When the publisher Sandorf Passage launched late in 2020, it could never have known how relevant its mission would soon be, even beyond the confines of publishing. The nonprofit independent publisher, which published its first titles last year, is dedicated to publishing works by Eastern European authors, with a particular focus on sociopolitical and wartime books. Sandorf Passage is run by Buzz Poole, the indie publishing veteran who spent stints at both Mark Batty Publisher and Black Balloon Publishing, in conjunction with Ivan Sršen, the founder of the Croatia-based Sandorf, publisher of, principally, books by writers from the former Yugoslavia. Among its tentpole authors are the Croatian Robert Perišić, whose A Cat at the End of the World the press is releasing this fall, and it has published books by such authors as Miroslav Krleža, Vesna Maric, and Bekim Sejranović, many translated by Will Firth.
We spoke with Sandorf Passage cofounder Buzz Poole by email about the latest developments at the press and other bookish matters.
What books are you reading right now?
As someone who spends a great deal of time reading manuscripts and translation samples, I don’t juggle that many books at once, and typically only read one novel at a time. Currently, I’m staying up in bed at night with Pity the Beast by Robin McLean, a truly ambitious and arresting tale of the American West that, as far as I can tell, has been greatly overlooked. I’ve also been dipping in and out of Balzac’s Human Comedy and Jazmina Barrera’s On Lighthouses.
What's one of your favorite books that most people don't know?
Two come immediately to mind. Cyclops by Ranko Marinković (translated by Vlada Stojiljković) is thought of as the Croatian Ulysses for its vividly impressionistic romp through Zagreb in the time leading up to World War II. Another book I find myself thinking about quite a bit, considering how long ago I read it, is the Iranian novel Missing Soluch by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi (translated by Kamran Rastegar), which reads like a Steinbeck story set in rural Iran.
What's a big book you read recently that surprised you in a good way? In a bad way?
Lauren Groff’s Matrix was remarkable. I’ve enjoyed Groff’s work in the past but I was skeptical about falling for a story about a twelfth-century nunnery. With the main character, Marie, Groff cast a twenty-first century wonder woman and in doing so created, for me at least, an unforgettable read.
What book (or books) made you want to be a publisher?
In graduate school, I helped run a hand-bound, letterpress literary journal, which gave me my first taste of publishing—we selected the work, edited it, and then, literally, made the books. Long before that, however, when I was in high school, I picked up a used copy of Perec’s Life a User’s Manual, for no other reason than I liked the jigsaw puzzle design of the dust jacket, and the publisher’s logo on the spine: DRG. I’ve always been a reader, but this was the first “strange” or “challenging” book I remember reading, and I absolutely loved the idea that someone, in this case the legendary David Godine, had helped put this book into the world so I could read it.
To bring this full circle, one of my all-time favorite professional experiences was sharing a Frankfurt stand with David in 2008, when Le Clézio, whom Godine published, won the Nobel. Being in David’s orbit that week was a wonder.
How has the business of publishing in translation changed over the course of your time in publishing?
In the States, there is more work in translation being published. It still makes up a slim portion of the overall number of titles released each year, but there is more room for more voices from all over to be discovered. And there are more publishers that focus on this, which is fantastic.
Two years ago, when you launched a publisher focused on Eastern European titles you described as a "home to writing inspired by both conflict zones and the dangers of complacency," did you expect to be publishing through a war in Ukraine? Has the war changed your work, or your perspective of the work?
What’s happening in Ukraine is a tragedy, but the same can be said for what has happened in places like Syria, or the former Yugoslavia for that matter. Conflict zones are everywhere. One of the defining aspects of literature from the former Yugoslavia that really struck me when I first started reading it is how writers in their 40s and 50s channel war into their work. Looking at our list, the differences in how the war in Yugoslavia in the 1990s manifests in Robert Perišić’s short stories, the poetry of Monika Herceg, and the novels of Lejla Kalamujić and Tatjana Gromača are remarkable, but it’s there, close to the surface.
Americans know war, but not in their backyards. But these days, I feel like American readers, and readers all over the world, better understand how conflict zones—from war to the ramifications of climate change or a pandemic—are everywhere. So I don’t think the war in Ukraine has changed my perspective, but I do believe for some readers their worldviews are being altered.
What are some trends to watch out for in international literature?
It’s long overdue, and a few awards here and there don’t make up for decades of neglect and marginalization, but it seems like a nation’s literature is beginning to reflect the realities of a globalized world and embracing the stories of immigrant and post-colonial populations that are as much French, German, or American as those people who have been in a country for many generations. Next year Sandorf Passage is publishing one such book, the Dutch novel My Name Is Sita by the Surinamese writer Bea Vianen (Suriname, ik ben, translated by Kristen Gehrman); Vianen was the first Surinamese woman to be published by a Dutch publisher and both this book and Vianen are being rediscovered in The Netherlands at the moment.
What are some trends in American literature your international book business friends and contacts are most excited about? What are some they're tired of?
Honestly, since Sandorf Passage is all about bringing voices from elsewhere to English-language readers, I’m out of the loop on American literature trends. But as I said earlier, if we get to read a more diverse range of voices, the better it is for everyone.