ul. Vasil Glavinov 3, Skopje, Macedonia
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:
Translations of Hidden Camera:
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.
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ul. Vasil Glavinov 3
1000 Skopje, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
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In Macedonian (original):
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.