Tag Archives: Alek Popov

Bulgarian Literature Month 2016 – a few suggestions

As already announced some time ago, Mytwostotinki will host a Bulgarian Literature Month in June. In case you are a reader with or without blog, here are a few suggestions for that month in case you want to participate. Additional suggestions and information on how to participate will follow very soon.

Very little is available in print in English language from the non-contemporary Bulgarian belletristic literature. Among the classical works presently available in print are:

Ivan Vazov: Under the Yoke (various editions available) – the most famous classical work in Bulgarian and the first Bulgarian novel, written 1888 and based on Vazov’s own experience and historical events related to the so-called April uprising against the Ottoman rule. Full of action and romanticism, a story that is still read by almost every Bulgarian (usually at school) and that is therefore having a great influence on how Bulgarians see their own history (and themselves).

Aleko Konstantinov: Bai Ganyo (University of Wisconsin Press 2010) – originally published 1895; the adventures and misadventures of the rose oil trader Bai Ganyo are a satirical masterpiece. Bai Ganyo knows always where to find a free lunch in Vienna, Dresden, Petersburg and how to bribe, bully and rig elections in Bulgaria. No wonder not all Bulgarians like this book and its author (who was murdered in 1897), especially since not all has changed very much since Bai Ganyo’s days.

By the same author, a travel account – one of the first by Bulgarian authors:

Aleko Konstantinov: To Chicago and Back (Abm Komers 2004)

The poet Nikola Vaptsarov had a short and tragic life. His poems are available in English:

Nikola Vaptsarov: Kino (ed. Georgi Gospodinov) (Smokestack Books 2014)

The grand old lady of Bulgarian literature was without doubt Blaga Dimitrova. Available by her:

Blaga Dimitrova: Forbidden Sea (2002), and Scars (2003), both by Ivy Press Princeton – Dimitrova was one of the most beloved and prolific writers in Bulgarian language after WWII and after the fall of communism she was for some time Vice-President of the country. Two of her longer poems are available in bi-lingual editions. Dimitrova wrote also prose but in this moment, none of her works in prose seems to be available.

Since we are at poetry, here are a few more titles (mostly in bi-lingual editions):

Konstantin Pavlov: Capriccio for Goya
Konstantin Pavlov: Cry of a Former Dog
Alexander Shurbanov: Frost-Flowers
Danila Stoianova: Memory of a Dream
Edvin Sugarev: Secret Senses
Edvin Sugarev: Kaleidoscope (all titles by Ivy Press Princeton)

Shearsman Books, another small publisher, has two Bulgarian poetry books:

Tzvetanka Elenkova: The Seventh Gesture, and
At the End of the World – Contemporary Poetry from Bulgaria (ed. Tzvetanka Elenkova)

Translator is in both cases Jonathan Dunne who is with Tzvetanka Elenkova, his wife, also the publisher of Small Stations Press.

Another excellent anthology of Bulgarian poetry:

The Season of Delicate Hunger (ed. Katerina Stoykova-Klemer), Accents Publishing 2014

The following poetry works are published by small publishers – if you are interested in them let me know; these books are probably not available via the usual distribution channels in your country:

Boris Hristov: Book of Silence (Mythographies, 2008)
Ivan Hristov: American Poems (DA, 2013)
Kiril Kadiiski: Poetry (Sofia University Press, 2006)
Toma Bintchev: The Sea is Blue (Augusta 2008)
Dimitar Minkov: Contemplation (Initsiali 2014)
Karol Nikolov: Shared Spaces (ZOF 2009)
Lyubomir Nikolov: Street Poems (Carnegie Mellon University Press 2005)
Kristin Dimitrova: A Visit to the Clockmaker (Southword Editions 2005)

German readers can also try:

Elin Rachnev: Zimt (Leipziger Literaturverlag 2012)
Anna Zlatkova: fremde geografien (edition exil 2014)
Tzveta Sofronieva: Gefangen im Licht (Biblion 1999)
Boris Paskov: Zehn Traumgespanne (Biblion 2001)
Gerhard Gesemann(Hg.): Zweiundsiebzig Lieder des bulgarischen Volkes (Biblion 1996)
Radoj Ralin: Späte Brombeeren (Avlos 1999)
Mirela Ivanova: Versöhnung mit der Kälte (Das Wunderhorn 2004)
Pejo Jaworow: Den Schatten der Wolken nach (Weihermüller 1999)

