Friday, July 27, 2012

Returning home

Yugoslavia is dead as a state structure, but not forgotten as an idea. 

In the forthcoming Serbo-Croatian translation of The Last Exile, I write this epitaph as its Prologue:

“It was a lamentable fact that virtually no supplies had been conveyed by sea to the 222,000 followers of Tito. (...) These stalwarts were holding as many Germans in Yugoslavia as the combined Anglo-American forces were holding in Italy south of Rome. The Germans had been thrown into some confusion after the collapse of Italy and the Patriots had gained control of large stretches of the coast. We had not, however, seized the opportunity. The Germans had recovered and were driving the Partisans out bit by bit. The main reason for this was the artificial line of responsibility which ran through the Balkans. (...) Considering that the Partisans had given us such a generous measure of assistance at almost no cost to ourselves, it was of high importance to ensure that their resistance was maintained and not allowed to flag”.
Winston Churchill, 24 November 1943
It seems only fitting to start the introduction to this edition with this quotation from the leader of Western European resistance to Hitler.
Its date coincides with the time Mussolini fell in Italy, and I was fleeing Asolo, where we were confined as enemy civilians since November 1941. By the time I reached Rome, to hide in it for another 9 months from the Nazi’s and Black Shirts, the Allies have established a beachhead at Anzio and were  fighting to break through the Gustav Line at Monte Cassino.
Thanks to Churchill’s change of heart and his decision to finally acknowledge the realities on the Yugoslav battleground, Tito’s recruiting station was established in Rome as soon as the Allies liberated it. I joined to restore the opportunity which, in Churchill’s own words, they missed in Dalmatia. 
Thus, this most apt of quotations marks the two crucial parts of my life: survival as a Jew in WWII Italy, and my journey into the building of the new Yugoslavia. My new, optimistic life, lasted 10 years before -- disillusioned in false promises of democracy -- I disassociated myself with the country of my dreams.
I wanted to be a writer since the early days of my youth in Sarajevo in the ‘salon” we held on banks of the Miljacka. I studied architecture in Belgrade because, as a Jew in Hitler’s Europe, I had to make a compromise between my love of art and a more practical way of making a living. 
I never became an architect. The Germans make sure of that when they attacked Yugoslavia in April 1941. As to writing, I experienced a meteoric rise as a newsman in Borba, where they had no openings, but admitted me in bookkeeping. I started free-lancing and became famous as a newsman, in good part owing to my knowledge of languages.
In 1944-45, I had participated in the ground thrust for Trieste when I fell to typhoid fever at its doors, and my first journalistic passion was the diplomatic fight for that city. This led to my being blacklisted by Her Majesty’s postwar Government, which, for reasons of their own, championed the cause of a war-enemy against their war-ally. So much for the Paris Peace conference in 1946, where I was further shocked to hear that my mother died at 46. I barely made it to her funeral in Sarajevo, the last time I set foot in it.
I had other passions: the fight against Stalin’s attempts at Soviet supremacy, rejected by Tito and championed by a special center spread in Borba which I edited. Here is where I had daily meetings with Milovan Djilas, who was the government pinpoint person in charge of Cominform relations. Both he and I got labeled by Moscow as “well-known Great Serbian Supremacists”. A badge of honor at the time.
Traveling the world as far as Panmunjom Peace Talks in Korea, most of Asia and the UN, I wrote mostly polemic reportage and several books on foreign policy. After staying in America in 1956, I retired from preaching politics and, once happily “defrocked” took two jobs leading national non-profit volunteer organizations; retiring thirty years later, I finally took to writing again, but this time in English.
The books, The Last Exile - Tapestry of a life, and Requiem for a Country - A history lesson, are both n print and on digital platforms. Translated editions are available in Italy and Belgrade, and will also appear on Amazon and other international listings.
In addition to all the credits I give to people who helped me with writing, editing and improving my books, I want to add special thanks to my Serbo-Croatian translator, Nada Donati. I know I am opening myself to criticism for using this designation of our language, ignoring all attempts at splitting it apart the way the country was split by the inept and corrupt lilliputan heirs to Tito. But language lives in books, and our literature speaks for itself, in spite of attempts at nationalistic distinctions. Let it be known that, in the world of our diaspora, the Jews seem to be the only ones carrying the torch of Yugoslav unity, not so fashionable today, but perhaps a nod to the saner future of the South Slavs.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


