Three String Books

Three String Books is an imprint of Slavica Publishers devoted to translations of literary works and belles-lettres from Central and Eastern Europe, including Russia and the other successor states of the former Soviet Union.

Maria A Shelyakhovskaya, translated by Christina E. Petrides and Maria A Shelyakhovskaya

Being Grounded in Love cover image

“The present volume is a conscious effort to look at and grasp the meaning of the tumultuous one hundred years of Russian and Soviet  history (1872–1981) by taking an ordinary family perspective as a vantage point and reconstructing it based on the materials of a well-preserved family archive. The result is a deeply entertaining and engaging collage of personal recollections, authentic voices, intimate details, through which events of great magnitude—including multiple revolutions and wars—get illuminated in a distinctly personalized way. For sure, the ultimate result is partisan and partial, imbued with the partiality of love to one’s own kin, the Gudziuk-Gruzdev family. It is difficult to resist the feeling of compassion while reading entries of the personal diaries, the intimate correspondence of family members or listening to the collector’s own voice recounting the family’s itinerary through the century of troubles. Ultimately, by foregrounding love as a key motive, the book provides a story about the perseverance of human love and about the persistence of family ties as opposed to the heaviness of History.” — From the Introduction by Vladimir Ryzhkovski

Kata Nesiba: The Authentic and Illustrated History of a Belgrade Whore and Her Struggles for Her Constitutional Rights, 1830–1851
xiv + 115

The nineteenth century in Serbia began with two uprisings against an Ottoman overlordship that had oppressed not only the Serbs, but all of Southeastern Europe for almost four hundred years. Fired by memories of their medieval empire and determined to restore Serbia as a Christian state with European-style institutions, Serbia’s two princely families, the Karadordevices and the Obrenovices, vied with one another to modernize the country and eventually, in 1878, to achieve its full independence from the Ottoman Empire. Kata Nesiba: The Authentic and Illustrated History of a Belgrade Whore and Her Struggles for Her Constitutional Rights, 1830–1851, by retired Belgrade attorney Ivan Janković and illustrator Veljko Mihajlović, tells in vivid and authentic detail a major portion of the story of Serbia’s emancipation and modernization. Based on extensive research in Serbian archives, the author and illustrator uncover the tumultuous life of Kata, a Belgrade sex worker, as she lives and works in mid-century Serbia. They adduce numerous side stories, as well, to depict the sexual mores of the country at that time, not just of the “whores and harlots of Belgrade,” but also of the cross-dressing tavern entertainers, the LGBT population, political figures both small and great—Vuk Stefanović Karadzić, the “Father of Serbian Literacy” among them—and the ever-diminishing power of the Turks in Serbia’s political, economic, and social life. From dusty archives Kata Nesiba brings to life the authentic stories of the men and women who experienced some of the most tumultuous times in Serbia’s long and fraught history. And, as the author and illustrator delight in pointing out, so much of what happened then is happening again, in a Serbia once again independent.

Miroslav Maksimović, translated by John Jeffries and Bogdan Rakić

viii + 104

A book of fourteen sonnets, Pain deals with a historical event from August 1941, when the entire Serbian population of the ethnically mixed village of Miostrah in Bosnia were massacred by their Muslim neighbors in a large genocidal campaign aimed at the complete extermination of the Serbs from the Nazi Independent State of Croatia that at the time included the territory of present-day Bosnia-Herzegovina. Among more than 180 slaughtered women and children were all the members of Miroslav Maksimović’s mother’s immediate family. Thirteen years of age and the oldest child, Maksimović’s mother miraculously survived and soon joined the anti-fascist partisan forces.

Using her tragedy as a paradigm for a national trauma, Maksimović created a work that contributes significantly to the Serbian culture of remembrance. But Pain oversteps the relatively narrow boundaries of memorial literature as soon as it outlines them. Maksimović’s decision to juxtapose the poems with the factual, historical account of the massacre provided in the Appendix features the complicated relationship between poetry and history and emphasizes the poet’s belief that historical facts must transcend their facticity in order to become poetry and “hover above the reality of life.” That is why Pain stands as a work that, despite the horrors it depicts, celebrates the triumph of creative effort over senseless destruction—the triumph of poetry over historical evil.

Pavol Rankov, translated by Magdalena Mullek

It Happened on the First of September (or Some Other Time)
viii + 267

Winner of the European Union Prize for Literature.

"It's where we've ended up. Not because of our own mistakes, because of politics. We weren't able to live our own lives; we had to live the way we were told to." - Maria (excerpt from book)

"It Happened on the First of September is a novel with epic sweep yet without the epic length as both the years it covers and its action fly by. Though much of the book deals with history's bleaker chapters, the novel is a page turner filled with humor, vibrant writing, and hope." - Michael Stein, Literalab, B O D Y


Award from Prix du Livre Européen, December 2020.

Award from the European Union Prize for Literature, 2009.

Angelus Central European Literature Award, 2014.

Book Reviews

Review by Michael Stein in Versopolis, October 2020.

Review by Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, January 2021.

