Blesok no. 95, March-April, 2014
The Afterlife of Vaska Pupinova
Vaska Pupinova was a Macedonian poetess with over forty poetry collections to her name. She began publishing after the age of fifty. Meanwhile she was unemployed. Vaska died in 2014 at the age of eighty. This means she published more than one volume of poetry every twelve months in the thirty years before her death. Not one of these collections received a single review or a single award. No one invited Vaska to poetry readings, though she would attend them all the same. No one knew she existed, only noticing her when she came to a women’s organization to promote her books or hand them out for free. Verses for Women, The Female Flower, If You Love Me Then Love Me As I Am, The Heart’s Flutter, In His Lover’s Bed are just a few titles in her grand opus—an output characterized by soapy metaphors and ornate clichés.
Her booklets are thin, the print large and uneven, with formatting errors and pages that stick to each other or fall out after the first thumbing through. The covers are cheap and ugly, with colors a centimeter outside the borders, inducing double-vision. The publishing house was called Pupin Press and was owned by Vaska’s husband. Except for Vaska’s books, as well as several epic poems and romances about Alexander the Great written by a member of the Macedonian diaspora in Australia, Pupin Press never published works by any other author.
When old Pupin died, he left Vaska his entire property: an enormous house in Debar Maalo; country houses in Matka and Mavrovo; and a three-bedroom apartment in the center of the city. Vaska only rented out the apartment, and used all the other property herself. Her daughter and son and their families lived in Skopje, but they rarely visited her. They were eager for her to die so that they could take over her property. And so they lived an untroubled life, taking summer and winter holidays even though they were unable to afford such luxuries themselves.
The moment Vaska died, her scavenging relatives assembled to open the will. For three days in a row—the time it took for the will to be opened after her death and burial on a separate plot beside her husband’s grave—each of Vaska’s children experienced a severe itching sensation in the palm of their left hands, convincing themselves that they would inherit large sums of money and go on taking even more luxurious holidays. Vaska’s sister was also present at the opening of the will. However, all those in attendance were shocked to discover that Vaska had left her entire estate for the sole cause of erecting a large monument of marble and bronze in her honor, featuring a sculpture of Vaska and a gilded relief documenting her life. Vaska’s project was presented to those attending in the form of sketches and drawings designed by an unknown Macedonian sculptor who was to receive a third of the deceased’s inheritance.
Vaska’s children attempted to sue the sister, contesting the will and the erection of the huge mausoleum. The construction of this mausoleum had proceeded with express speed after it came to light that Vaska and her sister had bought the burial plots at a radius of 20 meters surrounding Vaska’s place of rest and had handsomely paid off the families of both the freshly dead and the long-since deceased. But all their efforts were in vain—Vaska had had connections with the authorities. The son and daughter could not prove that the mausoleum was truly worth the value of Vaska’s entire estate, nor that the astronomical sum intended for the sculptor designing the monument had been fully paid to him directly rather than ending up at least partly in the pockets of Vaska’s sister and those who supported her.
After only a month, the monument soared proudly over the Skopje cemetery. Ten meters of marble high, the enormous tombstone was supported by two ionic columns. The tombstone featured an engraved relief of Vaska Pupinova’s life. According to the relief, Vaska Pupinova became a distinguished and active writer at an early age. She had been a teacher of ancient history, a faithful wife and dedicated mother of two children who would later turn their backs on their heartbroken mother. She had been a fervent supporter of the battle against poverty and donated funds to orphans. But the last scene on the relief shows her dying alone, unrecognized and forgotten. The relief was gilded, while in front of it stretched out a horizontal marble slate with an eternal flame. Several meters in front of the frame there stood the bronze statue of Vaska. Here she was, thirty kilograms lighter, sitting cross-legged on a small stool, one leg shorter than the other. Her one hand pointed upwards, her gaze turned towards the heavens.
Because of the mausoleum’s similarity in style and bulk to the Government’s Skopje 2014 Project for making over the city, as well as the fact that the sculptor of the mausoleum had been a prolific contributor to the Project, it was not long Vaska’s grave began to be considered an integral part of ‘Skopje 2014’. Of course, this misunderstanding was helped along by the professionalism of Macedonian electronic media and encyclopaedias. Tourists began to flock to the Butel cemetery, having been informed that this was a monument to a famous Macedonian poetess who was greater even than Blaže Koneski. The relief depicting her life began to be seen as the truth. Her collected works were published in the Ministry of Culture’s Stars of Macedonian Literature. Translated into English, Russian, German and French, they were later displayed in the library exhibit cases across the country.
Now Vaska Pupinova is the most famous writer Macedonia has ever boasted and her immense contribution to Macedonian nationhood and culture has been celebrated by her new statue on the Skopje 2014 Bridge of Art—the first female artist featured on this bridge. A motion is underway to rename the Blaže Koneski Faculty of Philology in Skopje so that it bears her name. To her be the glory forever.
Translated by Rumena Bužarovska and Matt Jones