The most renowned contemporary Bulgarian writer is Georgi Gospodinov. His two excellent novels (The Physics of Sorrow was just nominated for the Best Translated Book Award 2016) and a book with stories are available in English:

Natural Novel (Dalkey Archive Press 2005)
And Other Stories (Northwestern University Press 2007)
The Physics of Sorrow (Open Letter Books 2015)

Gospodinov is translated in many languages. In German the following books by him are also translated:

8 Minuten und 19 Sekunden (Droschl 2016)
Kleines morgendliches Verbrechen (Droschl 2010)
Gaustin oder Der Mensch mit vielen Namen (Wieser 2004)

The other internationally well-known name in translated contemporary Bulgarian literature is Alek Popov. His two fast-paced novels (the first one previously reviewed by me favourably) contain a lot of – sometimes black – humour, and it is not surprising that the first one was already adapted as a successful movie:

Mission London (Istros Books 2014)
The Black Box (Peter Owen Books 2015)

Again, German readers have more choices. Apart from the two books just mentioned they can also read the following by the same author:

Für Fortgeschrittene (Residenz 2009)
Schneeweisschen und Partisanenrot (Residenz 2014)

One of the most interesting female authors from Bulgaria is Virginia Zaharieva. As regular readers of this blog will remember, I enjoyed her first and so far only novel a lot:

Nine Rabbits (Istros Books 2012; Black Balloon Publishing 2014)

A publishing house that has various translated titles in his excellent program is Open Letter Press. Apart from The Physics of Sorrow it published also an excellent novel by Zachary Karabashliev (favourably reviewed by me):

18% Grey (Open Letter 2013)

Other titles from Open Letter Press:

Angel Igov: A Short Tale of Shame (Open Letter Books 2013) – Igov is one of the most interesting younger Bulgarian authors. His second – and so far untranslated – novel Krotkite was recently nominated as Best Bulgarian novel 2015.

Milen Ruskov: Thrown into Nature (Open Letter Books 2011) – a brilliant picaresque historical novel

Albena Stambolova: Everything Happens as it Does (Open Letter Books 2013) – a novel that was not completely unjustified compared to Albert Camus’ The Stranger.

Georgi Tenev: Party Headquarters (Open Letter Books (Open Letter Books 2016) – a novel about the turbulent time of transition in Bulgaria in the 1980s and 90s.

Deyan Enev is one of the masters of Bulgarian short prose. One of his collections is translated in English:

Circus Bulgaria (Portobello Books)

The following two books by Bulgarian publishers are maybe not great literature, but light and humorous summer reads:

Boyan Bioltchev: Varoe’s Amazon (Bulgarian Bestseller 2007)
Mikhail Veshim: The English Neighbour (Siela 2015) – a must-read for all foreigners who plan to buy a house in the Bulgarian countryside and want to live there

A young author that published a story collection whose main protagonist is the city Sofia itself – I like this book very much:

Alexander Shpatov: #LiveFromSofia (Siela 2014)

Another book by the same author is available in German:

Fussnotengeschichten (Wieser 2010)

Nikolay Fenersky is another interesting writer of short stories. The following short book is available as an ebook:

The Apocalypse is a Private Affair (Fenersky 2014)

Ludmila Filipova is a bestseller author in Bulgaria, her most popular book available in English is:

The Parchment Maze (Create Space 2013)

Another popular book is this novel about a Bulgarian emigrant in Paris:

Marko Semov: The Price (Bulgarian Bestseller 2006)

Dimitar Tomov has published a collection of Gypsy stories that is available in English:

The Eternal Katun (Bulgarian Bestseller 2004)

One of the most remarkable Bulgarian movies of the last decades is Dzift by Javor Gardev. This film noir is based on an equally remarkable novel I can recommend heartily:

Vladislav Todorov: Zift (Paul Dry Books 2010)

Many good Bulgarian authors are not translated in English, some not at all. German readers are comparatively lucky, since they have access to excellent authors such as Vladimir Zarev, Lea Cohen, or Christo Karastojanov, to name just a few. Here is an overview without further comments regarding some more remarkable titles available in German translation:

Bozhana Apostolowa: Kreuzung ohne Wege (Dittrich 2010)
Boika Asiowa: Die unfruchtbare Witwe (Dittrich 2012)
Dimitar Atanassow: Die unerträgliche Freiheit (Dittrich 2012)
Lea Cohen: Das Calderon-Imperium (Zsolnay 2010)
Georgi Danailov: Ein Haus jenseits der Welt (Wieser 2007)
Kristin Dimitrova: Sabazios (IG Elias Canetti)
Thomas Frahm (Hg.): Gegenwarten: Bulgarische Prosa nach 1989 (Chora 2015)
Georgi Grozdev: Beute (IG Elias Canetti)
Georgi Grozdev: Unnütz (IG Elias Canetti)
Konstantin Iliev: Die Niederlage (IG Elias Canetti)
Jordan Iwantschew: Die Farben des Grauens (Dittrich 2011)
Jordan Jowkow: Ein Frauenherz (Biblion 1999)
Christo Karastojanow: Teufelszwirn (Dittrich 2012)
Viktor Paskow: Autopsie (Dittrich 2010)
Palmi Ranchev: Der Weg nach Sacramento (Dittrich 2011)
Maria Stankowa: Langeweile (Dittrich 2010)
Kalin Terziyski: Alkohol (INK Press 2015)
Kalin Terziyski: Wahnsinn (IG Elias Canetti)
Todor Todorov: Hexen, Mörder, Nixen, Dichter (Größenwahn Verlag 2012)
Angel Wagenstein: Leb wohl, Shanghai (Edition Elke Heidenreich bei C. Bertelsmann)
Angel Wagenstein: Pentateuch oder Die fünf Bücher Isaaks (btb 2001)
Vladimir Zarev: Familienbrand (dtv 2013)
Vladimir Zarev: Feuerköpfe (dtv 2014)
Vladimir Zarev: Seelenasche (dtv 2015)
Vladimir Zarev: Verfall (Kiepenheuer & Witsch 2009)

In a second blog post I will give very soon a few recommendations related to books by Bulgarian authors writing in a foreign language, and also a few non-fiction book recommendations related to Bulgaria.

A third blog post will give finally additional information on how you can participate in the Bulgarian Literature Month – and stay tuned: there will be also some giveaways!

PS: In case you are a publisher – you can contact me for more information on the books and authors, sample translations and translation rights’ information.

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-6. 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 mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 


Reading/Reviewing Plans

The end of the year is approaching with fast steps. This year I haven’t been so active as a blogger as last year until recently – German Lit Month brought me back to the usual pace – and I have done more blog posts on poetry and translations than the year before; also I did more posts in German and one in Bulgarian too. Book blogging is a dynamic process and the focus of such places will always be subject to small unplanned changes, but I will keep also in the next year my habit to publish reviews of books that were interesting to me.

As you already know when you follow this blog on a regular basis, my taste in books is rather eclectic. I am definitely not a person who is permanently scanning bestseller lists or is jumping in on discussions about books that were – usually for marketing reasons – the “talk of the town”. Therefore I avoided so far reviewing books by Houellebecq or Knausgård; it is difficult to not be influenced by the public discussion that focuses frequently on aspects that have very little to do with the literary quality of the books by such authors but a lot with their public persona and their sometimes very controversial opinions about certain topics. Not that the books by these authors are necessarily bad, but I prefer to read without too much background noise. So I will come also to these authors, but most probably not in the near future.

My blog tries to be diverse, but without quota. But of course my choice is subjective and I am aware of the fact that probably most readers will find many authors/books on this list that are completely unknown to them. If you look for just another blog that is reviewing again and again the same exclusively Anglo-saxon authors, then this might not be the best place for you. If you are eager to discover something new, then you are most welcome. 

There are no ads on this blog and this will also not change in the future. There is zero financial interest from my side to keep this blog alive, I do it just for fun. Please don’t send unsolicitated review copies if you are an author or a publisher. In rare cases I might accept a review copy when contacted first but only when I have already an interest in the book. All blog posts contain of course my own – sometimes idiosyncratic – opinion for what it is worth. In general I tend to write reviews on the positive side. When a book disappoints me, I tend to not write a review unless there is a strong reason to do otherwise.

These are the books presently on my “To-be-read” pile; which means they are the one’s that i will most probably read and review within the coming months. But as always with such lists, they are permanently subject to changes, additions, removals. Therefore I (and also the readers of this blog) will take this list as an orientation and not as a strict task on which I have to work one by one. 

