Probably the most popular Slovenian book in recent times is Vladimir Bartol's Alamut, which has just been translated into English in the USA. However, for 'recent', read 'last century', as the original publication date was in 1938: it is only during the last few years that this hugely entertaining novel has gained so many readers.
In The Beginning: The earliest extant examples of the Slovene — and perhaps of any Slavic — language have been preserved in the remarkable Brižinski spomeniki (Freising manuscripts; c. 1000).
The publication of the first books in the Slovene language about 450 years ago is regarded by the Slovenes as one of the most important cultural events in their history. In the sixteenth century, the Reformation of the Catholic Church, the establishment of the Protestant Church in Germany and the new movement inspired by Martin Luther influenced Slovene men of letters such as Primož Trubar, Jurij Dalmatin and Adam Bohorič.
In the nineteenth century the key personality of Slovenian letters was the poet France Prešeren (1800-1849), a lawyer and a bit of a bohemian. His position as a national hero derives in part from stories about his kind nature and championing of the rights of the poor. In 1844 he composed Zdravljica (A Toast), which was adopted in 1994 as the Slovenian National Anthem.
The first Slovene novel was Josip Jurčič's (1844-1881) The Tenth Brother. Jurcic was also the first Slovene journalist who, together with Fran Levstik (1831-1887), created the beginnings of Slovene literary criticism.
The age of Realism found expression in poetry, including the works of the Impressionists such as Josip Murn (1879-1901), the symbolist Oton Zupančič (1878-1949) and later Expressionist Alojz Gradnik (1882-1962).
Vitomil Zupan (1914-1987), who had written the cult novels Menuet za kitaro (The Minuet for the Guitar) and Igra s hudicevim repom (Playing with the Devil's Tail) in the 1970s, and Komedija cloveskega tkiva (The Comedy of the Human Tissue) in 1980 and Levitan (The Leviathan) in 1982. Soon after the Second World War Zupan was sentenced to fifteen years in prison, of which he served seven.
Books to read
My advice (unless you're very, very interested) is not to bother. Although my Slovene chums assure me that much Slovene literature is very good, in my experience the quality of the English translations (Zupan for instance) is more wooden than a mountain hut, while the binding makes the damn things impossible to read.
Oh, and don't read any if you're prone to depression.
Alamut's good though. If you haven't read Maalouf.