The Zekameron

Maxim Znak


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Scotland Street Press
1 March 2023
ISBN: 9781910895757
272 pages

From the publisher

Translated by Jim & Ella Dingley

The 100 tales in The Zekameron are based on the 14th century Decameron, but Znak is closer to Beckett than to Boccaccio. Banality and brutality vie with the human ability to overcome oppression. Znak's stories in different voices chart 100 days in prison in Belarus today. The tone is laconic, ironic; the humour dry. The stories bear witness to resistance and self-assertion and the genuine warmth and appreciation of fellow prisoners.

'Zekameron’ derives from the Russian word zek, an abbreviation formed by the names of two letters of the Russian Cyrillic alphabet - зк; it stands for zakliuchonny, a word that originally referred to a convict held in a Soviet labour camp. The word now has the general sense of ‘prisoner’.

Born in Minsk in 1981, international lawyer Maxim Znak was arrested in autumn 2020 and sentenced to ten years in prison in 2021. He is in prison in Belarus and is recognised by Amnesty as a prisoner of conscience. Znak wrote these stories from within prison, and they later found their way outside the prison walls.

The stories were sent directly to Jim Dingley who previously translated two books from Belarus for Scotland Street Press. Dingley immediately sent the manuscript to Scotland Street Press. Its arrival was a huge consideration: would its publication endanger Znak's life, or agitate successfully for his release?  By September 2021 this brilliant lawyer was already re-sentenced to ten years in a penal colony in the north of Belarus.  His wife and sister urged us to go ahead with publication.