Tag Archives: Zachary Karabashliev

18% Brown: the downfall of a Bulgarian intellectual (II)

Some time ago I reported on this blog how the Bulgarian author Zachary Karabashliev campaigned for a veteran of the Bulgarian fascist and anti-Semitic “Legions” (in a FB post that he later edited by deleting the reference to the “Legions”) whom he called “a hero”. The same admiration was expressed by Karabashliev in a TV interview. The man in question, Dyanko Markov, has in the past repeatedly made public statements in which he described the deportation of the Jews in the areas annexed by Bulgaria in WWII to Treblinka as “relatively human”, and he even justified this deportation and murder of a “hostile population” in a speech in the Bulgarian Parliament a few years ago. Until today he identifies himself with the “values” of the Legions, an organization, which was created after the image of the German SA.

In my blog post I mentioned that Karabashliev and his fellow supporters, some of whom have been running a campaign for years to rehabilitate the anti-Semite Dyanko Markov and the fascist and anti-Semitic Bulgarian Legions, use a concrete incident described in the article to reiterate their historical revisionist theses on the heroism of the Legions, whose founder and leader Hristo Lukov is a figure venerated by Nazis throughout Europe today.

It is a tactic already applied in the past by a specific supporter of Dyanko Markov, to try to intimidate people who mention some for Markov and his fans uncomfortable facts with abusive words, as well as with the threat of legal action on the grounds of slander. So it was no surprise that Mr. Karabashliev, under the influence of the said person, sent me a formally polite and content-wise outrageous message, giving me an ultimatum of 48 hours to delete my allegedly “defamatory” contribution.

Although I can subjectively understand that – as he writes himself – my previous blog post is very unpleasant for him, I have to tell to Mr. Karabashliev however that he has to look who’s talking here. If he had not made the attempt to portray a man as a hero who – according to the final verdict of no less than three court cases on the exact same matter (Markov et al. vs. Yuliana Metodieva) – can be called an anti-Semite and a fascist – and who until today sticks to the ideals of his youth and propagates the anti-Semitic and fascist “values” of the Legions, while at the same time voicing holocaust apologies and denying the responsibility of the organization of which he was a member in the holocaust, my article would never have been written. And for a word that Mr. Karabashliev has distanced himself in the meantime from the Legions and the anti-Semite and fascist Dyanko Markov I have waited until now in vain.

What Mr. Karabashliev apparently has not understood until today: if a Dyanko Markov had been a member of the Legions and would have distanced himself credibly at some point in his life from the anti-Semitism and fascism of this immoral and inhuman organization, my article would also not have been written. But Markov is still a propagandist for the Legions and their anti-Semitism and fascism, he has participated several times in the notorious Nazi march in honor of Lukov, but Mr. Karabashliev finds him heroic and then begins moaning and whining when someone tells him that he is campaigning here de facto for the rehabilitation of an anti-Semitic and fascist organization, and also for the rehabilitation of a member who has not become in any ways distant to these “values” during his whole life.

Mr. Karabashliev has either committed a stupidity of gigantic proportions or he is sharing Markov’s political convictions and now, after several people have publicly criticized him for this, he seems to believe that the allegation of a lawsuit will cause me to tacitly delete my post. However, Mr. Karabashliev makes a mistake of judgment here. I am not intimidated by his threat.

I hope in his own interest that Mr. Karabashliev is informed by his lawyer that not everything that is personally unpleasant to him is slander. And that I have said something untrue about Mr. Karabashliev, he probably will not want to assert. That would be – because if he claims so, it is obviously not true – indeed slander by Mr. Karabashliev and therefore potentially a criminal offense. He may not realize his very delicate legal position in this case, but of course he, just like any other citizen, can choose the legal recourse to clarify which of the two of us has violated the law by claiming something false with the intention to tarnish the reputation of the other. The result could be quite surprising and even more unpleasant for Mr. Karabashliev than my blog post. In any case, I will continue to report on the activities of certain revisionist circles in Bulgaria, and in the future possibly in front of a larger international public.

Whether Mr. Karabashliev wants to be associated with anti-Semitic, fascist and historical revisionist circles in Bulgaria also in the future, or whether he realizes that he has got himself into something on this matter, which will permanently harm his reputation as a writer and person, I do not know, of course. The damage to his reputation, however, will be far greater and more lasting if he goes to court. The choice is up to him.

PS: Here is a report of the Bulgarian Jewish organization Shalom on anti-Semitism in Bulgaria. On page 8, Dyanko Markov and the Bulgarian Legions are also mentioned.

And here is a report on the three dismissed lawsuits, with which the journalist Yuliana Metodieva should be muzzled unsuccessfully in the dispute over Markov in the past.

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-9. 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.

