Monthly Archives: July 2015

A case of revisionism, or How interested circles in Bulgaria try to turn the main responsible for the killing of 11,363 Jews into someone that is “more than a Bulgarian Schindler”

The events about which I am talking here took place more than 70 years ago and are extremely well documented. But until today there are two competing narratives regarding the interpretation of these events and a recent interview of the former Bulgarian Czar and later Prime Minister Simeon Sakskoburggotski (Simeon von Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha) brought them to the surface again and created a quite heated discussion in the public sphere in Bulgaria.

The facts: Bulgaria, whose government at that time had since long very close ties to Nazi Germany, joined the Axis officially on March 1, 1941. Bulgaria had lost territories in the Balkan Wars and WWI that it considered to be rightfully part of Bulgaria, and Nazi Germany supported these territorial claims to Macedonia, a part of Kosovo, the Dobrudzha, and the Greek part of Thrace. Part of the deal to join the Axis was on the other hand to actively support the extermination of the Jews – it was later agreed that Bulgaria will “deliver” as a starter 20,000 Jews to the Nazis. So, in the end of the day it was a deal “territory against handing out the Jews for extermination”.

Even before joining the Axis, the Bulgarian government started to support actively the anti-Semitic policy of the Nazis. Bulgaria issued laws that deprived Bulgarian Jews of most of their rights; the laws were inspired by the anti-Semitic laws in Nazi Germany that in a way prepared the population to accept the fact the Jews were no citizens, and actually not even human beings in the ideology of the Nazis and their willing helpers.

In spring 1943, the Bulgarian parliament issued a supportive vote to deport for now 20,000 Jews from the territory of Bulgaria (including those territories that were to be annexed by Bulgaria) to Poland. 11,363 Jews from Bulgarian-occupied Macedonia and Western Thrace were rounded up by Bulgarian police and military, put in trains guarded by Bulgarians and sent mainly to Treblinka. There was literally only a handful of survivors.

When in March 1943 the Bulgarian authorities started to announce their intention to round up also the Jews from the “Old” Bulgarian territory, i.e. Bulgaria in the borders before 1941, courageous Bulgarian citizens, a few politicians with a conscious (such as Dimitar Peshev), and some of the leaders of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church (Metropolit Kiril and Metropolit Stefan), organized public resistance in Kyustendil, Sofia, Plovdiv, and other places. A demonstration of the illegal Communist party in Sofia resulted in the arrest of more than 400 participants.

Bulgaria was a country where antisemitism was not a mass phenomenon, most Bulgarians traditionally held good relationships with their Jewish neighbors and felt that they were Bulgarian citizens just like everybody else. It became obvious to the government and to the powerful Czar Boris III that they had underestimated the supportive reaction of the Bulgarian population for the Jews; at a time when it was already clear that Nazi Germany will lose the war (this happened after the capitulation of Stalingrad), the Czar and the government decided to “play on time”.

In order to avoid a serious crisis and threat to their power by a possibly very strong reaction of a considerable part of the Bulgarian population if they would deport the remaining Jews to Poland, they found all kind of excuses to delay the deportation – much to the anger of Dannecker, the highest Nazi representative in Bulgaria who was dealing with the organisation of the endlösung, and of Hitler personally. But knowing fully well that he was on the losing side, Boris (who died a few days after he visited Hitler in Germany) tried to gain some leverage for the time after the war. And to be considered the “savior” of the Bulgarian Jews would be possibly part of that leverage, so he hoped.

As a result, all Jews within the pre-1941 territory of Bulgaria survived (unless they perished as part of the partisan movement); almost all Jews in the annexed territories were killed.      

In his recent interview with CNN, the son of Czar Boris III, the former Czar Simeon II, and later Prime Minister of Bulgaria, mentioned his hopes that his father will be declared one of the Righteous Among the Nations, a title awarded by Yad Vashem to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

The basic criteria to be awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations, according to the official website of the Yad Vashem Memorial are as follows:

  1. Active involvement of the rescuer in saving one or several Jews from the threat of death or deportation to death camps;
  2. Risk to the rescuer’s life, liberty or position;
  3. The initial motivation being the intention to help persecuted Jews: i.e. not for payment or any other reward such as religious conversion of the saved person, adoption of a child, etc.;
  4. The existence of testimony of those who were helped or at least unequivocal documentation establishing the nature of the rescue and its circumstances.