The Bosnian conflict of the 1990s was only the latest of the barbaric fratricidal wars which have plagued my beloved hometown in my former homeland. 
After finally uniting in 1918, following the assassination of Crown Prince Ferdinand in Sarajevo which served as a pretext for WWI, the South Slavs were torn  apart by the German invasion in 1940s, which inflamed a religion-driven genocide. The country was made whole again, thanks to the Partisan war of liberation and the strong hand of Tito’s “fraternity and unity” movement, but after his death the country disintegrated.  The sons and daughters of Yugoslavia fought In the 1990s against each other and divorced in the flames of a cruel genocide. Their marriage had lasted less than three quarters of a century.
The irrationality of the atavistic Balkan conflicts makes them hard to explain. The recent movie The Land of Blood and Honey tried to do so and in the eyes of Sarajevo witnesses of the infamous three-year siege failed. 
A native son, uprooted by the first Bosnian genocide in WWII, witnessing the second from abroad, I tried to make sense of it all in my two books, The Last Exile and Requiem for a Country. To further help me explain the inexplicable, Blood Without Honey now brings in the witness of my newly “found” niece, Inga Geko, a mother of a young child, herself a victim who endured the infamous three-year siege by sectarian forces in the once most tolerant of the cities in Europe.

(From the preface to “Blood Without Honey”, © 2012 by Jasha M. Levi. On Kindle, $4.99. Free five-day downloads every 90 days starting July 27 until further notice. Soon in paperback. Royalties will be used for the education of children of the Bosnian genocide)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A guest blog from Australia

Like two ham radio operators, Clancy Tucker Down Under and I on the Eastern Seaboard found each other on the same frequency and playing the same ballad seeking recognition for indie writers. Here is his daily blog, set to appear July 17 (which is tonight at Midnight in Australia) in cyberspace. Note his plug for 

Quote of the day:
'The real essence of work is
concentrated energy."
Walter Begehot
Writing tip of the day:
G'day guys,
All writers have different approaches to writing, but generally there are three methods of attack:
1. Dream up an idea and shoot from the hip. That's me. Most of the time I have no idea where the story will head or finish up. Fortunately I find it an adrenalin rush and the story becomes self generating. It's exciting and normally takes me three months to write manuscripts 85,000 to 100,000 words. A few years back I went overseas two weeks after completing a manuscript and wondered why I was so tired. Mm ... any wonder?
2. Plan everything out before you start writing. I have been to an author's home and found entire walls covered in A3 sheets of white paper. Each sheet contained personality traits of the characters, chapter points and other issues relevant to their manuscript. I found it gob smacking, but that's the way she approaches a novel.
3. Write everything by hand, then type it up. Many authors do this. I certainly do. Why? Good question, but I think it relates to the fact that many of us started writing early in life; well before computers. Our mind was trained to write on paper. It's an odd connection between the hand and the mind. However, as with most things, do whatever you find best. There is no right or wrong way. Experiment until you find a happy and creative space. Once you have typed it on your laptop you can go back at anytime and add or delete any part.
Just do it. Many people over the years have told me they'd always wanted to write a book. My stock answer is, 'Do it!'. However, they usually cringe and give some excuse for not having started. My simple advice is this: writing a manuscript or short story is a draft in the first instance, so just let it out, let it rip. You can sort things out in the many revisions you will do; especially the first read when you've finished it. Revision of your work is vital.
Be brave. Try to be brave in each story, play or manuscript you write. Step out of your comfort zone. Maybe use a different gender as your main character, or write a story about something you have to research. It can be an enriching experience. I wrote three manuscripts in what I call the 'Kick Ass' series and the main protagonist is a girl. She is 14 in the first manuscript, 18 in the next and 32 in the third. That surprised some of my feminist friends. On the other hand, 'Mister Rainbow' has a boy and girl as the chief protagonists. Why? It allows you as a writer to give a male and female perspective to whatever disasters or events occur in your story. Also, it makes the book appealing to boys and girls.
f. Retain your own voice. Retain your own voice at all times. Never try to emulate another writer's style. Find your own and present it well. It's great therapy.
A message for all self-published authors:
Self published authors! Looking for exposure? We think that to reach readers, they should be able to see your titles in the first place. The do-it-yourself marketing and social media publicity may pave a way to some, but where most readers could see them is on display in bookstores. We are trying to open the doors of independent booksellers to indie authors. How? Look up The -- a non profit, volunteer membership organization, set to level the playing field. It is non commercial and free, with just one item on the agenda: the interests of new literary talent, neglected by the publishing industry.
Keep writing!
Don't be shy ... leave a comment or send me an email:
Thanks for listening.
I'm Clancy Tucker

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Bragging rights?