18% Braun: Vom Fall eines bulgarischen Intellektuellen (II)

Vor einiger Zeit berichtete ich auf diesem Blog, wie der bulgarische Schriftsteller Zachary Karabashliev sich für einen Veteranen der bulgarischen faschistischen und antisemitischen „Legionen“ einsetzte und diesen (in einem später von ihm redigierten FB-Post, in dem er den Teil, der sich auf die Legionärstätigkeit dieses Mannes bezieht, löschte) als Helden bezeichnete. Ähnlich äusserte er sich in einem Fernsehinterview. Der Mann um den es geht, Dyanko Markov, wurde in der Vergangenheit mehrfach durch Äusserungen, in der er die Deportation der Juden in den von Bulgarien annektierten Gebieten nach Treblinka als „relativ menschlich“ bezeichnete, und der diese Deportation einer „feindlichen Bevölkerung“ öffentlich in einer Rede im bulgarischen Parlament vor einigen Jahren rechtfertigte, bekannt. Er steht bis heute zu den Werten der Legionäre, der bulgarischen Organisation, die nach dem Abbild der deutschen SA gegründet wurde.

In meinem Beitrag stellte ich fest, dass Karabashliev und seine teilweise schon einschlägig hervorgetretenen Mitstreiter, von denen einige seit Jahren eine Kampagne zur Rehabilitation des Antisemiten und Faschisten Dyanko Markov und der faschistischen und antisemitischen Organisation der Legionäre betreiben, einen konkreten Vorfall, der in dem Artikel geschildert wird, dazu benutzen, erneut ihre geschichtsrevisionistischen Thesen von der Heldenhaftigkeit der Legionäre, deren Gründer und Führer Lukov eine von Nazis in ganz Europa heute verehrte Figur ist, zu propagieren.

Es ist eine schon mehrfach erprobte Taktik einer Mitstreiterin von Dyanko Markov, Personen, die einige für Markov und seine Unterstützer unbequeme Tatsachen erwähnen, mit wüstesten persönlichen Angriffen und Schimpfworten und ausserdem mit einer Klageandrohung wegen Verleumdung bzw. übler Nachrede zu bedrohen. So war es auch keine Überraschung, dass mir Herr Karabashliev, wohl unter dem Einfluss der besagten Person, eine in höflichem Ton gehaltene aber inhaltlich unverschämte Nachricht zukommen liess, die mir ein Ultimatum von 48 Stunden gibt, meinen angeblich „verleumderischen“ Beitrag zu löschen.

Nun kann ich zwar subjektiv nachvollziehen, dass – wie er selbst schreibt – mein Artikel ihm sehr unangenehm ist. Allerdings muss sich Herr Karabashliev hier an die eigene Nase fassen. Hätte er nicht den Versuch gemacht, einen Mann als Helden darzustellen, der – und das ist gerichtlich letztinstanzlich bereits festgestellt (Rechtssache Markov et al. vs. Yuliana Methodieva) bis heute zu den Idealen der antisemitischen Legionäre steht und ihre Werte propagiert, bei gleichzeitiger Holocaustrelativierung und -apologie, ein Mann, den man von Rechts wegen ungestraft einen Antisemiten und Faschisten nennen darf, wäre mein Artikel nie geschrieben worden. Und eine Stellungnahme, in der Herr Karabashliev in der Zwischenzeit geäussert hätte, dass er sich eindeutig von den Legionären und dem Antisemiten und Faschisten Dyanko Markov distanziert – diese Stellungnahme habe ich bisher vergeblich erwartet.

Was Herr Karabashliev offenbar bis heute nicht verstanden hat: wäre ein Dyanko Markov Legionär gewesen und hätte sich irgendwann in seinem Leben glaubhaft vom Antisemitismus und Faschismus dieser amoralischen Organisation distanziert, wäre mein Artikel ebenfalls nicht geschrieben worden. Aber Markov steht bis heute zu den Legionären und ihrem Antisemitismus und Faschismus, hat auch mehrfach am berüchtigten Naziaufmarsch zu Ehren Lukovs teilgenommen, aber Karabashliev findet ihn heldenhaft und fängt dann an zu zetern und zu jammern, wenn jemand ihm sagt, dass er hier eine jahrelange Kampagne zur Rehabilitierung dieser antisemitischen und faschistischen Organisation unterstützt, eine Rehabilitierung eines Mitglieds auch, der überhaupt nicht geläutert ist und der sich nie glaubhaft von dieser Organisation und ihren verbrecherischen Zielen distanziert hat.

Herr Karabashliev hat entweder eine Dummheit von gigantischem Ausmass oder aber eine Überzeugungstat begangen und glaubt nun, nachdem ihn mehrere Personen dafür öffentlich kritisiert haben anscheinend, dass die Klageandrohung mich dazu veranlassen wird, meinen Post stillschweigend zu löschen. Allerdings begeht Herr Karabashliev hier eine Fehleinschätzung. Einschüchtern lasse ich mich nämlich nicht.