It is obvious that Czar Boris III is not fulfilling a single one of these criteria.

I would not have mentioned the attempt of a son to whitewash his father from his responsibility of the death of more than 11,000 people, if it would be a private matter only. But Simeon is not a private person only. He came back to Bulgaria after decades of exile to become Prime Minister, making the promise that after 800 days the Bulgarians would live better under his rule (he and his sister live indeed much better now – one of the first laws he issued was about the restitution of the private property of the family of the Czar, and now he and his sister own land and properties that were never theirs, and which make them the by far biggest landowners in Bulgaria).

The reason why I am writing about this topic is another one. What we can witness in Bulgaria is the attempt of interested circles to whitewash history, to deny historical responsibility for the deeds of the past, or even for serious crimes that were committed in the past. That is not limited to Bulgaria of course, and it is not limited to the role of the Czar in the survival of the Bulgarian Jews living on the pre-1941 Bulgarian territory. Revisionism is in my opinion a very serious threat for Bulgaria. Only when you know who you are and what you did in the past and for what you are responsible, you have a chance to learn from history.

An article written by Manol Glishev, a poet and intellectual, shows clearly the very ugly side of this kind of revisionism. I was really shocked and aghast when I read it.

After an introduction which he is using to insult everyone who dares to be critical regarding Boris’ role and Simeon’s objective lies about that part of history (see below), saying that “negativism transferred from father to son or from son to father is a totalitarian practice”(!!!), we “learn” in his article how Boris III was working hard for years to preserve the life of every Bulgarian – but “unfortunately” the Jews in the occupied and annexed territories were not Bulgarians, so there was nothing he could do. (This is ignoring the fact that it was Boris III and his government that “made” all inhabitants of the occupied and annexed territories into Bulgarians – except for the Jews, for which he had already other plans.)

In one of the paragraphs that is dealing with the fate of the Macedonian and Thracian Jews, Glishev is writing that Macedonia was not part of Bulgaria at the time of the deportation and that the Czar made “big efforts” to save the Macedonian and Thracian Jews. Both is simply a fabrication. I would recommend Mr Glishev to read a bit about the historical facts. As a start I could recommend him the excellent book by Rumen Avramov: “Salvation” and fall: Microeconomics of the state antisemitism in Bulgaria 1940-1944, which shows among other things the very strong involvement of the Bulgarian state, its government and its ruler, Czar Boris III in the deportation and killing of the Jews in the annexed territories. That the Bulgarian state and Boris himself bear the responsibility for the extermination of the Jews in Macedonia and Western Thrace is also evident from the documents published recently by Avramov and Nadia Danova from the archives of Alexander Belev, the “Kommissar für Judenfragen” in Bulgaria, the organizer of the activities against the Jews. Mr Glishev could also inform himself by reading the Dimitar Peshev biography by Gabriele Nissim. Or Arno Lustiger’s excellent book Rettungswiderstand, in which the author describes clearly and with plenty of documentary support that the main responsibility for the extermination of the Jews in Macedonia and Western Thrace was with the Bulgarian government and Boris III.

When Mr Glishev even writes that “Boris is more than a Bulgarian Schindler” (headline of his article), I feel really that I am running out of words. To read a headline like this from an intellectual and poet is sickening. His intervention on behalf of an opportunistic ruler who sided with the Nazis because it suited his policy to increase the Bulgarian territory (and let – if possible – others do the dirty job for him), someone who didn’t have the slightest problem to turn the Bulgarian Jews into slaves that were deprived of almost any human rights, someone who ordered his policemen and military to round up the Jews in Macedonia and Western Thrace and send them to Treblinka, is not a worthy cause by any means.

