Category Archives: Bulgarian literature

Старият феномен

Старият феномен. Човек го пише грешно от невежеството, а останалите следват инстинкта на стадото. Но все още се нарича “Канун на Лек Дукаджини” (Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit), а не “Канун на Лек Дукагини”. Жалко.

© Thomas Hübner and, 2014-8. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Джеф Безос и аз

Един умен потребител на ФБ от Русе разбра най-накрая истината за мен. Истината е: името ми е Джеф Безос и аз съм основният акционер на Амазон и най-богатият човек на света!. Да, не се шегувам. И това е как той разбра: тъй като съм издател на платформа CreateSpace, която наскоро публикува две книги от групата NSP и CreateSpace е платформата за самоиздателство на Amazon, истината зад всичко това може да бъде само: Джеф Безос е издател на Новата социална поезия, а в България Джеф Безос използва псевдонима Томас Хюбнер. Сега се страхувам от адвокатите на този умен човек, който ще направи всичко по силите си, за да ме изгони в Русе, където ще ме поставят в килия, където трябва да слушам цял ден на лента с поезия на този човек. И повярвайте ми, в сравнение с това, waterboarding е парче торта!

© Thomas Hübner and, 2014-8. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



аз съм изненадан, че един млад български поет, с когото дори веднъж споделях вечеря и приятелски разговор, и за когото винаги мислих добре, харесва пост на един психически небалансиран човек, който ме нарича свиня, без особена причина. но хей, това са кръговете на българските поети, така че всичко е възможно …

© Thomas Hübner and, 2014-8. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Bulgarian Literature Month upcoming at Global Literature in Libraries Initiative

The Global Literature in Libraries Initiative will host a Bulgarian Literature Month in June! And while this is for me already a reason to beam with delight, I am even more pleased that I was invited to be the editor of this event! 

In practice this means that in June the blog of the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative website will publish on a daily basis book reviews of Bulgarian fiction, and of books related to Bulgaria, including non-fiction, by a wide range of contributors I hope. I will try to invite participants who can cover a big variety of topics and books for review, including literature from women, LGBT literature, books on history, culture, arts, etc. Additionally, I will try to squeeze in some other posts related to the topic, such as interviews with authors, publishers, translators and other relevant players in that field. So far I have already a lot of ideas and things will become more concrete very soon.

For a number of reviews of books I would like to include, I will contact some of the “usual suspects” I have in mind. But I am of course open, if one of my blogger colleagues wants to join in, or any other reader who thinks she/he can contribute something interesting. Eligible are texts that haven’t been published elsewhere. If you have questions, or if you want to write a contribution in the framework of Bulgarian Literature Month, please send me a message in the comment section of this blog post or at  

Thanks to Rachel Hildebrandt (just nominated for the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translation Prize!) and to Karen Van Drie from Global Literature in Libraries Initiative for giving me this opportunity – I feel honored! 

These words from the mission statement of GLLI I wholeheartedly support:

“The Global Literature in Libraries Initiative strives to raise the visibility of world literature for adults and children at the local, national and international levels. We intend to do so by facilitating close and direct collaboration between translators, librarians, publishers, editors, and educators, because we believe that these groups in collaboration are uniquely positioned to help libraries provide support and events to engage readers of all ages in a library framework that explores and celebrates literature from around the world.

We want to increase the visibility of international works in English translation so that more readers can enjoy the amazing diversity in these books and the perspectives they present. And we would like to do this by increasing cooperation between literary translators, international literature advocates, and librarians, who are already experts at guiding readers to new titles. Whether you are a children’s librarian or a YA blogger, a rural library director or a teacher at a large urban school with a diverse student population, we would welcome your insights as we explore collaborative opportunities to encourage readers to explore beyond the boundaries of their own culture and language.”  

I will keep you posted!

© Thomas Hübner and, 2014-8. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.





New Social Poetry from Bulgaria

There are not really a lot of poetry collections or anthologies by Bulgarian authors available in English. Therefore I take the opportunity to let those readers with an interest in poetry, or in Bulgarian literature, know that these days a new anthology with poetry by contemporary authors from Bulgaria has seen the light.  

