Tag Archives: Nikola Vaptsarov

Bulgarian Poetry in English Translation (II) – Available Titles From the Pre-1944 Period

In this second part of my short series about Bulgarian Poetry collections available in English translation, I will cover the period until 1944, the year of the Communist takeover in Bulgaria. While in the last blog post I was presenting anthologies, I will focus in this post on books that present the (selected) poems of a single author.

The years before 1944 were a rich period for Bulgaria’s poetry. And quite a lot of it has been translated at one point in English: in the Communist era, the state-owned publisher Sofia Press made most of the “classic” Bulgarian poets available in English (and some other languages). These books are of course out-of-print since a long time, but due to the lack of any later editions in English for many of the most relevant authors, they are still worth to be searched in antiquarian bookstores or internet platforms. I would particularly recommend – if you can find them – the volumes with Hristo Botev’s Poems, and Ivan Vazov’s Selected Poems. Both of them can be considered as founding fathers of Bulgarian literature. Other editions by Sofia Press include Selected Poetry and Prose by Hristo Smirnensky and The Road to Freedom by Geo Milev.

The good news is that in the last years three important Bulgarian poets from this period are again present with a book in English language.

Confidentially

Peyo Yavorov (b. 1878, Chirpan – d. 1914, Sofia) was, especially in his more mature years as a poet, a protagonist of the symbolist movement in Bulgaria. But at the same time, the man who wrote highly introspective poems, and verses that show great empathy for the lives of refugees from Macedonia and Armenia, was a man of action: just like Botev a few decades earlier, he joined the struggle for liberation from the Ottoman domination, in his case in Macedonia; the poet-partisan was – after his first big love died from tuberculosis – married to Lora Karavelova, the daughter of the former Prime Minister Petko Karavelov. But the marriage didn’t last long: in a bout of jealousy, Lora shot herself in front of Yavorov, and the poet committed suicide one year later, after a first attempt to take his life had left him blind, and a press campaign against him, even suggesting that he had murdered his wife, had made him a broken man. A collection of his poems (Confidentially, Black Sea Oleander Press 2018), skilfully translated by Christopher Buxton, gives the Anglophone reader an opportunity to get an idea of Yavorov’s remarkable gifts as a poet (more is not possible in any translation of poetry).

Debelyanov To return

Dimcho Debelyanov was a few years younger than Yavorov, but also his life was – like the lives of so many Bulgarian poets – cut short, in his case by WWI: he was killed in battle in 1916. Debelyanov, only 29 years old at the time of his death had moved from the symbolism of his youth to a more realistic style of poetry. Debelyanov is considered a master of the elegy, but in many of his poems there are also satirical elements. He was also a gifted translator from English and French. As in the case of Yavorov, Christopher Buxton is also here the translator, editor and publisher of a collection of Debelyanov’s poems (To return to your father’s house, Black Sea Oleander Press 2017), and to me this work seems similarly congenial as his Yavorov translations. I can recommend both books warmly, in any case these are two very welcome additions to the Bulgarian poetry shelf, and I hope there will be even more from this source in the future. The book cover shows a portrait of the poet and his birthplace, now a museum, in Koprivshtitsa, one of the most well-preserved old towns in Bulgaria and in any case worth a visit.

Vaptsarov Kino

Nikola Vaptsarov (b. 1909, Bansko – d. 1942, Sofia) was a trained naval engineer, who after years on ships in the Mediterranean, worked as an engineer in various factories and at the Bulgarian Railroad. He got involved with the Communist Party for whose military faction he secretly supplied arms for the resistance fight against the Germans; a dangerous activity, and Vaptsarov was finally arrested and executed by firing squad. During his lifetime, he published only one book, Motor Songs (1940) (under pseudonym). The concrete, colloquial poetry of Vaptsarov that includes reference to cinema, radio, technology, and modern culture, is widely unknown outside Bulgaria (although he was translated in 98 languages). Yannis Ritsos, the great Greek poet said about him:

“I consider Vaptsarov my brother in poetry and struggle.”

A slender volume, edited and introduced by Georgi Gospodinov, competently translated by Kalina Filipova, Bilyana Kourtasheva, and Evgenia Pancheva is available under the title “Kino” (Smokestack Books, 2014), and it is very much worth to be discovered by a wider readership. (The cover shows a mug shot of Vaptsarov, taken after his arrest.)

Yavorov, Debelyanov, Vaptsarov (and one could add Botev and Milev as well): all died young and not of natural causes. It’s a rather sad thought to imagine what they could have achieved, if their lives had not been cut short…

This review was first published at Global Literature in Libraries Initiative, 08 June, 2018 for #BulgarianLiteratureMonth.

