5 Bulgarian Writers You Don’t Want to Miss
We’re very proud that our newest issue of Two Lines, Issue 25, features a story from the under-appreciated nation of Bulgaria: “A Is for Anything,” an elliptical, obsessive story by the Bulgarian writer Iana Boukova, translated by Angela Rodel.
While there have been six novels translated from the Bulgarian and published in the past two years, and though Bulgarian literature has some presence on the Internet (in part thanks to an excellent portfolio on Bulgarian literature in Drunken Boat 23), it remains, as novelist Georgi Gospodinov points out, a country about which “there’s not much literary curiosity.”
So to help inspire even more future translations from this rich literary tradition, here are 5 can’t-miss selections of poetry and fiction. It’s your intro the Bulgarian scene!
Using taut, short lines, Hristov maintains a casual, thoughtful voice as he meanders through his poetic landscape. In “The Poetry Room,” dedicated to fellow Bulgarian poet Silvia Choleva, he manages to make a poetry-reading poem magnify a poet’s relations with his craft in a quietly deft manner: “we’re all / standing / in that dingy / and slightly stuffy / poetry room / we’re silent / waiting / to see whether / any of us / will leave” (published at 3:AM magazine). Not enough of Hristov is translated into English, but you can find another poem in Two Lines Counterfeits.
Ani Ilkov has a fantastic and playful poetics, grounded in a strong sense of poetic structure. Drunken Boat 23’s portfolio of Bulgarian Literature features several poems from Ilkov’s Etymologicals, translated by Dimiter Keranov. These poems are a kind of science-fiction poetry with a wholly unique take on Bulgarian realities.
Set during Bulgaria’s transition from communist rule to democracy, Party Headquarters is a tight novel that manages to be love story and political thriller in one go. In The Literary Review, Cassie Hay admires how Tenev “captures the mindset of a kind of man, aged eighteen to twenty-four, who we send to fight for us on the battlefields, and he does it with frightening precision.” The protagonist is a young man “at the height of [his] physical powers, grappling with the effect [he] can or can’t have on the world.” Party Headquarters is both disturbing and entertaining at once.
Following the story of Virginia, a violinist suffering from hearing loss and artistic disquiet, the novel follows the structure of a concerto, capitalizing on Dvoryanova’s experience as a musician herself. In Asymptote, Alex McElroy compares Dvoryanova to Thomas Bernhard. But where Bernhard is “writer of the unfinished,” Dvoryanova is “a writer of the aftermath. She is interested in the ramifications of greatness, how accomplishment contains the seed of an artist’s future collapse.” This is the only of Dvoryanova’s novels translated into English.
Perhaps the best-known on the list, this non-linear, anecdotal novel is entirely unique. Garth Greenwell wrote in The New Yorker, “As Gospodinov conceives it, the Bulgarian word tuga (which his translator, Angela Rodel, renders as “sorrow”) is, like Pamuk’s hüzün or Nabokov’s toska, a word for which there’s no real equivalent in English. (Maybe everyone imagines their sorrow to be untranslatable; maybe they’re right.) Gospodinov’s tuga is ‘a longing for something that hasn’t happened . . . a sudden realization that life is slipping away and that certain things will never happen to you, for a whole list of reasons—personal, geographical, political.’” Perhaps the best, if not most idiosyncratic, glimpse into 21st-century Bulgaria.