New Social Poetry: The Anthology, translated by Christopher Buxton, is comprised of texts by a wide range of authors, some of them well-known in Bulgaria since decades, some of them very young and at the beginning of their poetic journey. The following authors participate in the anthology:  Zlatomir Zlatanov, Alexander Nikolov, Ani Ilkov, Atanas Petrov, Vania Valkova, Ventsislav Arnaoudov, Violeta Zlatareva, Vladimir Sabourín, Gancho Petrishki, Dilyana Parvanova, Ileana Stoyanova, Kiril Vassilev, Kristina Krumova, Marco Vidal, Michaela Angelova, Nikolaj Bojkov, Nikolay Fenerski, Plamena Girginova, Rositsa Bakalova, Ruzha Velcheva, Teodora Taneva, Thomas Hübner, Christina Vassileva. The title of the anthology refers to a literary movement that was founded 2016 in Sofia, and to the literary journal of the same name.  

I should mention in this context that the initiator of New Social Poetry, Vladimir Sabourin, recently published a book that deals with the origins of this literary movement: Towards a New Social Poetry: Aesthetico-political Theses (also translated by Christopher Buxton), an interesting and controversial essay, whose core, the Manifesto for New Social Poetry created quite an uproar in literary circles in Bulgaria, mainly because it was considered as a frontal attack against the literary establishment in Bulgaria and a type of literature that the author refers to as “lifestyle literature”. 

Alexander Nikolov, Atanas Petrov, Vania Valkova, Ivan Marinov, Kristina Krumova,  Ventsislav Arnaoudov, Vladimir Sabourín, Nikolay Fenerski, Christina Vassileva (eds.): New Social Poetry: The Anthology, translated by Christopher Buxton, CreateSpace 2018

Vladimir Sabourin: Towards a New Social Poetry: Aesthetico-political Theses,      translated by Christopher Buxton, CreateSpace 2018 

Both books are available at Amazon in printed form, the latter also as e-book. 

© Thomas Hübner and, 2014-8. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


“Es gibt keine wahre Liebe ohne Intellektualität!“

Das erste Buch, das wir – meine Co-Verlegerin Elitsa Osenska und ich – seinerzeit im Rhizome-Verlag auf bulgarisch herausgebracht haben, ist jetzt auch auf deutsch erschienen:

“SchrödingERs Katze” von Milena Nikolova (mit Illustrationen von Victor Muhtarov, Tita Kojcheva und Sava Muhtarov), und zwar im eta-Verlag, Berlin. 

Der bekannte Literaturkritiker, Übersetzer und Autor Robin Detje schreibt über das Buch:

„Milena Nikolova schlägt alle Warnungen in den Wind. Die Menschen wollen nur Gefühle? Man darf sie nicht mit Klugheit verschrecken? Man darf nicht zu viel wollen? Diese Katze will alles: Witz und Wissenschaft, Verspieltheit ohne Gnade, bis zum Kurzschluss der Erkenntnis. Virtuos dekonstruiert das Langgedicht die große Lüge von der Feindschaft zwischen Kopf und Bauch: Es gibt keine wahre Liebe ohne Intellektualität!“

Für uns war es ein Glücksfall, unsere verlegerische Tätigkeit mit einem solch aussergewöhnlich schönen, verspielten, wunderbaren Buch beginnen zu können.

Wir wünschen der Autorin, dem deutschen Verlag und allen Beteiligten ganz viel Erfolg mit dem Buch!

Wer dieser Tage die Buchmesse in Leipzig besucht, sollte unbedingt beim eta-Verlag vorbeischauen, der auch andere interessante bulgarische Autoren im Programm hat.

Am 16. März, 19.00, stellen die Autorin Milena Nikolova und Petya Lund, die engagierte Verlegerin des eta-Verlags, das Buch im Cafe Unkraut, Wolfgang-Heinze-Str. 21, 04277 Leipzig (Süd), vor.

Am 18. März, 15.30, folgt dann eine weitere Veranstaltung direkt auf der Messe, ebenfalls mit Autorin und Verlegerin (Ort: Literaturcafé, Halle 4, Stand B600).

Sehr empfehlenswert! 