According to the logic applied by Mr Glishev, Joseph Goebbels should be given the title of a Righteous Among the Nations too. It was Goebbels, who ordered the release of about 2,000 Jews in Berlin in 1943, after a group of women demonstrated in the Rosenstrasse in Berlin, after the arrest of their Jewish husbands and fathers. As a result of these unexpected demonstrations, and after a major bombing raid, Goebbels decided not to fuel possible protests and to release these people – for the time being. Does that make Goebbels a “savior of the Jews of Berlin”? The answer is obvious, and I feel ashamed that some people, among them even intellectuals and writers have the chutzpah to make a “savior of the Jews” out of an opportunist and bootlicker of the Nazis, who partnered in their crimes whenever it was favorable for him.

In an emotional, but factually correct response, the writer and survivor Lea Cohen answered to Glishev’s unsupportable article and Simeon’s interview.

Contrary to what Simeon said in the interview, Bulgaria was not an occupied country; Macedonia and Western Thrace were occupied by Bulgarian troops; to say that Boris “was hiding the Jews in labor camps” is so ridiculous and outrageous as to say Stalin was “hiding the opposition in labor camps”; it was not Simeon’s mother, but the Spanish ambassador that issued passports to the Bulgarian Jews; it was not the Nazi administration, but the Bulgarian administration that sent the Jews from Macedonia and Western Thrace to Treblinka; Boris III name was removed by the Jewish National Fund from all commemorative signs after a committee headed by an Israeli High Court judge came to the result that he in no way was responsible for saving the Bulgarian Jews – Simeon is just outright lying in this interview.

It makes me angry to see a person spreading so much obvious revisionist lies as Simeon does; it is sickening to see some intellectual and writer running to his help for his outrageous lies, trying to manipulate the public opinion in Bulgaria in accordance with Simeon’s revisionist agenda.

That the Jews in the pre-1941 Bulgarian territory were saved, is and will always be an honorable act by the part of the Bulgarian population responsible for it and by those people who voiced their resistance to the planned deportation; Boris III doesn’t belong to that group of honorable people, and revisionist campaigns like the one his son, with the support of interested circles, is running now, will hopefully have no success. This is not only a question of the interpretation of historical events; it is also a question of morals and ethics.

It is high time to admit that also Bulgaria had its share of responsibility in the Holocaust, and that the saving of a part of the Jews is just a (convenient) part of the whole story. It is also important to remember who was responsible from the Bulgarian side for this participation in the Holocaust: the Bulgarian government at that time, and the monarch Czar Boris III. That may be painful for some people who still prefer a made-up version of history to the truth – but it is indispensable for the country’s future. Only a Bulgaria that acknowledges its past – and not a revisionist parody of it – will be able to build a future free of the ghosts of antisemitism, racism and fascism.


Румен Аврамов: „Спасение“ и падение, Университетско издателство „Св.
Климент Охридски“, 2012 (Rumen Avramov: “Salvation” and fall: Microeconomics of the state antisemitism in Bulgaria, 1940-1944), Sofia 2012

Румен Аврамов и Надя Данова: Депортирането на евреите от Вардарска Македония, Беломорска Тракия и Пирот, март 1943 г./ Т. I-II (Rumen Avramov and Nadya Danova, eds.: The deportation of the Jews from Vardar Macedonia, Aegean Thrakia and Pirot, March 1943, 2 vol.), Sofia 2013

Arno Lustiger: Rettungswiderstand. Über die Judenretter in Europa während der NS-Zeit. Wallstein, Göttingen 2011

Gabriele Nissim: The Man who stopped Hitler, I. Borouchoff, 2002

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

Two new projects

As I mentioned already in an earlier blog post, I am working on some book-related projects that absorb right now a considerable part of my free time. Since then things have become more tangible, and I feel this is the right moment to inform my readers a bit more in detail about these projects.

I am now – together with my associate and dear friend Elitsa Osenska – the proud owner of two new small companies that deal with different aspects of the book market. One of them (Hyperion) is a literary agency that is assisting publishers, authors and other agencies to sell book translation rights and other subsidiary rights on foreign markets; the agency aims also to assist authors in their professional development. The other company (Rhizome) is a publishing house that will mainly publish high-quality fiction (and in some cases also non-fiction). Both companies are located in Sofia, Bulgaria.