Chinua Achebe: Things Fall Apart

Jim al-Khalili: The House of Wisdom

Ryunosunke Akutagawa: Kappa

Rabih Alameddine: The Hakawati

Sinan Antoon: The Corpse Washer

Toufic Youssef Aouad: Le Pain

Abhijit Banerjee / Esther Duflo: Poor Economics

Hoda Barakat: Le Royaume de cette terre

Adolfo Bioy Casares: The Invention of Morel

Max Blecher: Scarred Hearts

Nicolas Born: The Deception

Thomas Brasch: Vor den Vätern sterben die Söhne

Joseph Brodsky: On Grief and Reason

Alina Bronsky: Just Call Me Superhero

Alina Bronsky: The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine

Dino Buzzati: The Tartar Steppe

Leila S. Chudori: Pulang

Beqe Cufaj: projekt@party 

Mahmoud Darwish: Memory of Forgetfulness

Oei Hong Djien: Art & Collecting Art

Dimitre Dinev: Engelszungen (Angel’s Tongues)

Anton Donchev: Time of Parting

Jabbour Douaihy: June Rain

Michael R. Dove: The Banana Tree at the Gate

Jennifer DuBois: A Partial History of Lost Causes

Isabelle Eberhardt: Works

Tristan Egolf: Lord of the Barnyard

Deyan Enev: Circus Bulgaria

Jenny Erpenbeck: The End of Days

Patrick Leigh Fermor: Mani

Milena Michiko Flašar: I called him Necktie

David Fromkin: A Peace to End All Peace

Carlos Fuentes: Terra Nostra

Amitav Ghosh: In an Antique Land

Georg K. Glaser: Geheimnis und Gewalt (Secret and Violence)

Georgi Gospodinov: Natural Novel

Georgi Gospodinov: The Physics of Sorrow

Elizabeth Gowing: Edith and I

David Graeber: The Utopia of Rules

Garth Greenwell: What Belongs to You

Knut Hamsun: Hunger

Ludwig Harig: Die Hortensien der Frau von Roselius

Johann Peter Hebel: Calendar Stories

Christoph Hein: Settlement

Wolfgang Hilbig: The Sleep of the Righteous

Albert Hofmann / Ernst Jünger: LSD

Hans Henny Jahnn: Fluss ohne Ufer (River without Banks) (Part II)

Franz Jung: Der Weg nach unten

Ismail Kadare: Broken April

Ismail Kadare: The Palace of Dreams

Douglas Kammen and Katharine McGregor (Editors): The Contours of Mass Violence in Indonesia: 1965-1968

Rosen Karamfilov: Kolene (Knees)

Orhan Kemal: The Prisoners

Irmgard Keun: Nach Mitternacht

Georg Klein: Libidissi

Friedrich August Klingemann: Bonaventura’s Nightwatches

Fatos Kongoli: The Loser

Theodor Kramer: Poems

Friedo Lampe: Septembergewitter (Thunderstorm in September)

Clarice Lispector: The Hour of the Star

Naguib Mahfouz: The Cairo Trilogy

Curzio Malaparte: Kaputt

Thomas Mann: Joseph and His Brothers

Sandor Marai: Embers

Sean McMeekin: The Berlin-Baghdad Express

Multatuli: Max Havelaar

Alice Munro: Open Secrets

Marie NDiaye: Three Strong Women

Irene Nemirovsky: Suite française 

Ben Okri: The Famished Road

Laksmi Pamuntjak: The Question of Red

Victor Pelevin: Omon Ra

Georges Perec: Life. A User’s Manual

Leo Perutz: By Night Under the Stone Bridge

Boris Pilnyak: Mahogany

Alek Popov: Black Box

Milen Ruskov: Thrown Into Nature

Boris Savinkov: Memoirs of a Terrorist

Eric Schneider: Zurück nach Java

Daniel Paul Schreber: Memoirs of My Nervous Illness

Carl Seelig: Wandering with Robert Walser

Victor Serge: The Case of Comrade Tulayev

Anthony Shadid: House of Stones

Varlam Shalamov: Kolyma Tales

Raja Shehadeh: A Rift in Time

Alexander Shpatov: #LiveFromSofia

Werner Sonne: Staatsräson?

Andrzej Stasiuk: On the Way to Babadag

Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar: The Time Regulation Institute

Pramoedya Ananta Toer: A Mute’s Soliloquy

Pramoedya Ananta Toer: The Buru Quartet (4 vol.)