Milena Nikolova: SchrödingErs Katze: Ein subatomares Liebesgedicht in Echtzeit (Illustrationen: Victor Muhtarov, Tita Kojcheva, Sava Muhtarov), eta-Verlag, Berlin 2018


Die bulgarische Ausgabe kann in jeder guten Buchhandlung in Bulgarien erworben werden, oder auch direkt beim Verlag (

© Thomas Hübner and, 2014-8. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
© eta-Verlag (Photo 1), 2018
© Rhizome Publishing and Chris Enchev (Photo 2), 2016-2018
© Victor Muhtarov, Tita Kojcheva, Sava Muhtarov (Photo 1 and 2), 2016-2018
© Robin Detje (Quote), 2018



In Ruse with Elias Canetti

In the first volume of his autobiography Die gerettete Zunge (The Tongue Set Free), Elias Canetti writes about his early childhood in the Bulgarian city of Ruse – Canetti uses throughout the book the old name Rustchuk -:

“Everything that I experienced later, had already happened once in Rustchuk…On any one day you could hear seven or eight languages.”

Despite having spent only his first six years in the city of his birth – the family emigrated to Manchester in 1911 and Canetti came back only once for a visit in 1915 – Ruse and its unique multilingual and multicultural atmosphere at that time left a lifelong mark on the future writer.

A small book in Bulgarian language with the title In Ruse with Elias Canetti (В Русе с Елиас Канети) sheds additional light on this early period of Canetti’s life, family background and social surrounding.

In the middle of the 19th century Ruse had developed into a thriving city. Located at the Danube it had by then attracted a lot of trading activities and the port of Ruse was the main artery through which goods were imported and exported from and to the whole region. An additional boost to the economic development was the fact that Ruse had a fast-growing Jewish (Sephardic) community which was one of the driving forces for Ruse’s modernization; this together with a general economic boom in the then revived Bulgarian state (until the Russian-Turkish War 1877-78 it had been part of the Ottoman Empire for almost five hundred years) made Ruse the then most modern and truly European city in Bulgaria.  

The authors give us interesting information about the origin and growth of the Jewish community in Ruse and trace back also the family background of Canetti’s parents. Grandfather Elias Canetti (the namesake of little Elias) came from Adrianopel (Edirne) to Ruse and became a successful trader, first with his partner in Constantinople, later on his own. He reigned his firm and his family like a benevolent despot, a true family man that cared a lot for his grandchildren and particularly his oldest grandson Elias; but at the same time he expected that his sons gave up on their own plans and would be part of the future family business with branches in all other important Bulgarian cities.

For Jacques, young Elias’ father, this was a source of permanent inner conflicts – he was a talented violinist and dreamed of a career as a musician in a chamber quartet. Also Mathilde, his wife and Elias’ mother, was a talented amateur musician (she played the piano); there are photos that show the parents as musicians in a public concert in Ruse. Another photo shows Jacques, then a dashing young man, in a carnival costume – both parents who had spent years in their youth in Vienna loved the theatre and literature, things for which Grandfather Canetti had not much interest and which he might have considered at best as harmless hobbies, but as nothing serious.

Beside this latent conflict between Jacques and Elias Senior, another quite open conflict clouded the childhood of the future Nobel Prize winner. Mathilde’s family, the Arditis, were against the marriage of their youngest daughter with Jacques Canetti. The Arditis, one of the oldest and high-ranking Sephardic families could trace back their origin until the 13th century when some of their ancestors were astronomers and doctors at the courts of the Kings Alfonso IV and Pedro IV. After 1492, the family settled in Livorno and later in the Ottoman Empire, where several of their members became famous rabbis, kabbalists and scientists; the Arditis were among the first Jewish families in Ruse and looked down on Elias Senior and his family as upstarts, who had just arrived from the Orient and were no match for the famous and cultured Arditi family. One of the remaining (and traumatic) memories of his early childhood in Ruse was for Canetti a visit in Grandfather Arditi’s house. This grandfather, who never paid much attention to Elias and never gave him a present, asked his grandson on one occasion, which of his grandfathers he loved more – Grandpa Canetti or Grandpa Arditi. When the poor boy said “Both!”, he was immediately called a liar and hypocrite by his maternal grandfather. 