Ich hoffe in seinem eigenen Interesse, Herr Karabashliev wird von seinem Anwalt darüber aufgeklärt, dass nicht alles, was ihm persönlich unangenehm ist, Verleumdung darstellt. Und dass ich etwas Unwahres über Herrn Karabashliev behauptet habe, wird er wohl nicht behaupten wollen. Das wäre dann nämlich – da wahrheitswidrig – in der Tat Verleumdung durch Herrn Karabashliev und ergo strafrechtlich relevant. Falls er das nicht einsieht, steht ihm natürlich wie jedem Bürger der Rechtsweg offen, um zu klären, wer von uns beiden hier das Recht verletzt hat, indem er Unwahres behauptet. Das Ergebnis könnte für Herrn Karabashliev durchaus überraschend und noch viel unangenehmer sein als mein Artikel. In jedem Fall werde ich auch weiterhin und in Zukunft wohl auch vor einer grösseren internationalen Öffentlichkeit über die geschichtsrevisionistischen Aktivitäten gewisser Personen in Bulgarien berichten.

Ob Herr Karabashliev Wert darauf legt, auch weiterhin mit antisemitischen, faschistischen und geschichtsrevisionistischen Kreisen in Bulgarien in Verbindung gebracht zu werden, oder ob er einsieht, dass er sich bei dieser Angelegenheit in etwas verrannt hat, was seinem Ansehen als Schriftsteller und Person nachhaltig schadet, weiss ich natürlich nicht. Der Schaden für sein Ansehen wird allerdings ungleich grösser und dauerhafter sein, wenn er den Gerichtsweg beschreitet. Es liegt ganz bei ihm.

PS: Hier ein Bericht der bulgarischen jüdischen Organisation Shalom zum Antisemitismus in Bulgarien. Auf S. 8 finden auch Dyanko Markov und die Bulgarischen Legionen Erwähnung.

Und hier ein Bericht über die drei abgewiesenen Klagen, mit denen die Journalistin Yuliana Metodieva in der Auseinandersetzung um Markov erfolglos mundtot gemacht werden sollte.

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-9. 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.

18% Brown: the downfall of a Bulgarian intellectual

The countries of Eastern Europe continue to struggle with the classification of their history and the people and currents that shaped it. This is especially true for the legacy of the time immediately before the Communist seizure of power. In many Eastern European countries, since the 1920s, there were fascist or openly National Socialist groups that enjoyed widespread popular support; they generally combined radical anti-communism with a totalitarian idea of society and eliminationist anti-Semitism modeled after German National Socialism.

From these groupings, the Nazis gained before and at the outbreak of WWII many fanatical supporters for their policy of violence and extermination, a policy that aimed at the complete eradication of whole races, especially the Jews and Roma. The prejudices and social exclusion that had prevailed for centuries, as well as the existing willingness to use violence against these population groups in Eastern Europe, were taken up by the Nazis and made serviceable for their barbaric extermination project. The anti-Semitic and fascist organizations of the “elites” in these countries disappeared apparently later with the Communist seizure of power, but the persons and attitudes of course remained largely unchanged.

While many leading members of fascist groups settled in the West in time, and others being executed or sentenced to lengthy prison terms in trials that were usually not according to the standards of constitutional democracies, there were also many who remained undisturbed. Among other things, the collapse of the communist bloc in Eastern Europe led to the formation of political groups that deliberately leaned towards pre-war organizations and that see themselves as following the values of such organizations. As a rule, the anti-communism of these pre-WWII groups is emphasized, but the totalitarian-fascist and anti-Semitic tradition is often concealed or relativized.

Hard-boiled anti-Semites and racists who have survived the communist regime and who are still proud of their (mis)deeds against Jews, and who in some cases spent decades behind bars in a communist prison, were suddenly revered by many despite (or perhaps because of?) their open advocacy of the ideology of their youth as anti-communist martyrs and heroes and role models for 21st century youth. And frequently, there are willing intellectuals who wholeheartedly support this revisionist narrative.

I want to report on such a case here. The focus is on the Bulgarian writer Zachary Karabashliev, whose novel 18% Gray is also available in English translation.

What is it all about? On his Facebook profile Karabashliev describes a visit to a 97-year-old retiree, and he provides photos and explanatory text. This encounter has, in his own words, strongly impressed him. The old man, apparently still astonishingly vigorous for his age, was harassed several times by intruders in his home and probably also physically abused. Karabashliev demanded in a letter from the competent ministry a better protection and an increased pension for the war veteran, who also spent many years in a prison of Communist Bulgaria as a regime opponent.

So far so good. There is no one who does not regret the poor living conditions of pensioners in Bulgaria, and also the frequent lack of recognition that many innocent victims of the communist system (in)justice have received in today’s Bulgarian society. So quite a noble action, which honors also the initiator, one could believe at first glance. Another picture, however, comes to light when you are digging a bit deeper.