Lionel Trilling: The Middle of the Journey

Iliya Trojanov: The Collector of Worlds

Bernward Vesper: Die Reise (The Journey)

Robert Walser: Jakob von Gunten

Peter Weiss: The Aesthetics of Resistance

Edith Wharton: The Age of Innocence

Marguerite Yourcenar: Coup de Grace

Galina Zlatareva: The Medallion

Arnold Zweig: The Case of Sergeant Grisha

Stay tuned – and feel free to comment any of my blog posts. Your contributions are very much appreciated. You are also invited to subscribe to this blog if you like.

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-5. 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 mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

An evening with books and writers

Although I am working in another city in another country, I am frequently in Sofia, Bulgaria – the place I call my home since many years now. One reason is of course that I have close friends there and that therefore I am very much attached to this place. Another important reason is the fact that Sofia has kind of re-invented itself in the last years as a really bookish place.

There are a growing number of well-equipped book stores (new and antiquarian) including a French and an English book store, an open book market, several coffee shops where you can read and buy books and a great number of book-related events, including two book fairs, an Alley of Books once a year at Vitoshka (Vitosha Boulevard), the pedestrian area in the centre, and plenty of book presentations and public readings by authors.

The number of published titles has exploded in the last years, including the number of translated titles. For some languages it seems to be easier to find the book translated in Bulgarian than in English – and I am talking of real literature, not only the fast food literature that is so successful nowadays. Yes, people are reading again, much more so as compared to ten years ago – and this although the average incomes are small compared to Western Europe and although books are expensive for Bulgarians because of the small circulation of most editions and the exorbitant taxes on books (20% VAT!).

And since a few months, Sofia has a new attraction for book lovers. The National Palace of Culture (NDK), a brutalist piece of architecture built in 1981 to celebrate 1300 years Bulgaria, hosts the literature club Peroto (The Feather), a 24/7 open venue that is a combination between coffee shop, library, book store and event stage for all kind of literary events. Miroslav Borshosh from NDK and Svetlozar Zhelev from the Bulgarian Book Association and their team have created a real meeting place for writers and readers. The interior design is tasteful and very suitable for such a place. Since September Peroto is established as an already indispensable part of the book-interested community in Sofia. (Address: National Palace of Culture, Bulgaria Square 1, near Metro Station NDK, always open)

A particular nice event took place last Sunday which I had the pleasure to attend. With the support of the American College a reading performance of a whole group of well-known Bulgarian authors was held. Deyan Enev, Georgi Gospodinov, Alek Popov, Zachary Karabashliev, Alexander Shpatov, Ivan Landzhev, Ivan Dimitrov, Blagovesta Pugyova and Dena Popova read mostly from their own books, Ivan Landzhev read also poems by Rosen Karamfilov who was not able to attend. (I have reviewed books by Popov, Karabashliev and Landzhev already on this blog, others will follow.)

What can I say? It was well presented, entertaining, sometimes funny, sometimes touching, all in all just a great event that made me curious to read more by these authors. It was – as Deyan Enev pointed out – also great to see such a big audience of mainly young readers at the event. Plenty of books for a good cause – the support of a foundation for children with special needs – were bought and authors were busy to sign them. Georgi Gospodinov even drew a small labyrinth in my copy of the Bulgarian original edition of Physics of Sorrow – a reference to the labyrinth of the Minotaurus that plays such a prominent role in this beautiful book. It was of course also a good opportunity to meet friends or to make new one’s. Peroto – I was for sure not the last time at this wonderful address for Bulgarian literature!

Here are the books by the mentioned authors that are available in English:

Enev

Deyan Enev: Circus Bulgaria, transl. Kapka Kassabova, Portobello Books, London 2010

Natural Novel

Georgi Gospodinov: Natural Novel, transl. Zornica Hristova, Dalkey Archive Press, Victoria London Dublin 2005

And Other Stories

Georgi Gospodinov: And Other Stories, transl. by Alexis Levitin and Magdalena Levy, Northwestern University Press, Evanston 2007

Physics of Sorrow

Georgi Gospodinov: The Physics of Sorrow, transl. Angela Rodel, Open Letter Books, Rochester 2015

Mission London

Alek Popov: Mission London, transl. Charles de Luppe, Istros Books, London 2014

Black Box

Alek Popov: The Black Box, transl. Charles and Daniella de Luppe, Peter Owen, London 2015

Eighteen_Percent_Gray-web-194x300

Zachary Karabashliev: 18% Gray, transl. Angela Rodel, Open Letter Books, Rochester 2013

Shpatov

Alexander Shpatov: #LiveFromSofia, transl. Angela Rodel, Colibri, Sofia 2014

The books of the other authors are not (yet) available in English, but I hope this will change.