One of the most interesting chapters for me was the one on the artistic talent of Canetti’s parents, especially that if his father. Ruse had quite an active social and cultural life, and much of it was initiated and kept alive mainly by its Jewish citizens. Ruse has a beautiful theatre that regarding its size and architecture could be as well in Vienna or Budapest. During Ruse’s best times, many famous international troupes visited the Danubian city, the same goes for many musicians and orchestras. There were amateur theatre groups and concerts that raised funds for the education of poor but talented Jewish children, the Bnai Brith Loge played an important role in the social fabric of the Jewish community, and there were also some of the first Zionist organisations in Bulgaria which had their headquarters in Ruse. Other chapters cover the donations made by Canetti’s grandfather and father, the efforts of Jews from Ruse to support the war effort in the Balkan Wars and WWI, either as soldiers or by financial support. Another short chapter describes how Canetti learned some folk rhymes and stories from young Bulgarian peasant girls, stories he later found again in a German book about Bulgarian fairy tales and folk stories and that left obviously a deep impression on him. Philately, the role of the different newspapers in the Canetti household (in Ladino and in German), and the comet Halley are also covered by short but instructive chapters.

The Orator is the title of the longest chapter of the book, and it deals with Canetti’s relationship with one of the most colorful members of the Canetti-Arditi family, Elias’ cousin Benjamin ‘Bubi’ Arditi (Canetti calls him ‘Bernhard’ in a letter addressed to him that is reproduced in the book). Bubi, just a few years older than his cousin, was for some time a strong influence for Canetti and he is explicitly mentioned in the second volume of Canetti’s autobiography Die Fackel im Ohr (The Torch in My Ear).

After Canetti’s parents moved to Manchester with their three sons (Elias, Nissim and Georges), Elias saw his cousin during both visits in Bulgaria; in Summer 1915 in Ruse and in 1924 in Sofia. During this period Bubi had became a fervent Zionist and public speaker. Elias was so impressed by his cousin who engaged himself with all his energy in something much bigger than himself, a cause for the Jewish community, that we find traces of The Orator also in Masse und Macht and in his Aufzeichnungen. For a short time, young Elias seemed also to have considered to become a Zionist. Bulgarian Jews were in those days frequently targeted by the terrorist IMRO (today this extremist right-wing political party that is still proud of its criminal and antisemitic origin and which propagates quite openly violence against ethnic minorities and refugees is part of the Bulgarian Government!), that openly threatened to kill those who didn’t pay hefty sums to them; blackmail, collection of “protection” money and contract killings were the main financial sources of this “patriotic” group – today, being part of the Bulgarian government, they use means that are only slightly more subtle – that was in its high time considered the most ruthless group of assassins in Europe.  – When Canetti fell in Vienna under the spell of an even greater orator, Karl Kraus, this interest in Zionist politics faded away completely. 

The book reproduces several letters of Canetti to his cousin Bubi and to people in Bulgaria who got in touch with him in his later life. He found touching words for his attachment to Ruse and the importance of the city for himself and his development as a writer.

This small book is not only very informative, it is also an important document of the renewed connection of the writers’ birthplace with this extraordinary son of Ruse. Canetti’s daughter visited Ruse for the first time in 1998 and initiated together with Penka Angelova from the University Veliko Tarnovo and other supporters the International Elias Canetti Society, which is now very active to promote the literary work of Elias Canetti, and the values for which he stood. The three engravings that show Old Ruse and that were among Canetti’s most treasured belongings, are now back in Ruse – a donation by his daughter. And there is a chance that not only the former building of the trading house Elias Canetti (Senior) in Slavyanski Street 14 in Ruse will be revived, but maybe also that the author’s birthplace at Gurko Street 13 will be turned into a museum one day. (Interestingly, the English Wikipedia page about Canetti, claims that the building at Slavyanska is his birthplace – a building that the author has rarely ever entered, since it was an office and a warehouse, not a residential building.)   

While the book provided me with interesting, new to me information and is written with real love and devotion to the subject, I have to mention two points with which I had a problem.

The book contains many reproductions of photos and other documents; that’s a good thing since it adds considerably to the quality of the given information and makes the book even more interesting and readable. However – and this really unforgivable – the book mentions absolutely no sources of any of the photos and documents, and therefore also not of the owners of the copyright of these illustrations. That is highly disappointing and doesn’t correspond with the standard of a book publication; it is even infringing the copyright – something that is considered in Bulgaria unfortunately as no offence at all by many people. For me it is a question of honesty and intellectual integrity not to disregard in such a shameful way the intellectual property of others, and it is a real pity that such an otherwise recommendable book has such a very serious flaw. 

