The latest addition to my website is Ivailo Petrov‘s Хайка за вълци (Wolf Hunt). This long novel, originally published in 1982, is set in rural Bulgaria. At the beginning of the novel, six men plan to go out in a snowstorm to hunt wolves that are attacking the sheep. Most of the rest of the novel is about these six men, their lives, loves and relationships, with all the stories linking into one another. We follow the story of the village for most of the twentieth century up to 1965. In particular, we see the coming of communism and a cooperative farm in the village, which is particularly contentious and leads to much bitterness and even deaths. The villagers love (not always wisely), fight, produce wine, tend their crops, get invovled in war, leave the area, are happy and sad and, ultimately, struggle on. At times the novel is very funny and at times it is deadly serious. Death, inevitably, triumphs and while some of the deaths are natural some are definitely not. It is a superb novel and had considerable success in Bulgaria and is well overdue in English translation.
The latest addition to my website is Yordan Radichkov‘s Les récits de Tcherkaski [Tales from Cherkazki]. As you can see I read the French translation of a selection of these Bulgarian tales. Though there is an English version, it is very hard to obtain. These are linked stories about the Bulgarian village of Cherkazki. The tales are often absurd, such as the story about the monster called a verblude which can take any form, from a smiling woman to a tree and can do lots of thing from creating the Sahara Desert to causing Noak’s Ark to appear. Sometimes, the absurd stories are very funny such as Gotsa Gueraskov’s trip to the Moon. He did not like it, as it was too dusty and made him sneeze, so he came right back. He was not much more impressed with Paris when he went there. Some are just plain funny, as with the account of the men trying to take their animals to market, with the animals naturally being reluctant to go, while the events are interspersed with the story of a man looking for his escaped Serbian pig. Barrage balloons, flea-sized spies, termites, leg warmers, strange wolves and hieroglyphs are just some of the subjects of the other stories. They are very well told, in the oral/folk tradition, very funny and very unpredictable.
The latest addition to my website is Alek Popov‘s Мисия Лондон (Mission to London). Alek Popov was the cultural attaché to the Bulgarian Embassy in London and this is a very funny novel, satirising the Embassy and its relations with the British. The main focus of the story is a charity event, hosted by the wife of a prominent Bulgarian politician, Devorina Pezantova, at which it is hoped that the Queen (the British one, not the Bulgarian one) will be present. The new ambassador has got his job because of the influence of Mrs Pezantova, so everything has to be perfect. Unfortunately for him, most of the staff seem to be corrupt, incompetent or both. Indeed, he calls them all idiots. Allegedly cannibalistic ducks, a large amount of bedpans, Princess Diana and Stephen Hawking pornography, a massive flaming modern art work that goes wrong and, of course, the Queen and the Russian Mafia all feature in this very witty satire. Far from alienating the Bulgarians (except, perhaps, for the diplomatic community), the book was a huge best-seller in Bulgaria and made into a successful film.
The latest addition to my website is Georgi Gospodinov‘s Физика на тъгата (The Physics of Sorrow). This is a postmodern novel narrated by the author or, at least, a man called Georgi Gospodinov, about his life and the life of his father and grandfather. The narrator initially identifies not only with himself but with his father and grandfather and we learn, in particular, about his grandfather’s exploits in World War II when he stayed with a Hungarian widow at the end of the war. Much of the novel is about the narrator’s life, his thoughts, his obsessions (minotaurs and labyrinths), his feelings about Bulgaria during the period when he was growing up (primarily the 1980s), a decidedly love-hate relationship. He tells stories, make lists, rails against the Bulgarian political system but feels nostalgia for his childhood and even goes back to the small town he grew up and stays there. As he says I can’t offer a linear story, because no labyrinth and no story is ever linear and this one certainly jumps around. If I had to sum up in a few words what it is about, it is about that standard theme, a man trying to find himself, who he is and what he is and his place in the world. Inevitably, that is not a straightforward task.