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 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 Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Bulgarian Poetry in English Translation – Some Anthologies

Poetry is very popular in Bulgaria; I am still very much surprised about the sheer amount of new poetry collections that are published on the small Bulgarian market every year by „regular” publishers, but also by authors themselves (self-published, or “Samizdat” as they say in Bulgaria – an expression that hints at the subversive tradition of “self-publishing” in the Eastern European countries). And if we add the countless number of frequently very young people who publish their poems in Facebook, on blogs, or who read their poems in public – poetry readings are also a phenomenon that has emerged mainly in the last years, and many of them are well-visited -, you can imagine that Bulgaria is a country where there is no shortage of poets – or of people who would like to be called “poet”, in this part of the world still a very prestigious epithet.

But poetry needs also readers, and English-speaking readers face a problem here: it is difficult to orient yourself, if you are not already familiar with Bulgarian literature/poetry. In a series of four blog posts, I will try to provide a little orientation regarding Bulgarian poetry in English translation. What is available in English, where can you start, and what are the most interesting poetry books by Bulgarian authors in English – I hope you will find some useful answers regarding these questions in my small series.

The first part is devoted to anthologies; they are frequently the best way to get an overview about a certain literary genre or literary period since they cover a number of authors.

Flowers

Flowers don’t grow singly (CreateSpace 2016) is the name of a collection of classic Bulgarian poems selected and translated by Christopher Buxton, an author and translator that lives in Bulgaria since a long time. The earliest poems in the book are folk songs collected by the Miladinov brothers, and starting from Hristo Botev, Pencho and Petko Slaveykov, all the major authors of the pre-1944 period are represented; names like Mara Belcheva, Peyo Javorov, Geo Milev, Hristo Smirnenski, Dora Gabe, Dimcho Debelyanov, Elisaveta Bagryana, Nikola Vaptsarov, and others. A comparatively small collection that gives a representative overview over this “classic” period of Bulgarian poetry. As a “teaser” you could have a look at the website of Christopher Buxton with some samples of his translations.

 

End of the World

At the End of the World: Contemporary Poetry from Bulgaria (Shearsman 2012) is an anthology of seventeen Bulgarian poets writing and publishing from the middle of the twentieth century to today. Editor Tsvetanka Elenkova – herself an accomplished poet – and the translator Jonathan Dunne, her husband cover in this bilingual anthology the period that chronologically follows the covered period of the previous anthology; therefore a useful addition to your library, especially considering the excellent translations and interesting choice of authors: among them many of the most important names of the period covered by this book, such as Ivan Teofilov, Lubomir Levchev, Nikolay Kanchev, Ekaterina Yosifova, Ilko Dimitrov, Silvia Choleva, Peter Tchouchov, Kristin Dimitrova, Iana Boukova, Marin Bodakov, Yordan Eftimov, Nadya Radulova. Recommended for all with an interest in the post-1944 and contemporary Bulgarian poetry. A sample from the book can be found here.

 

Season of Delicate Hunger

The Season of Delicate Hunger (Accents Publishing 2013) is a 334-page collection of contemporary Bulgarian poetry, containing 197 translations of works by 32 Bulgarian authors, a titanic work by the editor Katerina Stoykova-Klemer, who translated almost all the poems in the collection herself. All authors of this anthology are alive, writing and actively participating in the Bulgarian poetry scene. They represent a diversity of talent, ranging in age from 72 to 21, with each at a unique stage of his or her career. The edition is bilingual and profits from the fact that Stoykova is a remarkable poet herself. Highly recommended! (You can find more information on the book here)

 

New Social Poetry

The literary scene in Bulgaria is quite diversified, and that’s particularly true for poetry. A new, fresh – and for some a bit provocative – poetic movement is New Social Poetry, a group of poets that has developed quite an impressive presence since its creation, with regular readings in various Bulgarian cities, a literary journal, and a number of books. New Social Poetry – The Anthology (CreateSpace 2018, translator Christopher Buxton) gives an overview about the variety of authors that are part of this movement or associated with it. (The anthology is also available in French – translator Krassimir Kavaldjiev -, and a Spanish and German translation are in preparation.) While some of the authors in this collection belong to the older and middle generation of Bulgarian poets, there is also a considerable number of young and very talented authors represented in this bilingual anthology, which makes this book a welcome enrichment to the previously published anthologies.

 

Some Bulgarian Poems

While I am editing this blog post, I found out that there is at least a fifth anthology that belongs here: Some Bulgarian Poems & A Play (edited by Zheny Bozhilova-Haytova, translated by Kevin and Dona Ireland; Altera 2014). This is an anthology containing samples of Bulgarian poetry from the late Revival period (1860’s) until the 1960’s. I haven’t seen it yet and it will be probably a bit difficult to order it outside Bulgaria, but this is a book I will look up in the near future.

This review was first published at Global Literature in Libraries Initiative, 07 June, 2018 for #BulgarianLiteratureMonth.

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 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 Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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.