Today's mail brought a large manila envelope with a copy of Publishers Weekly Select for July 2012. It is A quarterly guide to what's new in self-publishing.

I was surprised as I never subscribed to PW. The explanation was inside, on page 19, where, under non-fiction, I spotted this item:

Requiem for a Country
A History Lesson
Jasha M. Levi, Editions JML HIBOU, $15
paper (166p), ISBN 978-1-105-22956-6
The birth and death of Yugoslavia twice
between 1918 and 1994 and the world
events of the century that found its author
"waterboarded by history."

I am glad they found me. I am even more delighted that -- like The New York Times, they have started taking notice of independent authors. Indies are on their way to the days when the gates will be open to them, ending the bookstores' boycott, giving access to  the libraries, and leveling the playing field.  

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Judging a book by personal taste or literacy?

This past week brought up an interesting question from a member of The indiePENdents who had signed up as a reviewer and took exception to one particular title: Do we judge a book by our personal tastes or by its literacy. My response, for obvious reasons omitting mention of the title, follows:
 All I can say is that your letter made me read excerpts of not just the title in question but several others under the same name. There are so many of identical titles, one could call it a genre, as they all suck blood (and other things), pierce each other in many ways and pulverize a confusing array of ill-defined enemies or friends, it don’t matter. I now have a better idea what the current movies of this kind are all about, movies that I am told are the delight of teenagers and hits at the box office.
To each his own.
Some of the titles I checked out of curiosity seemed better written than others; I am sure it was my sheer luck I didn’t come across any that wouldn’t pass a literacy test. As you yourself said, the one [you got to review] can be faulted for formatting: I don’t know about that aspect of the book, so what I am left with is that you fault our standards for somehow not aiming at excluding content you and I may not like. The answer is that we can reject a book if it confuses its characters or for a fault in formatting, but not on the basis of personal reading preferences.

But friend, can we arrogate for ourselves the rights to be arbiters of the literary tastes and access of others to them? I remember how, back in 1985,  I grossed out a lady lunching with me at a Greek restaurant on 9th Avenue, while they were still serving roasted lamb’s head on a platter, soft cheeks, succulent eyeballs, tongue et all. Age and lack of availability had since made my barbaric yen for innards disappear, but I will not agree with anyone picketing a restaurant offering such fare.
Similar to that was a dilemma we faced at In Touch Networks, a national 24/7 radio reading newsstand for the blind (and otherwise print-handicapped people) over whether or not we should read Playboy on the air. Some donors questioned our broadcasting such disgusting material and Indiana authorities banned it. A blind lady client of ours objected to our reading The Daily News, and thought that we should stick to The New York Times. 
My answer was that as long as sighted people have the right to pick up anything they fancy from a newsstand, who are we to deny such right to those among us who are blind. The venerable newspapers and magazines, all of which gave us copyright permission, didn’t object to be in the same program with The National Inquirer sold on the street or read in our scheduled broadcasts.
Similarly, our Seal does not tell people what genre they should read: Our only intention is to distinguish, within each genre, those who don't do damage to the English language. 
Our Seal should not be construed as a card of identicality (my coinage) of its recipients. It is a given that they are diverse. Neither do the Seals mean that we recommend the political or any other orientation of the authors or that any of us approve each other’s company; they do attest that the titles carrying them have earned the right to a level playing field in public spaces. The final arbiters are the readers.
...., I hear your concern about the company you keep. But, please, did you take a look at the three awardees so far? They are all different. [The book you got for review] happens to be about vampires, with 13 more in all kinds of genres now in the pipeline. We cannot determine who will submit what work to us in the future. An objective reviewer shouldn’t ask for an assignment to his/her taste. This is not what we evaluate. We are not censors of the public taste. Let the readers buy what they want. We just tell them if the author passes muster as a writer.
I have come to respect your knowledge, judgment and persona.  It would pain me to see you separate from our goals on the basis of a misunderstanding. I am sure we can find a joint ground. 
Please reconsider. Don't leave. Give me your suggestions as to where you think we might change, improve and clarify. 
Most cordially, and reciprocating your affection,