The old man, whom Karabashliev praises, and whom he has repeatedly dubbed in public statements – even on television – as a hero, is called Dyanko Markov. Markov was imprisoned in communist Bulgaria for political reasons and was rehabilitated in the years after 1989. He was then a member of parliament for a right-wing party and became the most prominent living symbol of the political Right in Bulgaria because of his strong anti-communist stance. Markov wrote his memoirs, he often appeared as a speaker at public events (for example at the European Parliament) and was repeatedly interviewed. He is not just any pensioner, but in Bulgaria a well-known figure of public life. We are dealing with someone whom many – Karabashliev, for example – consider to be an exemplary hero and as such he was and is always present in the Bulgarian public.

In the first version of his Facebook post, Karabashliev also mentioned in detail and admiringly a part of the biography of Markov, which he interestingly later edited and completely deleted. This section referred to Markov’s membership in the so-called “Legions” and his alleged heroic deeds during World War II.

The Union of Bulgarian National Legions was an anti-Semitic and openly fascist paramilitary organization led by Hristo Lukov from 1933 on (he used the title “National Leader”). The youth organization of the Legions used the swastika as part of their emblem, the uniforms of the Legions and also the program were directly based on the blueprint of the German SA and also otherwise this movement was regarded as an arm of Hitler in Bulgaria and was strongly supported accordingly by Nazi Germany.

Eliminationist anti-Semitism was particularly actively promoted in Bulgaria by radical groups such as the Legions. Lukov, who eventually rose to become a general, Minister of War, and the “gray eminence” in the background, used the Legions as a base to gain more and more political influence and power; the Gestapo seriously debated whether they should support a coup d’etat by Lukov against Tsar Boris III who was for opportunistic reasons – the defeat of the Nazis was already forseeable – reluctant to carry out the Final Solution in Bulgaria; a replacement by a dictator Lukov, would according to the reasoning of the Gestapo, “deliver” the Jews for extermination without any problems. Before these ideas could be carried out, Lukov was assassinated by Violeta Yakova, a 19-year-old Jewish partisan (she was later brutally raped and tortured to death by Bulgarian security forces); the strong resistance of many Bulgarian citizens, some politicians (such as Dimitar Peshev) and the Orthodox Church in Bulgaria meant in the end that Bulgaria did not extradite their own Jewish citizens to the Nazis.

The Jews in the Bulgarian-occupied and annexed areas of Thrace, Macedonia and the Pirot region of Serbia were less fortunate: they were the only inhabitants of these areas who were formally declared as non-Bulgarians, and with this “trick” the Bulgarian authorities had laid the basis for deporting them. The deportation in these areas was organized and carried out by Bulgarians, members of the Union of Bulgarian National Legions were particularly eager, since the murder of the Jews corresponded to their own program. More than 11,000 Jews were deported to Treblinka and murdered on arrival.  

The founder and “leader” of this organization, which carried out much of the dirty work in the murder of Jews, Hristo Lukov, is the idol of many neo-Nazis in Europe to this day, he is “honored” with a torchlight parade every year in the center of Sofia by groups of neo-Nazis from all over Europe. Lukov is also the idol of Dyanko Markov, and he still propagates the ideas and “values” of the Legions to this very day. His memoirs sing a song of heroism of this organization. The Holocaust in the territories occupied and annexed by Bulgaria was commented by Markov in a speech in the Bulgarian parliament in 2000, in which he stated that the deportation of a “hostile population” was not a war crime. In 2018 he added that the deportation of the Jews to Treblinka was “relatively humane”. Almost at the same time Markov received from the Bulgarian state a high Order of Merit. One wonders, however, for what exactly…

At this point lies the real scandal, in the center of which Karabashliev has now maneuvered himself, probably out of the deepest conviction from the bottom of his heart.

If he and his notorious co-propagandists had wanted to draw attention to the fate of the veterans, the former inmates and victims of the communist regime of injustice or, in general, the shameful situation in which many elderly people in Bulgaria have to vegetate, one could easily choose almost any older person in Bulgaria as an example. The fact that a Dyanko Markov of all people is chosen to make this point, a person whose appearance in the European Parliament triggered a major scandal just a few years ago, after his continued advocacy of an inhumane organization and ideology and his Holocaust relativization became known, is, of course, a hint to the fact that the small group’s political program that keeps repeating Dyankov’s instrumentalization aims mainly at a complete rehabilitation of criminal fascist organizations from pre-war Bulgaria, a rehabilitation on which the group obviously plans to capitalize politically.

