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
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