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-5. 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 mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

An Afternoon in the Museum

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to pay a visit to the newly opened National Art Gallery “Square 500” in Sofia which shows right now a huge exhibition curated by two former museum directors. The exhibition gives an overview over the Bulgarian Museum collections of the National Gallery (for Bulgarian art) and of the National Museum for Foreign Art.

The museum, ridiculously dubbed “the Bulgarian Louvre” by a part of the media and political “elite” of the country was already before its opening subject to many headlines in the media, namely because of the delayed opening and – not completely untypical for Bulgaria – because of alleged irregularities in the procurement and tender process of the reconstruction of the building that houses the museum. A rather big amount of tax payers’ money went into the coffers of the shady construction mogul who – allegedly – won the manipulated tender because he – allegedly – is a friend of the Minister of Culture.

If these rumors are really true I cannot say – but I wouldn’t be surprised. As an art lover I am of course more concerned about the result and I want to give my informed opinion about it here.

The edifice of the building which houses the museum is a late 19th century design in Viennese style, adapted after WWII to the needs of a museum and again changed now by several modern attachments, all in all a worthy location for such a museum.

Most of the artworks I saw in the exhibition were already known to me – except for a few that are borrowed from other collections for this exhibition – it is basically a combination of the works that were housed before in the two separate museums mentioned above. So regarding what I saw I can say: a good overview about Bulgarian art since the 1830s until 1989 (I didn’t see any artwork produced after the collapse of communism – if this reflects a lack of budget for new acquisitions in the last 25 years or a political statement that tells us that there is no good art produced in Bulgaria in the last decades according to the exhibition curators I don’t know), and a – in my opinion not very favorable mix with foreign artworks that are hung frequently together with Bulgarian artists of the same period.

While the Bulgarian art collection is in a way representative (except for the most recent period), the presented examples of foreign art are in most cases mediocre. It is also not visible or explained why the artworks are hung in that specific neighborhood (which frequently has no relation/influence with the respective Bulgarian artist).

Another thing that struck me was the lighting: in some rooms it was really awful and much too intense. Artworks are sensitive items and the light must be carefully balanced between the need to protect it against possible damage and the wish of the visitors to see and study it in the best possible way. The lighting as it is now doesn’t do justice to either of these requirements.

I had also the impression that the plates which describe the artwork have been done in the very last moment; there are frequently four or five of such very basic paper clippings stuck to the wall in one place and the visitor has to guess which plate belongs to which artwork. It looks cheap and inadequate.

Alas, the most surprising thing for me was something else: when you prepare such an exhibition which shows a considerable part of the visual art heritage of the country and which many people would like to see, you should make sure that people really see it when they visit the building. My guess is that a lot of the visitors will not have seen many of the artworks because the orientation in the exhibition is very very difficult.

The exhibition covers several floors and the whole building is a little bit like a labyrinth – there are only a few (very small) arrows that guide the visitors, room numbers are missing frequently, as a visitor you stumble from 19th century Bulgarian art to Christian Indian art from Goa, to Japanese woodcuts, and you have never an idea what comes next or what you have probably missed when you have once chosen a direction that was not the one intended by the exhibition makers (but which you can only guess). Friends who visited the exhibition told me for example that they almost didn’t find the room with the artwork of Vladimir Dimitrov-Maistora, one of the most famous Bulgarian painters, and only because of their persistence they found the hidden room where his paintings from the collection are displayed. And I am sure I saw – probably! – all works only because I am a very persistent visitor. Just when I prepared to leave I realized I had missed a complete flight of rooms with four more exhibition rooms!

That the museum shop where you can buy the exhibition catalogue and many other catalogues and books is hidden in a corner at the very edge of the outermost corner of the building and not in the entrance area where it belongs adds to the picture. The exhibition makers could easily print a small map on the backside of the ticket for orientation – this small thing would add indeed a lot of value for the visitors. But no, you have to pay 10 Leva (5 Leva for students, pensioners, unemployed), a proud amount considering the average salaries of the Bulgarians – and then you are on your own in the building. 