Anyone who points out that an inhumane ideology is being propagated here, the ideology of a group whose main historical aim was the mass murder of certain population groups and a cruel war of aggression in the East, anyone who questions why such people should be made into heroes must be prepared for a few things, from – in the end unsuccessful – slander trials to vicious, hate-filled personal attacks from the camp of Karabashliev’s co-propagandists. Unfortunately, such tendencies are probably in the spirit of the times, because in Bulgaria, which is governed by a coalition of right-wing and right-wing extremist parties, intellectual currents that relativize or deny the Holocaust and who claim that it is “the Jews” who need to be blamed for all atrocities of communism (which, as a matter of course makes their mass murder an excusable response); even the age-old anti-Semitic topos of the Jews as Christ-killers celebrates resurrection, e.g. in the columns of the once respected portal “Kultura”. The fact that Bulgarian writers such as Karabashliev and a few other second- and third-rate figures are initiating or supporting such shameful acts is a declaration of moral bankruptcy.

The case Karabashliev weighs particularly hard because of its influential position in the Bulgarian publishing industry. Significantly, with the exception of Angel Igov, who has contradicted the account of Karabashliev and his allies with reference to the facts, and Lea Cohen, who as a Jew is a traditional target of the Bulgarian anti-Semites, no other author has to my knowledge yet intervened in this scandal. Too big is obviously the fear to lose access to publication outlets in the small Bulgarian book market, or to estrange readers, of which a considerable part probably sympathizes with Markov‘s and Karabashliev’s historical revisionism. One may call this cowardice or complete dullness towards moral values; in any case it is a tragedy and a worrying symptom of the state of Bulgarian society these days.

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-9. 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.

18% Braun: Vom Fall eines bulgarischen Intellektuellen

Die Länder Osteuropas tun sich nach wie vor schwer mit der Einordnung ihrer Geschichte und der Personen und Strömungen, die sie gestaltet haben. Das gilt vor allem für das Erbe aus der Zeit unmittelbar vor der kommunistischen Machtergreifung. In vielen osteuropäischen Ländern gab es seit den zwanziger Jahren des 20. Jahrhunderts faschistische oder offen nationalsozialistische Gruppierungen, die sich grosser Unterstützung in Teilen der Bevölkerung erfreuten, und die in der Regel einen radikalen Antikommunismus mit einem totalitären Gesellschaftsmodell und eliminatorischem Antisemitismus nach nationalsozialistischem Vorbild verknüpften.

Aus diesen Gruppierungen erwuchsen den Nazis vor und bei Kriegsausbruch fanatische Unterstützer für ihre Gewaltpolitik, in deren Zug sie ganze Rassen ausrotten wollten, allen voran die Juden und Roma. Die seit Jahrhunderten verbreiteten Vorurteile und gesellschaftlichen Ausgrenzungen, sowie die vorhandene Gewaltbereitschaft gegenüber diesen Bevölkerungsgruppen in Osteuropa wurde von den Nazis gerne aufgegriffen und für ihr barbarisches Ausmerzungsprojekt dienstbar gemacht. Die antisemitischen und faschistischen Organisationen der „Eliten“ in diesen Ländern verschwanden zwar scheinbar später mit der kommunistischen Machtergreifung, die Personen und Geisteshaltungen aber blieben selbstverständlich weitgehend unverändert.

Während sich viele führende Vertreter faschistischer Gruppierungen rechtzeitig in den Westen absetzten und mancher auch im Rahmen von Prozessen, die meist wenig rechtsstaatlich waren, hingerichtet oder zu langjährigen Gefängnisstrafen verurteilt wurde, blieben viele auch unbehelligt. Der Zusammenbruch des kommunistischen Blocks in Osteuropa führte unter anderem auch dazu, dass sich politische Gruppierungen bildeten, die sich bewusst an Vorkriegsorganisationen anlehnten oder in deren Tradition sehen. Dabei wurde in der Regel der Antikommunismus dieser Gruppierungen in den Vordergrund gestellt, die totalitär-faschistische und antisemitische Tradition aber gerne verschwiegen oder relativiert.

Hartgesottene Antisemiten und Rassisten, die das kommunistische Regime überlebt haben und bis heute stolz auf ihre (Un-)Taten gegenüber Juden sind und die in einigen Fällen Jahrzehnte hinter Gittern in einem kommunistischen Gefängnis verbracht hatten, wurden von vielen plötzlich ungeachtet (oder vielleicht gerade wegen?) ihres offenen und ungeläuterten Eintretens für die Ideologie ihrer Jugendjahre als antikommunistische Märtyrer und Helden und Vorbilder für die Jugend des 21. Jahrhunderts dargestellt. Und immer wieder finden sich willige Intellektuelle, die dieses revisionistische Narrativ aus ganzem Herzen unterstützen.

Von einem solchen Fall will ich hier berichten. Im Zentrum steht dabei der bulgarische Schriftsteller Zachary Karabashliev, dessen Roman 18% Grau auch in englischer Übersetzung vorliegt.