As for Hyperion, we have already won a few prestigeous partners with which we will work. We will represent selected titles of the publishers I.B.Tauris, Verso Books (both UK), and Wallstein (Germany) in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, and Indonesia. We are also now the exclusive sub-agent of The Raya Agency (Beirut), the most relevant literary agency in the Arabic world, for Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo. We represent books by authors such as H.G. Adler, Kamal Al Riahi, Hoda Al Qudumi, Mohammad Alwan, Benedict Anderson, Sinan Antoon, Hoda Barakat, Samar Mahfouz Barraj, John Berger, Marcel Beyer, Joseph Breitbach, Judith Butler, Hilal Chouman, Joan Copjec, Hassan Daoud, William Davies, Mike Davis, Jabbour Douaihy, Robert Elsie, Elias Farkouh, Iain Finlayson, Richard Hamilton, Mohammad Eqbal Harb, Wang Hui, Ghada Karmi, Khaled Khalifa, Mostafa Khalifa, Naila Jraissati Khoury, Ruth Klüger, Eka Kurniawan, Ibrahim Nasrallah, Ilan Pappe, Youssef Rakha, Makkawi Said, Amina Shah, Fatima Sharafeddine, Marcus Tanner, Abdullah Thabit, Armin T. Wegner, Samar Yazbek, Slavoj Žižek. We are now in negotiations with a publisher and two authors from Bulgaria to represent them as well. Our client base is expanding.

As for our publishing house Rhizome, we are preparing the publication of our first two titles. We are planning to publish by the end of the year a book with poems by the excellent Bulgarian author Vladislav Hristov in German (you can find a sample translation here). Suhrkamp is granting us the Bulgarian language rights of the novel Wer ist Martha? (Who Is Martha?) by Marjana Gaponenko (you can find a review of this wonderful book here). For 2016 we have four more titles “in the pipeline”. For 2017 we plan with six or seven new titles.

Our mission statement as a publishing house is a quote by the famous publisher Kurt Wolff:

„Man verlegt entweder Bücher, von denen man meint, die Leute sollen sie lesen, oder Bücher, von denen man meint, die Leute wollen sie lesen. Verleger der zweiten Kategorie, das heißt Verleger, die dem Publiumsgeschmack dienerisch nachlaufen, zählen für uns nicht – nicht wahr? ”  –

(“You either publish books of which you think that people should read them, or books of which you think that people want to read them. Publishers of the second category that run in a servile manner after the public’s taste do not count for us – isn’t that so?”) 

It may sound a bit arrogant, but we will definitely be publishers of the first category of this quote.

In October we will visit the Frankfurt Book Fair which will help us to widen and increase our network. We are also developing a website for each of the two operations and will be present at social media.

Of course I will keep on blogging here, but as you can see I am a very busy man these days – I have a regular job and a private life as well, haha. This blog will be free of advertisement also in the future and I will keep my work as a literary agent and micro publisher separated from this blog, but from time to time I might write here about my experiences in these fields as well.  

Translation of the Kurt Wolff quote by Thomas Hübner

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

The Polish Boxer

No, the tattooed six-digit number visible on the arm of the narrator’s grandfather is not his phone number as he tells his grandson – it is his inmate number from Auschwitz.

Eduardo Halfon, the narrator/author of The Polish Boxer is a literature professor at a college in Guatemala that seems to be rather frustrated by his job. Year after year he is teaching students that don’t take the slightest interest in literature – but the rare exceptions make up for this disappointment. Juan Kalel, an Indio student is such an exception; he is not only very intelligent and attentive, it turns out that he is also a genuine poet. When he drops out of college all of a sudden, Eduardo wants to find out why…

Later Halfon meets together with his girlfriend a talented classical Serbian/Gypsy pianist at a festival in Antigua; the pianist sends him later strange postcards from all over the world with rather cryptic messages that deal with the origin, fate, and culture of the Gypsy people and especially with their music. Without remarking it first, the narrator gets more and more drawn into the Gypsy music and once the postcards suddenly come to a stop, he travels to Belgrade to find out what happened to Rakic, the pianist who was an outsider in the Serbian and the Gypsy society as well.

