Tag Archives: Ivan Landzhev

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:


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


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


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.

Blame It on Bobby Fischer

A little bit more poetry will be a nice addition to this blog from time to time. And since I am at it to introduce a few internationally not yet very well-known Bulgarian poets here, I am presenting another young contemporary poet today with a few examples of his art.

Ivan Landzhev (born 1986) published his first collection of poetry Blame It on Bobby Fischer (По вина на Боби Фишер) in 2012. The volume was critically acclaimed in Bulgaria and shows an already very versatile and surprisingly mature poet.

The collection that is named (like one of the poems) after the eccentric American chess genius consists like a chess game of three sections: Debut, Mittelspiel, Endspiel, all three are introduced by a quote of Fischer. But of course this threepartition may also stand for the different sections of life, and thus it is not surprising that the author starts his book with a childhood reminiscence:


на шест години в
двора на къщата
съм си намерил камък

и целеустремено удрям
по медалите на майка ми
от първенствата за девойки

няколко трибагреника са раздрани
от родителските постижения
хвърчат искри

не, не съм бунтар
златотърсач съм
аз просто извличам

славното минало


Not Before What Happened

six years old
in the backyard
I found myself a rock

and with it purposefully
I smashed my mother’s medals
from all her youth championships

a few national flags were torn to pieces
sparks were flying from the parental

no, I’m not a rebel
I am a gold-digger
I’m just extracting

the glorious past

The chess metaphor plays a role in several of the poems of this book, but it always points at something beyond the experiences on the 64 squares: 

Цитирани автори

Треньорът ми по шахмат
„Играй си твоята игра.”

Треньорът ми по бокс
обичаше да казва:
и оня на земята!”

Професорът ми по медиевистика
напомняше, че
„Аз съм Oня, Който съм”.

И тримата са прави
по различно време на деня.


Authors Cited

My chess teacher
used to tell me:
‘Play your own game.’

My boxing coach
would always say:
‘Left-left-right-then uppercut
and he’s down!’

My professor of Medieval studies
reminded me that
‘I am He who is.’

All three of them are right
at a different time of the day.

 One of my favorite pieces in the book is the following: 

Защото ми се струва важно

Силният човек закусва всяка
сутрин по едно и също време,
през прозореца поглежда птиците
и всички му се виждат като дивеч.
Ако се случи да чете, то
силният човек прочита
и никога Новалис. Нищо
романтично в него няма.
същата жена му се обажда всяка вечер
да отиде в бар, където тя е седнала и
се любува най-умишлено на
рамото на друг силен човек,
но силният човек така и не разбира.
Разбира се – той просто не отива.
Да. А докато времетраят тези и онези
правила и се коват законите, аз си седя.
(В подпокривното
студио е нощем.)
Аз слагам лед не повече
отколкото ми трябва.
Аз слушам силно музика,
създадена от крехки хора.
Половината от тях са живи,
обаче като се замисля повечето
май не са…
Навън вали, барабани по
капандурите, от капките
градът е изтормозен. Сив екран,
разяждан от смущения в сигнала.
Когато тракът свърши, ти започваш
и звъниш, сигнализираш ми за себе си,
а как ме дразниш само – зная, пак
не аз съм първият ти избор.
Вътре – цялото знание в главата ми,
навън – смущения, докато аз
отново се обличам
и пристигам
Да видя
и всичко онова,
което силният човек
си е спестил.
Because it seems important to me

The strong man is having breakfast
every morning at the same specific time.
He looks at birds out the window
and all of them he sees as game.
If it so happens that he reads,
the strong man reads
and never Novalis. There’s
nothing romantic about him.
The same woman calls him every night
to go to a bar, where she is sitting and
she is admiring most deliberately
the shoulder of another strong man.
But the strong man never finds out.
Of course – he simply doesn’t go.
Yes. And while these and those rules last,
and the laws are being forged, I just sit there.
(Inside the attic
studio it’s night-time).
I put ice, not more
than I would need.
I listen hard to music,
made by fragile people.
Half of them are still alive,
but when I think about it, most
of them are not…
Outside is raining, it’s drumming against
the skylights, the city is pained by the drops.
A grey screen, cankered by
signal disturbances.
When the track is over, you start
and you call, you signal me about yourself,
and how you just annoy me – I know,
again I’m not your first choice.
Inside – all the knowledge in my head,
outside – disturbances, while I
once more put on my clothes
and I arrive
To see
and all that which
the strong man
spared himself.

In the following poem, the poet uses a pun that is difficult to translate in another language. ‘Samomnenie’ (самомнение) can mean self-esteem, but also vanity, conceit in Bulgarian, whereas ‘samo mnenie’ (само мнение) means ‘just an opinion’; play on words is a frequent happening in Landzhev’s poetry and it adds to the pleasure of the reader:

По вина на Боби Фишер

Увереността на маестрото,
който премества леко и
естествено шестнайсетте
си фигури – известна ми е.
Вярно е.
Аз имам самомнение.
Ти имаш само мнение.
Каква грандиозна разлика
в едничък интервал – оттук
до мен.
От Бруклин
до Рейкявик.
не съм ли го заслужил
при такава дистанция,
господин опонент мой,
вездесъщ ерудите?
Не съм ли го заслужил:
по стъпала като спирала да се изкача
най-горе и да се затворя
в къщата си с формата на топ?

Through Bobby Fischer’s fault

“I want to live the rest of my life in a house built exactly like a rook”
Robert James Fischer
The confidence of the maestro
who moves easily and naturally
his sixteen pieces – I know all about it.
It’s true.
I have a self-opinion.
You have yourself an opinion.
What a grand difference
in a single interval – from here
to me.
From Brooklyn
to Reykjavik.
haven’t I deserved it
upon such a distance,
mister opponent of mine,
ubiquitous erudite, you?
Haven’t I deserved it:
to climb the spiral stairs
up top and seal myself
inside my rook-shaped house?

 Ivan Landzhev: a young, fresh voice from Bulgaria. It will be interesting to follow his future development as an author.



Иван Ланджев: По вина на Боби Фишер (Ivan Landzhev: Blame It on Bobby Fischer), Siela, Sofia 2012

The English translations are by the the poet. The translations Authors Cited and Not Before What Happened were published 2011 in Granta 128. The two other translations were published on Versoteque.com.

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014. 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.