Um was geht es konkret? Auf seinem Facebook-Profil berichtete Karabashliev von einem Besuch bei einem 97-jährigen Rentner, den er mit Fotos und erläuterndem Text versah. Diese Begegnung hat ihn nach eigenen Worten stark beeindruckt. Der alte Herr, offenbar noch erstaunlich rüstig für sein Alter, wurde diesem Bericht zufolge mehrfach von Eindringlingen in seiner Wohnung belästigt und wohl auch physisch misshandelt. Karabashliev forderte vom zuständigen Ministerium in einem Brief einen besseren Schutz bzw. eine erhöhte Rente des Kriegsveteranen, der zudem auch viele Jahre in einem Gefängnis des kommunistischen Bulgariens als Regimegegner einsass.

So weit, so gut. Es gibt wohl niemanden, der die schlechte Versorgung von Rentnern in Bulgarien und auch den häufigen Mangel an Anerkennung, den die vielen unschuldigen Opfer der kommunistischen Systemjustiz gegen Regimegegner in der heutigen bulgarischen Gesellschaft erhalten, nicht bedauert. Also durchaus eine edelmütige Aktion, die dem Initiator zur Ehre gereicht, könnte man auf den ersten Blick glauben. Ein anderes Bild jedoch ergibt sich, wenn man etwas tiefer gräbt.

Der alte Herr, von dem Karabashliev berichtet, und den er mehrfach in öffentlichen Äusserungen – auch im Fernsehen – als Helden tituliert hat, heisst Dyanko Markov. Markov war von im kommunistischen Bulgarien aus politischen Gründen inhaftiert und wurde in den Jahren nach 1989 rehabilitiert. Er war danach Parlamentsabgeordneter einer rechten Partei und wurde die prominenteste lebende Symbolfigur der Rechten in Bulgarien wegen seines unbeugsamen Antikommunismus. Markov schrieb seine Memoiren, trat häufig als Redner bei öffentlichen Veranstaltungen auf (u.a. auch im Europaparlament) und wurde immer wieder interviewt. Er ist also nicht irgendein Rentner, sondern in Bulgarien eine sehr bekannte Figur des öffentlichen Lebens. Wir haben es mit jemandem zu tun, den viele – so auch Karabashliev – geradezu für einen mustergültigen Helden halten und als solchen immer wieder der Öffentlichkeit vorstellen.

In der ersten Version seines Facebook-Posts erwähnte Karabashliev auch ausführlich und bewundernd einen Teil der Biographie Markovs, den er interessanterweise später redigierte und komplett strich. Dieser Abschnitt bezog sich auf die Mitgliedschaft Markovs bei den sog. „Legionären“ und seine angeblich heldenhaften Taten während des 2. Weltkriegs.

Der Bund der Bulgarischen Nationalen Legionen war eine antisemitische und offen faschistische paramilitärische Organisation, die ab 1933 von Hristo Lukov geführt wurde (er benutzte den Titel „Nationaler Führer“). Die Jugendorganisation der Legionäre nutzte in ihrem Emblem das Hakenkreuz, die Uniformen des Verbandes und auch das Programm waren direkt an das Muster der nazistischen SA angelehnt und auch sonst wurde diese Bewegung als Arm Hitlers in Bulgarien angesehen und entsprechend von Nazideutschland gefördert.

Der eliminatorische Antisemitismus wurde in Bulgarien besonders aktiv von radikalen Gruppen wie den Legionären propagiert. Lukov, der schliesslich zum General, Kriegsminister und zur grauen Eminenz im Hintergrund aufstieg, nutzte die Legionäre, um auch politisch immer mehr Einfluss zu gewinnen;  die Gestapo diskutierte ernsthaft, ob man einen Staatsstreich Lukovs gegen den bei der Judenvernichtung in Bulgarien aus opportunistischen Gründen – die Niederlage der Nazis war bereits absehbar – zögerlichen Zar Boris III durchführen sollte und an seiner Stelle Lukov als Diktator, der die Judenvernichtung in Bulgarien „liefern“ würde, unterstützen sollte. Dazu kam es am Ende nicht, Lukov wurde von der 19-jährigen jüdischen Partisanin Violeta Yakova bei einem Attentat getötet (sie wurde später von bulgarischen Sicherheitskräften bestialisch vergewaltigt und zu Tode gefoltert); der starke Widerstand vieler bulgarischer Bürger, einiger Politiker (wie Dimitar Peshev) und der Orthodoxen Kirche in Bulgarien führten dazu, dass Bulgarien die Juden im eigenen Land nicht an die Nazis auslieferte.

