Jantar is an independent publisher of European Literary Fiction and Poetry based in London and has been praised widely for its choice of texts, artwork, editorial rigour and use of very rare and sometimes unique fonts in all its books.
Founded in 2011 by Michael Tate and a group of his friends, Jantar’s guiding principle was to select, publish and make accessible previously inaccessible works of Central European Literary Fiction through translations into English… texts ‘trapped in amber’. This, to some, whimsical endeavour found further expression in the publication of Kytice, a bi-lingual version of the 19th century collection of poems written by the Czech folklorist and poet Karel Jaromír Erben. Though the original poems written in the Czech language will not be familiar to English-language readers, themes and rhythms featured in those poems are well-known to music lovers as they provided the inspiration for Antonín Dvořák’s tone poems The Water-sprite, The Golden Spinning-wheel, The Spectre’s Bride, The Noon-day Witch and The Wild Dove. First published in 2013, Kytice remains Jantar’s best-selling book, a fact that continues to delight and confound all connected with our company. An expanded edition including some of Erben’s larger poetry fragments is planned for our tenth anniversary in 2021.
In 2017, Jantar widened its mission to publish fiction and poetry exploring notions of ‘difference’ and the borders of European language and culture. Since then, Jantar has become better-known for being a fierce advocate of wider contemporary European Literary Fiction and is very proud to be the first to champion female authors as Daniela Hodrová, Petra Hůlová, A. M. Bakalar and Agnieszka Dale. We are looking forward very much to introducing Ivana Dobrakovová to our readers in October 2019.
If you have read this far, you might be wondering about our company’s name, ‘Jantar’. Well, as far as we were concerned initially, jantar/jantár is the Czech/Slovak for ‘amber’, fossil resin (pronounced yantarr/yantaarr, with the stress on the first syllable). (Remember the ‘trapped in amber’ motif above). That word itself was, however, consciously borrowed in the nineteenth century, that is, during the Czech National Revival, from the Russian yantàr’ (shared also with Ukrainian). This in turn is believed to have been borrowed much further back in history from a dialect form of the Lithuanian word giñtaras. (Lithuania is, remember, the major source of amber in Europe and a neighbour of Russia.) Latvian also has a form of the same word in dzintars.
The word’s ultimate origin is uncertain and widely disputed, but it is thought by some to be of Finno-Ugrian origin, as attested by Hungarian gyánta ‘resin, amber’, though Hungarian linguists are not fully convinced, and amber itself is properly called in Hungarian borostyán, one of many distortions of the German Bernstein. Polish has, similarly, bursztyn, having consigned jantar to the higher realms of grand archaising literary styles, while Kashubian appears to prefer jantôr, though it also has bursztin. In Upper Sorbian we again find jantar, and in Lower Sorbian jantaŕ. Belorusan shares the Polish word, but also knows yantàr. Among the southern Slavs jantar is present fairly widely, especially in Slovene, where it is the neutral word. It also occurs in Croatian, while the Serbs (and presumably the Bosnians and Montenegrins) generally prefer the Turkish intruder ćilibar, as does Bulgarian, which has both kehlibar and jantar; Macedonian has similarly kilibar and jantar. Other permutations of the Turkish word in SE Europe, as chihlimbar and qelibar, occur in Romanian and Albanian respectively, though the former also knows ambră, while departures from the fairly universal jantar and its cognates in NE Europe are Estonian merevaik and Finnish meripihka. (Confusingly, Estonian at least does have a word ambra, but meaning ‘ambergris’.)
Notwithstanding the handful of north-eastern and south-eastern languages in the Baltic-Adriatic-Black Sea triangle (the area described loosely as Central and Eastern Europe) that do not use jantar or a version of it, we believe that the word’s geographical spread otherwise goes rather well with our aspiration to publish a variety of literary works that are, as the saying goes, ‘trapped in amber’ – the amber of less accessible languages – and awaiting release or discovery through translation.
To complete the picture for Western Europe, the Germanic languages are divided between forms cognate with German Bernstein (the loosely more easterly Swedish, Dutch, Flemish and also, through Dutch, Afrikaans) and forms of rav (the more westerly Norwegian, Danish, Faroese and Icelandic), while the Romance and Celtic languages all have words cognate with amber (e.g. Spanish ambar or Irish ómra).
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