, harrowing as they are, I tried to capture just a little of the life and spirit and beauty that’s evident in The Golden Apple. Even in the midst of horror, it was never completely lost and is now, thankfully, blossoming again in that part of the world.
I leave you with some very brief extracts, a couple of proverbs, and a riddle...
“If there was no wind, cobwebs would cover the sky.”
“When it thunders, each man is afraid of himself.”
“I gave birth to my mother, and my mother gave birth to me. What am I?”