East European Prose in Translation

Fall 2023

Swarthmore College

Wednesdays 1:15-4:00
Kohlberg 318

Sibelan Forrester
Kohlberg 340
Office phone: 610-328-8162
Email: sforres1@swarthmore.edu
URL: http://www.swarthmore.edu/Humanities/sforres1/
Office hours: Monday 10:00-11:00
Tuesday 2:00-3;00
Thursday 1:00-2:00
...or by appointment
I'm happy to chat on Zoom if you let me know to open my Zoom Room: swarthmore.zoom.us/j/4481128255

I don't yet know whether we have a course WA, but you always have access to wonderful WAs through the Writing Center: www.swarthmore.edu/writing/writing-center, located in Trotter Hall 120.

This syllabus is also at the top of the Moodle page for this class, along with the link to the course blog.

Course Information | Readings | Assignments | Other Sources | Syllabus

The course has three primary goals:
First, to introduce you to a variety of prose works by major twentieth-century writers from Eastern Europe, including some basic historical and cultural background of the region, literary movements, and techniques of analysis that can help to elucidate the literature’s meaning.
Second, this is a Writing Intensive Course, and writing will be a central focus of our work, illuminating our discussions of the literature and the course assignments.
Third, we will create a (temporary) intentional intellectual community on the basis of this work. This may seem obvious, but it's worth thinking about consciously as we support one another in discussion.

Besides class meetings, each one (after the first) devoted to a particular author and book, you meet with me outside of class, plus meeting once with another student from our class, to discuss your writing.

Goals of the Writing-Intensive Course:

  1. to practice every stage of the writing process, especially revision, with comments and suggestions from other readers
  2. to learn to use reading, writing, and class discussion to support and critique one another's ideas
  3. to learn to give good, useful feedback to other writers (and to accept it ourselves)
  4. to discover how writing can deepend and multiply your knowledge as well as your understanding of a subject

Be sure to purchase all the books you need before the Campus and Community Bookstore returns unsold copies to publishers, several weeks into the semester. If you have questions about editions, let me know. If you can read any of them in the original language, I encourage you to do so. (If you don’t own the book in the original language, plan ahead to get it through Inter-Library Loan after checking to see whether it's available free online.)

Copies on reserve in McCabe are intended for use if you forgot your copy at home. The United States is not the world’s best market for translated literature: it’s hard for unknown foreign authors to break into print, and works by less famous writers tend to go out of print quickly. This has in part dictated the choice of readings.

By purchasing these books, you are voting with your dollars for more published translations of top-notch East European writing, which is unquestionably a good thing. Not to mention how nice they look as you’re reading on the train — or standing on your bookshelf, some day when you’re in medical school.

A general note about spelling: as you’ll notice, several of the authors we are reading have diacritical marks in their names. Let me know if you need help finding the Unicode alphabets that are now included in all word processors, and please be sure to use them in your printed work. I won’t count off if you miss one occasionally, but doing your best to include them is simple courtesy.

Fall 2023 Disability Statement:
If you believe you need accommodations for a disability or a chronic medical condition, please contact Student Disability Services (Parrish 113W) via e-mail at studentdisabilityservices@swarthmore.edu to arrange an appointment to discuss your needs. As appropriate, the office will issue students with documented disabilities or medical conditions a formal Accommodations Letter. Since accommodations require early planning and are not retroactive, please contact Student Disability Services as soon as possible. For details about the accommodations process, visit the Student Disability Services website at https://www.swarthmore.edu/academic-advising-support/welcome-tostudent-disability-services. You are also welcome to contact me (SF) privately to discuss your academic needs. However, all disability-related accommodations must be arranged, in advance, through Student Disability Services.


Course books


Every week: Reading notes or other kinds of posts on the course blog.

Aim for about 500 words of notes per week on the reading, questions, and responses to other people's comments and questions. I hope there will be a nice mix of questions and comments posted before class and further discussion and reactions after class. If you prefer to send me comments and questions as e-mail or on paper, I’ll return them (with my own comments when applicable) the following week. This assignment offers a chance to ask questions you might not want to bring up in class or float ideas that you might like to write about later in a low-pressure setting and get useful comments. The blog posts will be graded as +/- , folded into your overall grade for attendance and participation, mainly reflecting whether you wrote more or less that much every week; if you are particularly thoughtful or active that always gets you points (tangible or intangible).

September 13, Short essay (5%), 2 pages

An informal two-page essay on what kinds of literature you enjoy, sorts of writing you like (to read or to write yourself), what you hope to learn about the topic of E European literature, and writing you would like to do in this class. Be lyrical and outrageous (or serious and brilliant). In essence: where are you starting from in your writing as class begins? This is meant to let me see a bit of your writing, and where you stand with regard to our reading list and the larger topic.

September 20, First paper (rough draft), 5-7 pages

A "personal" reading of Andrić or Singer, comparing their stories to stories you have heard from or about your own family, or motivating questions you now wish to ask (or wish you could ask) your family, or to investigate, on the basis of one (or both?) readings. If you think about family stories and can't come up with enough, fine to use history you have studied in the past for the same purpose/\.

I’d like to see fluent and elegant writing and a well-organized approach in this paper, but think of it as a chance to write in a less formal and more personal way about your reactions to Andrić or Singer. One or the other book should suggest ways to think about your own family or local history, so you can use the text as a point to jump into something beyond the text, writing from a base of knowledge and returning to the book for reference as you follow your thoughts. So, the paper is about how you (as a reader specifically located in time and space) are reading, your reactions, your equipment as a reader, and a chance to analyze your family history.

