A History of Slovak Literature


164 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-1311-6
DDC 891.8'709





Reviewed by Rolf Hellebust

Rolf Hellebust is a professor of Russian language and literature at the
University of Calgary.


The author opens this 164-page survey by comparing the literature of
Slovakia to Cinderella: “the beauty, ability, and potential for fame
are there, but it is unknown, or at any rate less well than it deserves
to be—to the English-speaking world, at any rate.” Peter Petro is
heartened by what he sees as a rise in the literary prominence of this
central European nation over the last decade. He sees his own work
(which claims to be the only systematic English-language history of the
field) as a contribution to this trend.

Petro begins a millennium ago with the Great Moravian period, when
Slovakia and Bohemia (along with parts of present-day Poland, Ukraine,
Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, and Austria) formed the core of the first
Slavic state. This approach may, as the author admits, raise a few
eyebrows. After all, until the time of the codification of the literary
language in 1843, Slovak literary history is primarily a history of
writing in other people’s tongues: Latin, Czech, German, Hungarian.
Still, Petro insists on the importance of the Medieval, Renaissance, and
Baroque heritages for those 19th-century writers who, under the
influence of French and German ideologies of nationalism, finally
established a solid tradition of writing in their own language.

Petro follows the fortunes of Slovak literature through Classicism,
Romanticism, and Realism, concluding with a chapter on the Modern age,
which he covers from the First World War until the Velvet Revolution of
1989, which marked the end of communist control in Czechoslovakia, and
led to the formation of an independent Slovak Republic in 1993.
Throughout, he highlights literature’s role in promoting and defending
the identity and integrity of this small land, and its achievement of
cultural parity with its neighbors—including, of course, the Czechs.
While this book may leave the reader with the feeling that the prince
with the glass slipper is still on the way, Petro is nevertheless to be
commended for providing English-speaking audiences with a concise,
readable introduction to an unexplored world of literary art.


Petro, Peter., “A History of Slovak Literature,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 16, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/4306.