I had also a problem with a question regarding a detail in the chapter devoted to The Orator. Bubi Arditi, a lifelong supporter of the revisionist Zionist Vladimir Zeev Jabotinsky, the Irgun, and other right-wing groups, was also politically involved with the last Czar Simeon II (and later Prime Minister Simeon Sakskoburggotski).

Simeon launched a long time ago a campaign to depict his father Boris III as the “saviour” of the Bulgarian Jews during WWII, a claim that has been a long time ago discarded by serious historians. In the contrary, Boris III was the main Bulgarian responsible for the extermination of the Jews in the annexed territories in Macedonia and Thracia. I don’t want to go into the details here regarding this topic, but it is important to know that Bubi Arditi wrote a book that supports Simeon’s revisionist theory.

After referring Arditi’s position that Boris III was the “saviour” of the Bulgarian Jews and his blaming the “Jewish communists in Bulgaria” that they are liars, the book claims surprisingly that Canetti shared his cousin’s opinion on this question. But while there can be no doubt about the fact that Canetti rejected the communist system in Bulgaria with harsh words, he was never a supporter of the thesis that Boris III was the “saviour” of the Bulgarian Jews and the reproduced letter proves – if anything – the opposite. The rather ambiguous wording of the authors in this particular context leaves room for the interpretation that they think that Canetti shared his cousin’s opinion. But Canetti was never ever a supporter of revisionist ideologues and I was rather annoyed by this passage in an otherwise very recommendable text.   

P.S. In case you wonder, the French actor Pierre Arditi is also a member of the Canetti-Arditi family. His father Georges and Elias were cousins.

.В Русе с Елиас Канети

Veselina Antonova / Ivo Zheynov: In Ruse with Elias Canetti, MD Elias Canetti, Ruse 2016

Elias Canetti: The Tongue Set Free, Granta Books, London 1999, translated by Joachim Neugroschel 

© Thomas Hübner and, 2014-8. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

In the Shadow of the Moon

It is interesting how my reading patterns and interests are changing over the years; for example I am reading nowadays much more poetry and short prose as I used to. The short and the very short prose is a little bit of a step child of modern literature. It seems that today everyone wants to read (and write) novels, particularly long novels. But I prefer a small collection of short short stories over most long novels, especially when the prose is crisp and the stories tickle my imagination. Such as most of the pieces in the book In the Shadow of the Moon by Assen Assenov, a book that is only available in a bi-lingual German/Bulgarian edition (original title: Im Mondschatten/В сянката на луната) .

Assenov, born 1942 in Varna, lives since the 1970’s in Germany. For many years, he was the managing editor of the renowned German literary journal Litfass. Litfass was in the last decades of the existence of two German states one of the few outlets that was open to writers from East and West Germany, and therefore it was an important place of communication between writers and intellectuals of both Germanies. Assenov, who works also as a literary translator, published several collections of his own short prose. Marcel Reich-Ranicki, Germany’s most famous (and most feared) literary critic wrote favourably about Assenov’s prose.

Some of the prose pieces (most of them are less than one page long, the longest cover up to four pages) are focused on (auto-)biographical experiences of the author’s alter ego Velin: the description of a journey to Monte Carlo, a holiday with his future wife, a meeting with her years after they have divorced, a letter his ex-wife is writing him after her new partner has died in an accident. But while the events sound ordinary, even banal at times, there is always an element of surprise, something unexpected that stands for the contingency of life and that may in some cases even come as a shock to the readers; such as in the story Until Noon (Bis Mittag), in which a housewife is making the breakfast for her husband, cleans the dishes after he leaves for work, waters the flowers, deposes the garbage, cleans the shoes, dusts the book shelves, until at noon she opens the window and jumps…Most relationships that are described in the book are unhappy and we as readers see them frequently from the viewpoint of one of the involved parties (like in Next Year, in Novel or in Waiting). Dreams are in some cases the basis of stories (such as Winnetou, or Help); the life of the emigrant between two countries and cultures is an implicit topic of many of the texts. Some use the form of the anecdote, some that of the poem; more than a few drift into another, fantastic reality and reminded me sometimes of Kafka (In Line, or Old House). Writing, one of my favourite texts in the collection, may be considered as the credo of its author:

“Word by word I pick up my life. – How many stories do we have to live through, until we make an experience? How many times must something resonate in our consciousness until you realize it, until you understand it. Until you describe it! – I live in a world, in which almost nothing of what surrounds me, was surrounding me during my childhood. Not the people, not the smells, not the language. What I wanted, I have achieved. But it was not, what I needed. – …Locked into a circle of stories, of a Bulgarian mother, an Austrian wife, a German daughter. Stories that define me. The wish to bring order into my life by writing, to break the circle, to finish the stories.” (My translation) 

Assen Assenov is virtually unknown in the English-speaking world, but a collection of his short prose would find its readers!