And there is the story of Halfon’s grandfather, who survived Auschwitz thanks to the help of a Polish Boxer – that’s what he tells Eduardo, although when a TV crew interviews him about his concentration camp survival, he tells them that he survived exclusively due to his skills as a carpenter. The classical unreliable narrator.

These three stories plus a few smaller ones are interwoven in Eduardo Halfon’s novel. While it starts like a classical campus novel in which a literature professor is talking about different authors and his concept of literature, later visiting an interdisciplinary Mark Twain conference in the United States, the focus shifts completely to questions of identity when he meets the pianist Rakic, who is rejecting his Serbian heritage and wants to become a Gypsy (since he is of mixed origin, he is shunned by both communities). The author/narrator, a Jew that rejects his Jewish heritage (“I have retired from being Jewish”, he says somewhere) is probably attracted to Rakic’s story so much because Rakic, just like him wants to get rid of a part of his heritage in order to become someone else – but that is of course not possible.

The chapter about the Indio poet would make in my opinion a great stand-alone short story. But since Kalel is dropped and never again mentioned during the rest of the book, I was wondering why his story was included in the novel. The same goes even for the story of the Polish Boxer, since the main character in the book (beside the author) is neither the Polish Boxer nor the grandfather, it is the enigmatic pianist. Halfon can write and many pages are really gripping, but as a novel, the book disappointed me a bit. 

My impression of The Polish Boxer is mixed: an interesting author and a text that makes curious to read more by Halfon. As a novel it is for me not very satisfactory. The different parts and story lines fall not always in place, and even the title is a bit odd since we learn next to nothing about The Polish Boxer except the few remarks of the grandfather, a seemingly unreliable storyteller. Maybe we have to wait for Halfon’s next book – I read somewhere that he is working on a follow-up novel to The Polish Boxer – and then maybe some of my questions will be answered, who knows.

A few minor mistakes (like Nejgoš instead of Njegoš) could be easily fixed in  a new edition.


Eduardo Halfon: The Polish Boxer, translated by Thomas Bunstead et al., Bellevue Literary Press, New York 2012

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

The Politics of Friendship

Isidora Sekulić  – unless you are from Serbia or former Yugoslavia you have very probably never heard that name before. And that is a pity because she was a very remarkable woman and writer.

Sekulić was born in 1877 in a small town in Northern Serbia, at a time when it was extremely rare and unusual for a woman to get a good education; but she was lucky: her father, a lawyer, thought obviously differently from most men of his time (not only in Serbia) and made it possible for his daughter to study.

Isidora graduated from the Teachers College in Sombor, then from the Higher Pedagogicum in Budapest and finally got her Ph.D. in Berlin; she was fluent in seven languages, traveled on her own, and had an excellent knowledge of European art and culture. Most of her life she lived in Belgrade working as a teacher and later in the lexicography department of the Serbian Academy of Sciences.

A small collection of her essays on the Balkans is to my knowledge so far the only part of her work that is translated at all. These essays have the titles: Balkans, The Balkans (notes of a Balkanophile), The Problem of the Small Nation, and Concentrating – Absentmindedness is not a fault but a vice. These essays are complemented in the edition I can recommend here by a short introductory essay The Policies of Friendship, by Nataša Marković and an instructive afterword Blood and Honey by Darko Tanasković and a short biographic sketch.

Sekulić’s main other works, although so far untranslated, give an impression regarding her intellectual interests as a writer: Fellow-Travelers, Letters from Norway, The Deacon of Notre Dame, The Chronicles of the Small-Town Cemetery, Analytical Moments and Topics, To My People, Speech and Language, a cultural review of the nation, and a biography of Njegoš, the Poet-King.

Sekulić was very modern in her writing. In her belletristic texts she used the stream-of-consciousness technique before Virginia Woolf. It is said that Sekulić was adequately Serb and adequately European and cosmopolitan at the same time. In her essayistic writing she would anticipate a concept that would be later called The Politics of Friendship by Jacques Derrida. In her words

“only culture connects people, states and nations; everything else separates them. Cultural contacts are the joy of people…”

Her essay The Problem of the Small Nation should be obligatory reading for each politician of a big nation that thinks he is entitled to decide or have a say in the fate of small nations.