Die Juden in den von Bulgarien besetzten Gebieten Thrakiens, Mazedoniens und der serbischen Region Pirot hatten weniger Glück: sie wurden als einzige Einwohner dieser Gebiete nicht als Bulgaren angesehen, und mit diesem „Trick“ hatte man die Grundlage geschaffen, sie zu deportieren. Die Deportation in diesen Gebieten wurde von Bulgaren organisiert und durchgeführt, Mitglieder der Bulgarischen Nationalen Legionen zeigten sich besonders eifrig, entsprach der Mord an den Juden doch ihrem eigenen Programm. Mehr als 11000 Juden wurden überwiegend nach Treblinka zur Vergasung deportiert.

Der Gründer und „Führer“ dieser Organisation, die Hand- und Spanndienste beim Judenmord leistete, Hristo Lukov, ist das Idol vieler Neo-Nazis in Europa bis heute, er wird jedes Jahr mit einem Fackelzug gewaltbereiter Rechtsextremisten aus ganz Europa auf den Strassen von Sofia „geehrt“. Lukov ist auch das verehrte Idol von Dyanko Markov, und er propagiert bis heute das Gedankengut der Legionäre. Seine Memoiren singen das Heldenlied dieser Organisation. Der Holocaust in den von Bulgarien besetzten und annektierten Gebieten wurde von Markov in einer Rede im bulgarischen Parlament im Jahr 2000 dahingehend kommentiert, dass die Deportation einer „feindlichen Bevölkerungsgruppe“ kein Kriegsverbrechen sei. Im Jahr 2018 ergänzte er dazu noch, dass die Deportation nach Treblinka „relativ human“ gewesen sei. Fast zeitgleich erhielt Markov vom bulgarischen Staat einen hohen Verdienstorden. Man fragt sich allerdings, wofür…

In diesem Punkt liegt der eigentliche Skandal, in dessen Mittelpunkt sich Karabashliev jetzt, wohl aus tiefster Überzeugung selbst manövriert hat.

Wenn es ihm und seinen einschlägig bekannten Co-Propagandisten darum gegangen wäre, auf das Los der Veteranen, der ehemaligen Häftlinge und Opfer des kommunistischen Unrechtsregimes oder generell auf die schändliche Situation, in der viele betagte Menschen in Bulgarien vegetieren müssen, aufmerksam machen zu wollen, hätte man sich ohne weiteres fast jeden beliebigen älteren Menschen in Bulgarien als Beispiel aussuchen können. Dass man ausgerechnet einen Dyanko Markov, dessen Auftritt im Europäischen Parlament vor wenigen Jahren einen grossen Skandal auslöste, nachdem sein ungebrochenes Eintreten für eine menschenverachtende Organisation und Ideologie und seine Holocaust-Relativierung bekannt wurde, ist natürlich politisches Programm der kleinen Gruppe, die ihn immer wieder instrumentalisiert, um verbrecherische faschistische Organisationen aus dem Vorkriegs-Bulgarien zu rehabilitieren und daraus letzten Endes politisches Kapital zu schlagen.

Wer darauf hinweist, dass hier eine inhumane Ideologie propagiert wird und eine Gruppierung, deren Hauptziel nach eigener Aussage der Massenmord an bestimmten Bevölkerungsgruppen und der Angriffskrieg im Osten war, zu Heroen aufgebaut werden sollen, muss sich auf einiges gefasst machen, von – am Ende erfolglosen – Verleumdungsprozessen bis hin zu geifernden, hasserfüllten persönlichen Angriffen aus dem Lager von Karabashlievs Gesinnungsgenossen. Leider liegen derartige Tendenzen wohl im Zeitgeist, denn in Bulgarien, das von einer Regierungskoalition rechter und rechtsextremer Parteien regiert wird, gibt es seit einiger Zeit auch unter Intellektuellen Strömungen, die den Holocaust relativieren oder leugnen, und die „den Juden“ die Schuld am Kommunismus und seinen Verbrechen geben (und insofern den Massenmord an ihnen als entschuldbare Reaktion darauf interpretieren); auch der uralte antisemitische Topos von den Juden als Christus-Mördern feiert Wiederauferstehung, z.B. in den Spalten des einstmals angesehenen Portals „Kultura“. Dass sich bulgarische Schriftsteller wie Karabashliev und einige andere aus der zweiten und dritten Garnitur dazu hergeben, ist eine moralische Bankrotterklärung.

Der Fall Karabashliev wiegt besonders schwer aufgrund seiner einflussreichen Stellung im bulgarischen Verlagswesen. Bezeichnenderweise hat – mit der Ausnahme von Angel Igov, der der Darstellung von Karabashliev und seiner Bundesgenossen mit Hinweis auf die Fakten widersprochen hat und von Lea Cohen, die als Jüdin ohnehin traditionell eine Zielscheibe der bulgarischen Antisemiten ist – meines Wissens bisher noch kein anderer Autor zu dem Vorgang Stellung genommen. Zu gross ist offenbar die Angst, auf dem kleinen bulgarischen Buchmarkt Pulikationsmöglichkeiten zu verlieren oder bei Lesern anzuecken, von denen wohl ein beträchtlicher Teil mit Markovs und Karabashlievs Geschichtsrevisionismus sympathisiert. Man mag das Feigheit oder komplette Abgestumpftheit gegenüber moralischen Werten nennen; ein Trauerspiel und ein besorgniserregendes Symptom für den Zustand der bulgarischen Gesellschaft ist es auf jeden Fall.

