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ALEKSANDAR TIŠMA, INTERNATIONALLY RENOWNED SERBIAN AUTHOR, WILL SPEAK AT BARD COLLEGE ON SEPTEMBER 20 AND 25 Tišma is Distinguished Visiting Writer in Residence during September and October in Norman Manea's "Contemporary Masters" course at Bard

Emily Darrow

ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.-Aleksandar Tišma, "regarded internationally as a rare voice of reason in . . . Yugoslavia's depleted cultural scene," according to Jane Perlez in the New York Times, will speak at Bard College on September 20 and 25. Tišma, a Distinguished Visiting Writer in Residence at Bard this semester, is "a writer who . . . is one of the few creative people left in Serbia willing to address questions of guilt, redemption, courage and responsibility."

Aleksandar Tišma will read from his recent works on Thursday, September 20, at 7:30 p.m. in Room 102 of the F. W. Olin Humanities Building. He will be introduced by Norman Manea, the noted exiled Romanian writer who is Francis Flournoy Professor in European Studies and Culture and Writer in Residence at Bard. After Tišma's reading, which will be conducted in Serbian and translated into English, there will be a question and answer session with the author.

Tišma will speak on the topic of "Yugoslavia in the Last Decade" on Tuesday, September 25, at 8:00 p.m. in the multipurpose room of the Bertelsmann Campus Center. Tišma, who was raised in the former Yugoslavia, is known as a keen observer and critic of the Nazi period, the former communist regime, and the current government. Speaking with Perlez, Tišma noted that "there are no ordinary people; every man, especially male, is a criminal . . . it is amazing what people are willing to do, their imagination and fascination with the horror they can do. There are civilized people and less civilized people. Here in the Balkans, people don't belong to the civilized but to the less civilized."

Norman Manea, who invited Tišma to Bard this semester to take part in a course titled "Contemporary Masters: Tišma and Saramago," met Tišma in 1991 in Turin, Italy, during a debate on the change in Eastern Europe after the collapse of communism. Manea and Tisma are both obsessed in their writing, with extreme situations (Holocaust, communism, exile). They remained in a kind of indirect dialogue, and Manea thought it would be very important for his students to be able to study with Tišma. Manea's other guest, José Saramago, the Portuguese writer and recipient of the 1998 Nobel Prize in literature, will be speaking at two public lectures later this semester. "What is special about both these writers is that whatever their political beliefs, they have remained faithful to the aesthetic criteria, to the literary values, in their work," says Manea.

Aleksandar Tišma was born in 1924 in Vojvodina, Yugoslavia, to a Serbian Christian Orthodox father and a Hungarian Jewish mother. He attended the University of Belgrade, and divided his time during the war between Belgrade and Novi Sad. It was in his native town of Novi Sad that he experienced the Holocaust. After the war he worked as a journalist in Belgrade, and later became an editor, translator, and writer. He has written 16 works of fiction.

Only three of Tišma's books have been translated into English, most recently The Book of Blam (Harvest/Harcourt, 2000), which was originally published in Yugoslavia in 1972. An ironical parody of the Book of Job, it is the story of a Holocaust survivor, Miroslav Blam. This book relates the history of Blam's Hapsburg Jewish family, which migrated across Eastern Europe in the 19th century, and of his parents, who disappeared together with thousands of Jews and Serbs in the Novi Sad massacre in 1942. The New York Times notes that it is "an exceptional story about the price of survival, by a Balkan voice of reason, full of despair."

His novel The Use of Man (Harcourt, 1988) traces the lives of four friends who were born in the same small town in Yugoslavia before World War II. Metroland notes that it is "a powerful example of what happens when an individual is caught up in the whirl of global events, as well as what it means to lead a life of quiet desperation, looking for love." Through this tragedy, Tišma gives an invaluable, prophetic introduction to the social-psychological disaster that would befall Yugoslavia 50 years later.

Tišma's novel Kapo (Harcourt, 1987) "is a book whose darkness, mercilessness, and intensity cannot be suppressed," according to the Neue Zurcher Zeitung. Kapo is the harrowing portrait of a Jew who survived Jasenovac and Auschwitz concentration camps by assuming the identity of a Kapo, a prisoner who tortured and killed his fellow prisoners while serving as a guard.

Both the lecture and reading by Tišma are free and open to the public. For further information about the programs, call 845-758-6822.

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[Editor's Note: Aleksandar Tišma's photograph is available electronically. Call 845-758-7512 or e-mail]

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This event was last updated on 09-10-2001