Anna Starobinets, translated by Katherine E. Young

xii + 151

Journalist, scriptwriter, and novelist Anna Starobinets—often called “Russia’s Stephen King”—is best known for her work in horror and her writing for children. In this groundbreaking memoir, Starobinets chronicles the devastating loss of her unborn son to a fatal birth defect. After her son’s death, Starobinets suffers from nightmares and panic attacks; the memoir describes her struggle to find sympathy, community, and psychological support for herself and her family. A finalist for the 2018 National Bestseller Prize, Look at Him ignited a firestorm in Russia, prompting both high praise and severe condemnation for the author’s willingness to discuss long-taboo issues of women’s agency over their own bodies, the aftereffects of abortion and miscarriage on marriage and family life, and the callousness and ignorance displayed by many in Russia in situations like hers. Beautiful, darkly humorous, and deeply moving, Look at Him explores moral, ethical—and quintessentially human—issues that resonate for families in the world beyond Russia, as well. ”

“[A] most important statement on a topic that no one has ever spoken aloud here [in Russia]—necessary, traumatic, but also healing reading for any woman, and also for any man living with a woman and contemplating having children with her.”—Galina Yusefovich

“I could only read a little bit at a time because a personal story about late-term abortion is so intensely emotional. Even so, I had a hard time putting the book down at night.”— Lisa Hayden, “Lizok’s Bookshelf”

Book Reviews

Review by Amanda Sonesson in Lossi 36, December 2020.

Review by The Pregnancy Test, July 2020.

Review by Joanna Chen in LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS, February 2020.

Book Interviews

Interview with Anna Starobinets in Punctured Lines, August 2020.

Interview with Katherine Young in Work-in-Progress: TBR, September 2020.

Author Website and Press Coverage

Katherine Young and Press Coverage

Translated and edited by Alexander Rojavin

viii + 234

A bear self-begets in an ordinary Russian family’s bathroom, Pushkin accidentally survives his duel with d’Anthès, and the ill-fated family of a small boy born in prerevolutionary Russia stumbles through the 20th century all the way into the 21st, where the not-so-distant past is faded in the minds of the newest generations. But does that make the past irrelevant? Three plays accurately portray a Russia that is constant—constantly in flux, with both its present and its past changing from day to day. With time flowing forward, backward, and even sideways, the three plays in this book serve up an unflinching reflection of Russia’s tumultuous timeline.

Talasbek Asemkulov, translated by Shelley Fairweather-Vega

A Life at Noon
ix + 209

“He could not have said exactly what he was hearing. A baby’s sweet babbling? A hesitant declaration of love? He does not know. But the sound moves him as if he might discover in it something eternally important, something unlike he has ever known before, something that is, at the same time, hazily familiar. When the kuy is over, his throat hurts for a long time, as if there is a pebble stuck in it that he cannot swallow. He breathes carefully so that nobody can hear him cry.”

Azhigerei is growing up in Soviet Kazakhstan, learning the ancient art of the kuy from his musician father. But with the music comes knowledge about his country, his family, and the past that is at times difficult to bear. Based on the author’s own family history, A Life at Noon provides us a glimpse into a time and place Western literature has rarely seen as the fifirst post-Soviet novel from Kazakhstan to appear in English.

Yevsey Tseytlin, translated by Alexander Rojavin


Yevsey Tseytlin’s Long Conversations in Anticipation of a Joyous Death  came about as the result of an unusual experiment. The subject of this book is unusual and deceptively simple: two authors, one young, one old and ailing, maintain a conversation over a period of five years. The setting is the city Vilnius—known before World War II as the “Jerusalem of Lithuania.” As the meetings take place, the young author records on cassette the confessions of a man preparing to die. The dying man is the Jewish-Lithuanian intellectual Jokūbas Josadė , and his revelations are often distressing, for his life consists of a series of betrayals (including that of self and of his talent) and of limitless fear and apprehension.

“A tragic account, taken from the lips of a man who awaits death as a redemption from the torment of his conscience. The philosophical aspect of narrating one’s own death is worthy of its own discussion, which should include Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilyich, as well as the academic Pavlov, Nikolai Ostrovsky, and perhaps, that American intellectual who invited all who wished to observe his throes of agony via the Internet.”
 —Russian critic Lev Anninsky

“…By means of dialogue, reflections, and a collection of chance remarks is constructed so genuine a whole, illuminated by so tragic a light, that this book could be termed a novel, and not just any novel, but an exceptional one.”
 —Professor Anatoly Liberman

Bohumil Hrabal, translated by Timothy West

i-x + 109

“Some texts, after I’ve written them, have woken me up in the night so that I break out in a sweat and jump out of bed.” With this confession Bohumil Hrabal concludes Murder Ballads and Other Legends, a genre-bending collection of stories published at the height of the legendary author’s fame in the 1960s. Decades after escaping the Nazis as a child, a woman returns to Bohemia behind the wheel of a Ford Galaxie to retrieve her estate. A Prague tailor’s assistant sent halfway around the world delivers an extravagant report on the shops of New York. A village beauty rejects one suitor after another before meeting an unlucky end. Hrabal mines urban folk tales to deliver an array of blackly comical first-person yarns, airing comments from reader letters and wrestling with his newfound notoriety along the way. At the book’s heart is “The Legend of Cain,” an early version of the novella (and Oscar-winning film) Closely Watched Trains. Beautifully illustrated with woodcuts from early modern broadside ballads, Murder Ballads and Other Legends appears here in English for the first time, fifty years after it first appeared in Czech.Bohumil Hrabal (1914–1997) is regarded as one of the leading Czech prose stylists of the twentieth century. The son of a brewery’s bookkeeper, he earned a law degree before working as a train dispatcher, insurance agent, traveling salesman, steelworker, and theater stagehand. In the 1940s he joined the group Skupina 42 and began writing Surrealist poetry and short fiction. He achieved national success in 1963 with the short story collection Pearls of the Deep. Banned from official publishing in 1970, Hrabal gained an underground following in the 1970s and 1980s through samizdat and exile presses. His work has been translated into more than two dozen languages, and in 1995 Publisher’s Weekly named him “the most revered living Czech writer.” He died in February 1997 after falling from his hospital window while feeding the pigeons. Timothy West received his Ph.D. in Slavic Languages and Literatures from Princeton University.