“It is not easy being a small nation: not in Finland, not in Norway, not in Serbia…we are small and we are alone!”

And the following note seems to be written today, so fresh and still valid is it:

“Serbia as a small country must join the world, Europe, at any cost, but not at the cost of losing its dignity and its identity…”

At its core, the Balkan nations have survived the roughly five centuries of Ottoman rule and the five decades of Communism with their particular identity intact; now it is time to become a part of Europe not only economically – without losing its identity and without inferiority complex. Sekulić’s message is as actual as ever.

Sekulić, in many respects a predecessor of Maria Todorova and other scientists that deal with the Balkan identity, is a fascinating author that should be discovered finally also outside her home country – so let’s hope for more translations of her books and essays and maybe also one day a biography that will be available to readers outside Serbia. Her Politics of Friendship are now needed more than ever.

Isidora Sekulić: Balkan, translated by Vuk Tošić, bi-lingual edition Serbian-English, Plavi jahač, Belgrade 2013

Jacques Derrida: Politics of Friendship, trans. George Collins (London & New York: Verso, 1997)

Maria Todorova: Balkan Identities: Nation and Memory, Hurst, London & New York University Press, 2004

Maria Todorova: Imagining the Balkans, New York: Oxford University Press, 2009

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


Literary critics vs. book bloggers

Recently I followed an interesting discussion in social media regarding the role of literary critics as opposed to book bloggers. My own opinion in a few words:

1. Here the literary critics, there the book bloggers – in my opinion that’s already a wrong alternative. Some literary critics have a blog where they publish, some book bloggers are professional and/or knowledgeable literary critics.

2. There is indeed no principle antagonism between literary criticism and book blogging. The literary criticism or essay or review is a literary FORM. It can be published as a monograph/book, as an essay in a literary journal, in a newspaper or in other print media – or in electronic form as a blog. Book blogging is a MEDIUM of publication, not a literary form. An article published on a book blog may or may not be a literary criticism, or essay, or review written by a professional and/or knowledgeable person; to take the MEDIUM (paper or electronic) as the defining criteria for the quality of the content (as indeed many participants of that discussion did) is missing the point completely in my opinion.

3. In each country there is a specific tradition of literary criticism. In the German-speaking countries for example there is traditionally a kind of clear division between literary criticism as a scientific and academic subject and popular literary criticism that aims to inform and advise potential readers regarding books. The academic literary critic aims at gaining knowledge, discovering connections of the work with other works, putting the work in many respects in the context of artistic, historical, sociological, and other scientific disciplines, using a set of tools that are the result of academic training. The target audience of this kind of academic literary criticism is not the general public, who wants to have advice what to read but a peer group that consists almost exclusively of other academics.

4. While academic literary criticism is important and has a raison d’être on its own, it is obvious that the general public is usually not interested in scientific essays, but in reviews that inform about content and author of a book, and that are able to highlight the particular strengths of the book in question and guide the readers of the review in a way that helps him or her to make up his/her mind if they would enjoy this particular book. Depending on the personal knowledge and ability of the individual reviewer and also of the target audience, reviews could be long or short, informed or clueless, superficial or deep.

5. The percentage of book bloggers and of academic literary critics that are able to write a good book review for readers is approximately the same, according to empiric evidence that I gained in the course of many years. The main defaults of a certain part of the book bloggers in this respect are the inability to write properly and too little knowledge about the subject. The main defaults of a certain part of the academic literary critics are the inability to write properly and too much knowledge about the subject.

6. An academic training in the field can help to write a good review of a book; but it is not an obligatory precondition – just the same like with Creative Writing Classes: not all graduates become good authors, and most excellent authors never studied Creative Writing or any literary subject.