Assen Assenov: Im Mondschatten – В сянката на луната, Sonm, Sofia 2002

© Thomas Hübner and, 2014-8. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



Visiting a painter’s studio

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit the painter Dmitrie Peicev (Димитър Пейчев) in his studio in Chisinau. Peicev was born 1943 in Burgugi, a Bulgarian village in the Budzhak region, the part of Bessarabia that belongs now to Ukraine (Odesa oblast). He received his artistic education in Chisinau and Moscow. The influence of the French impressionists, Courbet and of his teacher (and father-in-law) Mihai Grecu is visible in many of his paintings, although Peicev has his own distinctive style.

Peicev is also a poet. He has published three collections of poetry in his native language in Bulgaria. A fourth collection is in preparation. Many of his poems circle around childhood memories from his beloved Budzhak.

It was supposed to be a friendly, short visit; but we ended up (supported by some Moldovan wine) to discuss for about six hours a big variety of topics from the world of art, poetry, and life in general. For me it was particularly interesting to learn about the life of the Bulgarian minority in the region and their history and culture. And of course it was an opportunity to see quite a number of his artworks, mainly from recent years; portraits, landscapes, still lives.

Although the artist, a very humble person, who didn’t say anything bad about anyone during our meeting, has done a lot of efforts to keep his Bulgarian identity and to keep the Bulgarian community in the region together, I had the feeling that his experiences in Bulgaria were a bit mixed (to say it friendly). While he has some close friends in Bulgaria and spoke very fondly of his visits there, he is not very well known in Bulgaria, and a big exhibition tour years ago ended in a disaster for the artist: most of his 80 paintings exhibited there were stolen, and his experiences with Bulgarian art galleries (and the customs) were not of the kind that make him very eager to exhibit again in Bulgaria. Still, I hope that one day we will see a big exhibition of his artworks in Bulgaria.

The friendly artist suggested to paint my portrait; although vanity is usually not one of my sins, I am considering it…

I truly enjoyed to meet such an interesting person! My special thanks goes to my friend Kate Baklitskaya, who not only introduced me to the artist, but who was also brave enough to listen for the biggest part of the visit to our conversation in Bulgarian.

Some works of Dmitrie Peicev:

© Thomas Hübner and, 2014-7. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
© Dmitrie Peicev and National Museum of Art Moldova, Chisinau, 2010-2017

Why I rarely publish negative reviews

Since I started this blog, I have reviewed approximately 120 books here; I share these reviews also in Goodreads and in Facebook. But I read much more books, which means that I am by far not writing about all the books I am in fact reading.

The reasons for this are mainly the following:

Reviewing takes some time; if you want to write something more than just a few superficial remarks, something meaningful, you need to spend a comparatively big amount of time – time I sometimes don’t have, or time I prefer to invest in something to me more valuable in that moment – for example in reading, travelling, working on my actual book project, or spending quality time with people that matter to me! And imagine, I have a job too, haha.

Furthermore, a lot of the books I am reading are not really creating this urge in me to write about them. Maybe it’s just me, or maybe the book is kind of dull and boring, or it is more or less ok, but nothing special and I have already forgotten the plot after a short time, or the topic is too special to be of any interest for a wider audience. So what’s the point to bother someone with my thoughts in such cases?

A special case are awe-inspiring books, books where I feel that at this moment they are beyond my capacities as a reviewer – recent example: Dostoevsky’s Demons. I would need to write a 10,000 words text if I wanted to review it, otherwise I would have to neglect important aspects of the book as I understand it. And if I will ever be able to express my limitless admiration of and fascination with Hans Henny Jahnn’s strange behemoth of a novel River without Banks – a book that literally changed my life and my view of life in general – in an adequate way remains a big question for me. (I reviewed the first part here; the biggest part of the novel was never translated in English.)   