A nuisance: while most living Bulgarian artists are not at all represented in the exhibition, the Minister of Culture, Mr. Razhidov, a sculptor of modest talent has two of his own artworks in the show. It reminds me of the fact that when I visited the last time the small gallery in the Ministry of Culture it displayed an exhibition with works of – the Minister. Remember Alek Popov’s description of the visiting sculptor in his Mission London? I am not sure but my strong guess is that it is based on a real person most Bulgarians know…

That even if Mr. Razhidov would be a second Giacometti it would not be appropriate to include his own artworks in any exhibitions sponsored by the Ministry he leads seems to have never crossed his mind. It is called “Conflict of Interest” and borders the territory of outright corruption. He uses his position and taxpayers’ money to increase his popularity and potential market value as an artist. And of course he gets away with it. Also a part of the “Culture” he is promoting.

Conclusion: if you are in Sofia and are interested in Bulgarian art, this exhibition is a must. The collection itself is the by far best in that field in Bulgaria or anywhere else, the result of decades of diligent collecting. (When Lyudmila Zhivkova, the daughter of the dictator Todor Zhivkov was de facto in charge of the collection, it increased considerably – mainly by acquiring fake artworks she was tricked into buying by some clever crooks.) That this extraordinary show is so poorly prepared and presented is a pity and shows again the lack of professionalism that is so typical for many of those people who are politically responsible for Bulgarian Culture. 

Zograf_self

Zahari Zograf, Self-portrait, National Art Gallery Sofia, ca. 1840

The exhibition can be visited at the building of the National Gallery of Foreign Art, Sofia, 19 February Str. No.1, near the Cathedral Alexander Nevski 

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-5. 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 mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Mission London

Maybe Varadin Dimitrov, the new Bulgarian ambassador in London should have announced his arrival at his duty station earlier. But he prefers to catch his embassy staff by surprise and much to his dismay he realizes that a lot of things are not going too well in this important outpost of Bulgarian diplomacy.

The cook, a crucial person in each embassy as it seems, is not only caught in dubious business deals with a failed actor and his even more doubtful associate of probably Siberian origin; he has also a true Xanthippe as a wife and even worse: he obviously had never access to the treatise “On the hierarchy of the diameter”, a never published dissertation which makes its rounds secretly in diplomatic circles because it explains the difficult art to make sandwiches of the right size – as the Ambassador learns from a guest at his first reception. – We will never know for sure if this guest was poking fun or if he is dead serious.

Also the other embassy staff is quite remarkable: the technical staff is spinning intrigues against the diplomats and vice versa, an important speech is almost lost due to the incompetence of a stagiaire, the embassy building is used as a kind of cheap hotel by Bulgarian guests (such as the mayor of Provadia) and even by fired former embassy staff that rejects to leave this cozy and cheap place.

But the worst are the phone calls that the Ambassador receives from Bulgaria from a certain person that was instrumental in his being posted to this attractive location – this individuum is obsessed by the wish to have an opportunity to meet the Queen in person and is reminding poor Varadin very urgently to pay back for this favor.

Fortunately for the ambassador, there are also a few things that seem to make his stay in London at least partly pleasant: there is Katya, the attractive student that is cleaning his office and who as it turns out has also many other talents, and there is also this nice British MP, a true friend of Bulgaria who gets him acquainted with a seemingly very discreet and efficient PR agency that can resolve his major problem with the Queen…

It would spoil the fun of reading this novel which is full of surprising developments, funny situations and satirical moments, if I would say more about the plot. Alek Popov knows how to develop a story and how to keep his reader’s attention. This is the kind of story that asks on every page to be turned into a movie, and indeed “Mission London” was successfully adapted into a film by Dimitar Mitovski and which was a box office hit in Bulgaria in 2010 (outperforming even Avatar).

In the second half of the book Popov is doing a little bit too much, some developments are too forced and exaggerated for my taste and one or two loose ends are not properly tied up. But it is definitely a lot of fun to read this novel that has plenty of tempo and offers excellent entertainment during the biggest part of the book. Some critics compared him with John Irving or T.C. Boyle. That’s aiming a little bit too high, but Popov is definitely a very talented author. It will be interesting to read more from him.

And, by the way, after I read this book I am glad that I didn’t aspire to go for a career in the diplomatic service. 

Mission London

Alek Popov: Mission London, Istros Books 2014, transl. by Danielle and Charles de M Gill

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