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-9. 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.

 


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.

18% Gray

Eighteen_Percent_Gray-web_large

When you take photos sometimes, you may know or not know that cameras have a light meter. All light meters including those in every camera must be calibrated to assume a certain percentage of light being reflected from the subject you want to photograph.

Each light meter can be used to determine correct exposure so long as the photographer knows the angle of measurement and knows how to isolate what is being measured. In addition to knowing the area from which the reading is taken, it is also important to know the approximate reflectance of that area. This is the part that can make using a reflected meter difficult, since the meter can’t determine subject reflectance for you and you must mentally calculate it.

Or you use a standardized surrogate subject such as the common Kodak Gray Card, which has a stated reflectance of 18%. Hence the title of this book, which has also a metaphorical meaning, as readers will find out.

Zack, the narrator/protagonist of this book – the fact that he has the same name as the author is a hint that probably a part of this novel is autobiographical – has two serious problems at the beginning of this book: Stella, his wife and the big love of his life has left him (and as we later learn: for good), and as a result of that Zack is in a severe crisis; and furthermore he comes unintentionally into possession of a big bag with marijuana.

What follows is a road trip from California to New York, and also a trip into the past of Zack’s and Stella’s lives. A man tries hard to find the woman he loves and whom he has lost (long before she physically left him); but he also tries to find again his vocation as an artist; and besides, he wants to sell the dope at the East Coast and maybe start a new life with the money.

The book is structured in a very interesting way: there is the story of Zack, after Stella left him, and his journey through the country; there are flashbacks that describe Stella’s and Zack’s story from the moment they met, in Varna, Bulgaria – by coincidence also a very important place in my life – , in the last days of the communist regime, their move to the U.S. as students, their attempts to build a new life – Stella as a painter, Zack as a photographer and after this fails, as a supervisor of test results for a pharmaceutical company -, and how their lives are drifting slowly apart; and there are short conversations between Zack and Stella, all recorded in moments when Zack takes photographs of Stella, and which give a clear indication of how their relationship slowly changes.

All three lines of this story have their own typography, so it is very easy for the reader to follow these permanent switches, which structure the texts into quite short sections. Here and also in the very good dialogues the reader feels that the author is also a prolific screen writer. This novel has a movie-like feel, and it is not surprising that it will be made (or is it already made?) into a movie.

The novel touches on many interesting topics: how do relationships change over time, and what can we do to prevent us from losing “it” – the love and also the purpose of life, which for Zack was first the music (when he was in Bulgaria, he started a career as front man of a punk band), later photography, and finally writing; it is also a novel about emigration and how it affects the identity of those who give up their home country and re-invent themselves somewhere else; it is a book about America (there are excellent descriptions not only about California and New York, but especially about the Mid West, Texas and all the other places Zack is crossing); can money really compensate us for other losses – the answer is obvious…; and a few more.

“I now realize that my American West was not a geographical place, but a sacred territory in my dreams. Perhaps everybody has their own Wild West. From a very young age, I knew with certainty that one day I would live in mine. I’d caress the yellow prairie grass and the wind would kiss my face. When did I lose all that? How did I manage to desecrate my West by replacing it with the plastic version of what I’ve been living in for the last few years of my life? “

I like about the book also that it is obviously in the tradition of the Künstlerroman (artist’s novel); but it reminds me at the same time of American road movies. There are plenty of absurd situations and people in the book, and also a kind of roguish humor which is a good antithesis to Zack’s and Stella’s sad story. I also like the somewhat ambiguous end and the wonderful last sentence:

“We watch the world outside through our reflections.”

A great book, if you ask me.

The English translation by Angela Rodel is flawless and excellent.

By the way, I read the English edition published by the Bulgarian publisher Ciela. For the cover they used a photo by the author (now editor-in-chief at the same publishing house) that fits this book very well.

PS: One – minor – correction: Old Firehand is of course NOT “a fictional native American hero” of several Karl May novels, as a footnote on page 190 informs us. “Hugh, ich habe gesprochen!”

 Karabashliev

 

Zachary Karabashliev: 18% Gray, transl. by Angela Rodel, Open Letter Books, Rochester 2013, Ciela, Sofia 2015

This review is part of Stu’s (Winstonsdad’s Blog) Eastern European Lit month: https://winstonsdad.wordpress.com/2015/03/02/welcome-to-eastern-european-lit-month/

 

 

 

 

© 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.