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In North Dakota, the first English translation of a Sorbian novel

New novel from North Dakota Quarterly opens window into Sorbian literature and magical world

The modern world can be only a thin veil covering a more magical past. In Jurij Koch’s novella The Cherry Tree, Sieghart, an engineer, meets a beautiful woman and her mysterious family when he finds himself stranded in the countryside on a rainy night. This chance encounter draws Sieghart into an enchanted world laced with love, magic and memory.

Jurij Koch is the most accomplished living Sorbian writer, and this short novel is the first major work of Sorbian literature to appear in English. (The Sorbs are a Slavic ethnic minority that have lived in modern-day Germany for roughly 1,500 years. Today there are an estimated 60,000 Sorbs in Germany, BBC Travel reports, and The Cherry Tree is set in the Sorbian-speaking region of the former East Germany. )

The novel was originally published in East Germany in 1984. John K. Cox, professor of history at North Dakota State University, translated the novel from German into English for the first time. “This book is witness to the diversity and shared life of different ethnic groups in modern Germany and one of Germany’s best-kept secrets,” Cox explains.

“Koch’s light touch allows him to combine the environmental and the ethnographic, spirituality and modernization, and politics and pantheism, at the intersection of the Slavic and German worlds. The novella explores gendered approaches to the exploitation of coal and hydroelectric resources that endangered many Sorbian villages during the period of communism in East Germany.”

And by suggesting, for example, that the past, the present, the future are never fully distinct, Koch’s style and story resist reducing complex situations into simple solutions. As the author reminds us, “Not everything in this world can be figured out.”

This book is the first novel-length work published by the University of North Dakota’s literary magazine, North Dakota Quarterly, since Tom McGrath’s This Coffin Has No Handles in 1984. It is the second volume in a new series of works published in collaboration with The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota.

“NDQ has long straddled the line between academic and popular works,” notes Bill Caraher, associate professor of history at UND and editor of North Dakota Quarterly.

“Cox’s translation of Koch’s The Cherry Tree is a great example of the kind of fertile ground that exists at this intersection. The novella is a serious work of literature deserving of critical appreciation, but also the kind of work that is accessible to a wider audience.”

As with most books from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, readers can download a copy of the new translation for free or purchase it as a low-cost paperback.


Contact information:

For more about The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota and NDQ:

For more about The Cherry Tree and its place in European literature, please contact John K. Cox at NDSU:


John K. Cox Portrait: Photograph courtesy of the John K. Cox.

Jurij Koch Portrait: Photograph courtesy of John K. Cox.