Boris Pahor turns 99

October 2012

This summer, Boris Pahor'sKnjiga o Radi ('Book about Rada') was the best-selling book in Slovenia.  The book was published shortly before the author's 99th birthday. Boris Pahor spent about two years (between 2009 and 2011) writing Knjiga o Radi, in which he pays literary tribute to his life companion, Radislava Premrl. He narrates the story of his wife, Rada, in the form of diaries following her death, and in the form of memoirs about her since their first meeting, about their falling in love, their marriage, the birth of their two children and their life together until her death.

The story of one of the greatest living Slovenians started on 26 August 1913

Boris Pahor. Photo: STA

The writer, born in Trieste (today in Italy, but at that time it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire), experienced Italian Fascism, German Nazism and Yugoslav Communism. As a child (on 13 July 1920), he witnessed how the Fascists burnt down the Slovenian cultural centre Narodni dom in Trieste, the central institution of the Slovenians in Trieste at that time; later, he also faced the Fascist persecution of Slovenians from the Primorska region. During the Second World War, he therefore joined the National Liberation Movement. In 1944, he was arrested and sent to the Nazi concentration camps Dachau, Natzweiler-Struthof and Bergen-Belsen. He survived and, after his recovery at a French sanatorium, he returned to Trieste; he graduated from the University of Padua in Italy and then worked as professor in Slovenian schools in Trieste.

Boris Pahor was also engaged in Slovenian cultural and political life as a writer and editor of magazines, such as the magazine Zaliv ('The Bay'). He was known for his critical view on Slovenian reality and independence of thought, which soon put him at odds with the leftist circles prevailing in the Slovenian minority at that time, as well as with the new Communist regime in Slovenia and Yugoslavia. Although he takes a left-wing stance in his political views, he has never agreed with the engagement of Slovenians in Italian left-wing parties; as a Slovenian nationalist, he has, instead, strived for independent political engagement.

The then regime in Yugoslavia was very critical of Pahor, mainly after the publication of the book entitledEdvard Kocbek: pričevalec našega časa ('Edvard Kocbek – the Witness of Our Epoch') in 1975, which he wrote with Alojz Rebula on the occasion of Kocbek's 70th birthday.  In the interview contained in the book, Kocbek spoke for the first time about the post-war killing of 11 000 Slovenian Home Guards who were returned to Yugoslavia by the British military administration; the Yugoslav authorities considered this as a reason to ban Pahor from entering Yugoslavia for several years.

Pahor's books among the most recognised Slovenian literary works in the world

'Yet behind the gifted writer hides a man whose spirit is always on the alert, always ready for debate, attentive and sharp, a man whom neither history nor the present and future can contradict,' said the former French Ambassador to Slovenia, Nicole Michelangeli.

His books have been translated into many European and world languages.  Europe discovered his enviable literary opus several decades after the first publications of his books. Also in Slovenia, the reading public has only been reading Boris Pahor for the last two decades.  His works Grmada v pristanu,Parnik trobi nji, Zatemnitev ('Obscuration'), Nekropola ('Pilgrim among the Shadows'), Spopad s pomladjo ('A Difficult Spring') and other works had long been overlooked after their publication in the second half of the last century; one reason being that the Communist regime systematically rejected them.

When Slovenia became independent, Boris Pahor was finally awarded for his outstanding work and moral stand. In 1992, he received the Prešeren Award, the highest decoration in the field of artistic creation in Slovenia. He was also awarded the Order of Freedom of the Republic of Slovenia. In 2010, the readers of the main Slovenian daily newspaper, Delo, selected him as its Personality of the Year.  On that occasion, Pahor said in his statement to the press that (among other things) he considers such awards as an opportunity to present to the public his thoughts and positions.

Pahor, who also wrote in foreign languages, has received awards and accolades from various European countries. In 2007, he received the French Legion of Honour award as a sign of gratitude for having enriched the French language, while last year he was honoured with the title of Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters of the French Republic. Conferring the Order, the French Ambassador to Slovenia, Nicole Michelangeli expressed her belief that Pahor's book Nekropola ('Pilgrim among the Shadows') will remain the most important literary account of exile and the atrocities of the Nazis.

Is it not time that one of our most translated authors receives the Nobel Prize for Literature?

Photo: STA

Pahor's literary style is defined as national- and humanistic-engaged realism with the ideal values of eros and ethos.  The author stresses that love is the only value through which a man can be relieved from evil in the personal sense, while humanity can be relieved from it in the social sense. He, however, always highlights national awareness considering it necessary for the survival of the Slovenians in Italy, as well as for the survival of man and humanity in the world.  Boris Pahor is without doubt a phenomenon of global importance and reputation.  Is it not time that one of our most translated authors receives the Nobel Prize for Literature?

Text by Valerija Obu, Sinfo, October 2012  
Photo: Nebojša Tejić/STA