7. I got the impression that a certain part of the audience seems to think that someone that writes in a way that I don’t understand proves that this person must be a great expert, and therefore deserves admiration. I got also the impression that a certain part of the audience seems to think that book bloggers are corrupt – while literary critics are not. (I had to laugh aloud when I read this – it shows such a touching ignorance of the true state of affairs in the literary world). To both groups I just want to say: wake up, you are delusional! Or maybe you should just start to read some of the good book blogs about which you seem to have no clue, but obviously a lot of prejudices and – some of you – sneering contempt that is absolutely not justified.

8. In a functioning book market, academic literary criticism has its place just as book reviews for readers. In a functioning book market the reader can and should decide by himself/herself, who can help him/her to find the right books for him/her. Traditional academic literary critics had kind of monopolized the review pages of the print media over decades. The success of book bloggers shows that the general audience was looking for something else, or something additional, had needs that this closed society of literary academics did or could not satisfy. Book bloggers bring an additional element of competition in the market place – and thus they can enhance also the work of traditional literary critics. You may like or not like book bloggers, but they are here and they intend to stay.

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

Vier Gedichte von Edvin Sugarev

обитавам те
както песента
славея обитава
обладаваш ме
както водата
камък обладава
пясък на дъното съм
успокоен и безименен

пак ще се срещнем
ти ще си морска вълна

ich bewohne dich
wie das lied
die nachtigall bewohnt
du beherrschst mich
wie das wasser
den stein beherrscht
sand auf dem grund bin ich
besänftigt und namenlos
wenn wir uns wiedersehen
wirst du die meereswelle sein


безименното присъствие
безименното отсъствие
танцувам в здрачевината
изопната между тях

namenlose anwesenheit
namenlose abwesenheit
ich tanze in der dämmerung
zwischen beide gespannt


топла светлина и кръпки есенни
от клоните се стича
по пътеката идеш
и листата целуват петите ти
само стъпка още
само стъпка
и ще сме завърнати завинаги

warmes licht und herbstliche flicken
die sonne
fließt die zweige herunter
du kommst über den pfad
und die blätter küssen deine fersen
nur noch ein schritt
ein schritt nur
und wir werden uns
für immer umschlungen halten

танц на дервиш
все по-бързо
все по-бързо се върти
върти се докато се слее
в цветен вихър разноликото
докато тимпаните на ритъма
в един единствен звук протяжен зазвучат
пространствата са подлудели
огъват се и се изливат в него
вдън въртопа
стопява ги
и ги поглъща и вилнее
на танца в урагана
но както и във всеки ураган
в центъра
е спокойно
в центъра
е мълчание

tanz des derwischs
und schneller wirbelt er
dreht sich bis der farbige wirbel
die verschiedenen gesichter verschmilzt
bis der paukenrhthmus
zu einem einzigen langanhaltenden laut wird
die räume sind ver-
rückt biegen sich und ergießen sich
in den strudel
schmelzen und werden verschlungen
im wirbelsturm des tanzes
doch wie in jedem wirbelsturm
ist es im zentrum
ist es im zentrum


Edvin Sugarev: Lingva Lingam (Едвин Сугарев: Лингва Лингам), ателие Аб, Sofia 2001

Aus dem Bulgarischen von Thomas Hübner

© Edvin Sugarev and ателие Аб, 2001
© Thomas Hübner and, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Sinking of Sozopol – film

A man is drinking ten bottles of vodka and it is raining a lot in Sozopol.

The sinking of Sozopol

Bulgaria, 2014, 100′
Director: Kostadin Bonev
Writing credits: Ina Valchanova, Kostadin Bonev
Cast: Deian Donkov, Snejina Petrova, Svetlana Iancheva, Stefan Valdobrev, Vasil Gurov, Leonid Iovchev, Veselin Mezekliev, Miroslava Gogovska, Petia Silianova, Biliana Kazakova

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


There is a certain moment when the reader is already half through Richard Ford’s novel Canada, when Dell Parsons, the narrator of the story gives us an insight into his philosophy of life:

“It’s been my habit of mind, over these years, to understand that every situation in which human beings are involved can be turned on its head. Everything someone assures me to be true might not be. Every pillar of belief the world rests on may or may not be about to explode. Most things don’t stay the way they are very long. Knowing this, however, has not made me cynical. Cynical means believing that good isn’t possible; and I know for a fact that good is. I simply take nothing for granted and try to be ready for the change that’s soon to come.”