The fourth category are the hopelessly bad, crappy, worthless books that you come across sometimes. I am not particularly inclined to write reviews about books I didn’t enjoy or that I even strongly dislike. In general, I prefer to be silent in such cases instead of wasting valuable time to indulge in negative feelings. In general, I believe that I am usually much better in positively raving about the qualities of a book than to give it the thump-down. Therefore, only about 5% of my published reviews so far are negative; if I would write a review about every single book I am reading, this percentage would be much higher, maybe more like 25-30%.

So, in which cases of this fourth category I am nevertheless making the effort to publish my negative opinion about a book? There are of course, as I see in retrospect now, a few reasons:

There are books and authors that have acquired the status of a “classic”, or at least of being extremely popular. While I have no problem with popular books and authors in general, I have experienced a couple of times the situation that I read a book that was praised as a “masterpiece”, or even as “one of the best novels of the 20th century” – and it turned out to be awfully bad from whatever standpoint you look at it. That’s what I call the “Emperor’s-New-Clothes syndrome”, and in such a blatant case as this one I feel obliged to raise my finger and voice my objection. This specific book and author get in my opinion much more attention than would be deserved if we look just at the – according to me hardly existing! – literary quality of the work; it is more a result of the successful efforts of the author during his lifetime to turn himself into a brand, than of the genuine quality of his writing that he occupies such a prominent place in literary history, and this book is praised by so many people although it is obviously no good at all (admittedly not all books by this author are as bad as the one I reviewed). The purpose of my review is to be a small contribution to a re-assessment of this specific book, and thus maybe also to a re-assessment of other, much better novels published during that period by authors who were not so good in self-marketing, but maybe better writers with some meaningful message in their works, written in a much better prose.

Another category of books are those by contemporary authors, who – supported by an aggressive marketing, a devoted group of friends in the media, and a similarly devoted crowd of “groupies” in social media – blow the horn and thus make a lot of noise around their silly, shallow, obnoxious books and turn this kind of attention into a mass phenomenon, and in extreme cases even into a movement that shares certain elements with a sect. That’s what I call the “One-million-flies-cannot-go-wrong syndrome”, and again I find myself every now and then in a position that I simply must voice my objection against such a book, and may it even be in a very succinct way, like in this case. (This review by a fellow book blogger sums it up very nicely in more detail what is wrong with this book and its author.)

Closely related to the last category are books that are lacking a basic quality a book (and its author) should have in my opinion: intellectual integrity. When the content and the message of a book is in stark contrast with the personal behaviour of its author, it is clearly a case of hypocrisy and lack of integrity. Intellectual impostors like the author of this book, should be always exposed.

Some books simply make me angry. A lot of people like this book and similar one’s by the same author – but to me it is obvious that the book is just an alibi for something else. This author makes his living by providing arousal templates for the needs of a very “special” audience. His sick anal-sadistic torture fantasies are poorly written, and as a reviewer I really hope that I prevent a few readers from exposing themselves to this revolting stuff.  

Very young and inexperienced authors will be usually treated with kindness by me; most bad books I read by such authors will be never reviewed here. In exceptional cases, when for example the publisher is to blame for not editing a book by an inexperienced author at all (and thus doing him a very bad service), like in this case, I will make an exception. Not because I want to slam the poor author for his shortcomings, but because I find it unethical when some publishers don’t protect authors from seriously damaging themselves.

Another exception are cases (like this one) in which a young author who in my opinion lacks literary talent is “made” by a publisher, in co-operation with key figures of the literary scene; a system that manipulates the public, arranges that such an author gets literary awards, and plenty of media attention that will in turn help to generate additional money and influence for this person in the literary scene, damages the chances of other young authors with real literary talent (but maybe with less talent for self-promotion), and even corrupts the readers and potential young authors, because a system that systematically ignores literary merit must in the long run have negative repercussions on the literary life in general, especially when the book market in that country is very small. Also in these cases, a reviewer should speak out and make it clear when such a “hyped” book has no literary value, and is obviously more a media or lifestyle phenomenon than serious literature.  

Hey, before I forget it – I know some authors personally. Some of them are nice people, others not so much. It is just like in all other spheres of life. Would the fact that I am in good or maybe not so good terms with someone influence my judgement (as imperfect as it may be) regarding the quality of their respective writing?

The answer is obvious: never!

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