Interview


Jasna Novakov-Sibinovic


Belgrade - 21 March 2015

06

I have known Jasna Novakov-Sibinovic a long time before she became Executive editor of the publishing agency Geopoetika. I have always been impressed by her positive energy and enthusiasm which she showed not only in her work but also in contacts with her family, friends and other people. Even though she went through difficult times during the political crisis in the country, she always succeeded in maintaining a very positive attitude in everything she would undertake. Apart from holding a very responsible and time consuming job, Jasna dedicates a lot of time to the family. Thanks to her I am always up to date on new books and important events in the Serbian literature world.

Mina

Can you please tell me how it all started and did you always know that publishing would be your main area of interest?

During my high school years I started to focus on journalism and media. I graduated in philosophy at University and started to work as a stagiaire for the well-known Belgrade radio station Studio B and went on to work on TV in a cultural programme. The turning point in my career was an interview with the Serbian writer Vladislav Bajac in 1993 who was in the process of establishing his own publishing house, Geopoetika. At the time, he had only few partners working on the project and I felt proud to be a part of the team from the start. Geopoetika was created during the hard times when Serbia was struggling under sanctions imposed by the West because of the Milosevic regime.

What is your criterion for selecting writers?

We have always strived to publish literature on a high intellectual level and this was hard to maintain because we had to buy authors’ rights under sanctions. I remember that once we sent a cheque by post to a publisher like in good old times because we couldn’t make the money transfer. I think that Geopotika has now succeeded in publishing high quality bestsellers. Among the many published authors are: Orhan Pamuk, Paul Auster, Justein Gaarder, Julian Barnes, Haruki Murakami and Scandinavian writers for who we were the first promoters in Serbia. During the war years, there were many editors who published books of low quality translations aiming to make easy sales. From the beginning our goal was to have perfectly translated final product from the source language, adapted layout and design. In this way we wanted to show our readers that for us, the emphasis was on quality and not money. This was, of course something very hard to maintain during this period.

What is your function in Geopoetika?

In the beginning there were only three of us doing all the work; negotiating authors’ rights, public relations, preparation of layout, packaging, postage… Now, there are many more people working for us and my function is Executive editor. In the last ten years the things have changed in the publishing world. In the past, agencies insisted on asking us why we wanted to publish a book, who was the translator, his CV etc. Today, the main and only criterion is who offers more money. The biggest problem that we face today is that all these new countries appearing after the brake-up of Yugoslavia are competing for authors’ rights in spite of small linguistic differences such as in the case of Serbian and Croatian.

Do you get a chance to meet any of the authors?                            

I had the opportunity to meet Serbian authors, but Geopolitika is turned more towards foreign writers. One of my most interesting encounters was with Orhan Pamuk just six months before he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. The Director, Mr Bajac had an excellent idea to organize the press conference with Orhan Pamuk in the Ivo Andric Museum (who was a Serbian Nobel Prize winner), although at the time he didn’t know that Pamuk would soon be the next writer to receive it.

Prior to Orhan Pamuk’s visit to Belgrade he gave an interview regarding the Armenian Genocide during the Ottoman Empire, which provoked negative reactions in Turkey and he was put on trial. Because of that, he was very worried and nervous during his visit. At the time I had almost no experience in editing and when he asked me to organize a signing session of his book I reserved a time slot from 6 to 8 PM in a bookshop. When he heard this, he said that he was not a prostitute to be sitting and waiting behind a window for two hours and that I should have invited everyone for 6 PM. During these two hours he had signed about 300 books and left in a bad mood. It helped me to realize how I should work with famous writers! Apart from this unfortunate incident, he was pleased to stroll in the old part of Belgrade through hidden passages and cobble-stone streets which reminded him of his home country. During this little tour he took pictures which later served as possible inspirations for writing.

The other story is linked to the Scandinavian writer Erlend Loe who was delighted by his visit to Belgrade and who upon his return to Norway asked me to send him a list of top ten Serbian swear words! At first, I felt slightly offended that after everything that we showed him, he only remembered rude expressions. Much later, we found out that he used these expressions for a character in his novel, because the Serbian language has different levels going from bad to worst using the same swear word!

Encounters with writers are certainly the most interesting part of my work, but making contact with famous novelists is not always an easy task. For example a well-known writer refused to come to Serbia because he doesn’t visit countries in which his books are not published under 50 000 copies.

What is your view on e-books?

I see it like something unavoidable. We are “lucky” in the sense that we are in the category of old fashioned countries where printed books are still very popular. A lot of people still don’t have computers so they don’t even think about e-books! It’s very interesting that in Spain, where we were invited to a book Fair and where you have a large number of powerful publishers; e-books represent only a small percentage of sales. From this, one can conclude that readers are more attached to hard copies. E-books are here to stay, they are part of reality in the developed World and are a part of Serbia’s future.

How would you describe the spirit of Belgrade?

First of all, I think that the people who live in it and its location on the confluence of two Rivers, Danube and Sava, determine this special spirit of the city. There is pre 90’s and post 90’s period. In the former, people from outside who wished to live in Belgrade had to make an effort to be accepted. I am saying this because I have personally gone through the experience. After the 90’s, the political situation had changed and the attitude of people coming to live in Belgrade was different. They thought that the city would accept them as they are. Differences between people are welcome and can be positive, but I think that every big city has its rules which should be respected. If not, it could lose its identity.

Which are your preferred places in Belgrade and why?

First thing that comes to mind is the library and café Beopolis. For me this place represents the real spirit of Belgrade because the people who work there and passersby are well informed on all cultural, musical and other activities taking place in the city. Apart from this, I love all cafés and restaurants along the Sava and Danube rivers, places from which one has a wonderful view on their confluence. Water has a serene effect on me as well as venues overlooking wide-open spaces (Zemun and Gardos). Old inns (kafane) are authentic restaurants where you can still experience some of Belgrade’s past social life (Kafana Kalenic and Prolece). I don’t like modernized places, I prefer old, small, hidden, out of the way venues, with good food and music. The charm of Belgrade lies in these off places.

Do you like to travel?

Yes of course! I am very lucky to have a sister living abroad and thanks to her I have visited Gabon, Jordan, France … I very much enjoy discovering differences in civilizations. Most of all, I was impressed by my visit to Jordan, especially Petra and Amman. It is there that I had a strong spiritual experience, I was emotionally moved and started believing in reincarnation! I would single out France and above all Paris as the most beautiful city that I have ever seen. Definitely, it’s the most soulful city to which I return with great enthusiasm!

What are your plans for the future?

I sincerely hope that I will continue working in publishing and that I will stay in this agency to which I am emotionally tied. This is very rare in today’s world in which people often change jobs. My big wish would be to combine theater, an old love, with my present job. As a little girl I dreamed of becoming an actress. I think that people should never give up on their dreams and that they should constantly better themselves to obtain maximum results from their work. It is very important to support yourself and have faith in what you do.