If this assignment makes you nervous, talk to me.

October 4, First paper, final draft (10%)

A personal reading or reaction to one of the works we are reading first, 5–7 pages. Please save your rough draft (with professsor's comments) to attach to the final copy or include as an additional attachment (give each document a suitable title) when you hand the paper in. Paper is fine; a document attached to e-mail is better, or some mix of the two.

October 25, Second paper (rough draft), 6-8 pages

A comparative reading of one book we’re reading in class combined with one work we will not read, chosen eiher from the examples in Michael Henry Heim’s list of suggested readings, from the other works I have listed on each author’s page, or else in consultation with the instructor. (If you would prefer, compare one of the works we’ve read or some other relevant EE work of literature with a movie version; choose this in consultation with the instructor.)

November 8, Second paper, final draft (10%), 6-8 pages

A comparative reading of one of the books we’re reading in class combined with one work we will not read. Please include any draft paper copies with comments, or attach the documents with comments tracked by "track changes."

November 22, Third project (rough draft), total 2000-2500 words

This "paper" will be writing a new article on Wikipedia, or expanding/ editing work on an article that is already there. Choose your topic after consulting with the instructor. Possibilities will vary depending on the author or topic you choose and what is already on Wikipedia. You'll work on research practices, attributing statements, and following the key policies, The writing you do should come out to about 2000-2500 words total; this means it's possible to work on more than one topic if that's how you prefer to distribute your time. You’ll meet with your WA (or me) and with someone else from the class. Bring or be ready to send by e-mail two copies of your rough draft on November 22: plan early a time to meet with your classmate (it can be the same person whose work you read, in one longer meeting). Do not throw away or delete the comments they give you!!! Instead, subnit them to me along with your rough draft, since they (like you) will receive a fragment of their grade on them. This assignment is aimed at your ability to give good comments as well as your writing abilities. Final draft due April 26. (I will of course look at your work on the Wikipedia page, but since it may be edited there I will need the original copy for my files.

November 22-29, Read/critique someone else's project (5%)

Read and comment on the rough draft of someone else’s project. Make sure you write down any verbal comments or at least make an outline of them; best of all use the "comment" feature in the word processing software. If the article draft really seems perfect, comment on the things you like about it. SAVE the comments you got from another person. If I get one set of comments from both people involved, that is perfect.

December 6, Third project, final version (15%), 2000-2500 words

Do not throw away the comments you got from someone else!!! Instead, attach them to the final draft, or include those documents as attachments to e-mail to me, or something. You can tell I've seen issues with this in the past.

December 13 (last day of the semester), Extra credit book review (5%)

If anyone wants extra credit: write a two-page artsy book review of one book we did not read for class, or of a film based on a work of EE literature; see the list of Michael Henry Heim's suggestions given here (or the lists of other works at the bottom of the web pages about the authors). The book you read/film you watched for the second paper would be a good choice here.

About writing assignments in general: I'm very happy to re-grade any writing (except the final exam) that you want to revise once you've seen your grade and my final comments. Keep in mind, though, that it makes more sense to keep up with work that is currently due than to keep reworking old projects.

Final exam (20%)

The final examination will be a self-scheduled, three-hour written take-home combining short answer questions with essay questions. The exam will be posted on the Moodle page, so I can see when you downloaded it and you can upload it there when you're done. Due to me by 5 p.m. on December 23. Please include your name on the exam (or save it as something like FirstnameLastnameFinal.docx)! And do not forget to take the exam just because it's self-scheduled!

Other Useful Resources:

Anthologies, Essays and Scholarship on the Region, Its History, Culture, Etc.

Other wonderful works of EE Lit to consider:

I've already referred to Michael Henry Heim's list of recommended readings, but here it is one more time.


September 6: Introduction: the course, and the history and culture of Eastern Europe

September 13: Ivo Andrić, The Bridge on the Drina. We'll make a short fieldtrip over to the Library to visit virtual Višegrad.
Short essay #1 due (two pages)

September 20: Isaac Bashevis Singer, The Collected Stories: read through p. 249 ("Henne Fire"), though it's great if you want to read more and have time to
First paper, rough draft due

September 27: Jaan Kross, Professor Martens’ Departure
(this week is when you can be meeting with our WA)

October 4: Ismail Kadare, The File on H.
First paper, final draft due (include first draft copies when you turn it in)

October 11: Danilo Kiš, A Tomb for Boris Davidovich

October 18: Fall Break!

October 25: Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Second paper, first draft due

November 1: Magda Szabó, The Door

November 8: Stanisław Lem, The Cyberiad
Second paper, final draft due

November 15: Oksana Zabuzhko, Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex

November 22: Dubravka Ugrešić, The Museum of Unconditional Surrender
Third project, first draft due

November 29: Olga Tokarczuk, Drive Your Plough Over the Bones of the Dead

December 6: Andrei Kurkov, Death and the Penguin
Third project, final draft due

December 13: Volodymyr Rafeyenko, The Length of Days
Extra credit due, if you want to do it.

December 23: take-home final exam due to me by 5 p.m. (best of all submit it via the Moodle page, but you may also hand it in on paper outside my office, or as an e-mail attachment; please put your name in the title when you save the document).