What if Dell’s and his twin sister Berner’s parents hadn’t met at all? They could have married someone else, someone more suitable as a partner. What if Dell’s mother had decided to leave her husband with the children at a moment when it still was possible? She was only 34, and her husband 37 – a mismatch if there ever was one – when the terrible thing happened that left such a mark on Dell and destroyed this quite average American family, living in a quiet, average town, Great Falls, Montana. What if Dell’s father, a war hero, charming and good-looking, but obviously over-estimating his talents and under-estimating the risks of his fraudulent business schemes in which some Indians were involved, would have remained in the airforce? Probably none of the terrible events that happened, would have happened at all. But because of a tragic coincidence of many small events and happenstances, Dell Parsons has to begin the life story we are reading with the words:

“First, I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later. The robbery is the more important part, since it served to set my and my sister’s lives on the courses they eventually followed. Nothing would make complete sense without that being told first.”

What follows is the very detailed account of the events that led to the robbery and that make roughly half of the book. The amateurish bank robbery of Dell’s and Berner’s parents happened in a moment when the mother had (almost) made up her mind to leave her husband. But beside from having pretentions regarding her children’s education and of having a real talent to be a poet and writer, a talent that is suffocated in her marriage with a man from an Alabama backwater town who speaks in a funny Dixie accent that is kind of repelling for the daughter of educated Jewish immigrants – beside from that Neeva, the mother, is also a weak person that shies away in the last moment from leaving Bev, her husband.

Deep inside the mother must have felt that the bank robbery she is about to commit with her husband in order to pay a debt to some Indian who threatened to kill the family – a result of the failed dealings of her husband and his fellow crooks – is going to fail, because she made arrangements for her children to be taken to Canada by her friend Mildred Remlinger, and thus to prevent them from being brought up in a foster home or even a juvenile prison. While Berner runs away on her own and leads later a hippie-style life in San Francisco, Dell is making the journey to Canada with Mildred. Mildred has a brother in Canada, Arthur, and this Arthur is supposed to take care of Dell.

If it wouldn’t be for the intro of the book, we as readers would suspect that after the traumatic experience with his parents who are locked away for life or at least a very long time, Dell is now through the worst part of his life, and the second part would describe how he builds up a new better life in Canada. But – there is Arthur Remlinger, handsome, intelligent, with good manners, a former Harvard student, a reader and chess player with an interesting ladyfriend, Florence, a painter.

Remlinger seems oddly out of place in the godforsaken place in Sasketchewan where he owns a run-down hotel with a gambling den and a bar full of “Filipino” girls that spend the night frequently with the guests in their rooms; his right-hand man Charley, a halfbred, is a really creepy guy and probably a pervert, as Dell suspects who has to work with this Charley when the “sports”, the hunters from the U.S., visit the area that is full of game. Arthur Remlinger, an American like Dell, has a dark past, a past that is not forgotten by everyone as it turns out…and he has a violent temper too…

The reviewers were divided regarding the qualities of this book. While some praised the work as a masterpiece, others complained about the slowness with which the story builds up and about certain redundancies. Yes, this is a story that builds up very slowly – and you need to like that if you want to enjoy the novel. And yes, there are redundancies, but I found them quite interesting. After all, we are reading the story told by Dell Parsosns, after his retirement as a teacher in Canada, and after having met his twin sister again who is suffering from the final stages of cancer. For me the redundancies are attempts of the narrator to rationalize what has happened to him, to make sense of a life in which everything went upside down more than once, and to reassure himself that the things really happened to him the way they did.

What makes the book also interesting to me, are the antagonisms on various levels: between the parents; between the parents and children; between Dell and Berner, who although being twins are so different; between men and women; between the United States and Canada, so near and similar, and yet so different countries and societies. And the big villain of the book, the enigmatic Arthur Remlinger, has the format of Kurtz, the “hero” of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

How come Dell survives the catastrophes of his life so (seemingly) unharmed? Maybe it is because of his ability to take life like it is, and not as it should be according to our plans and pretentions; maybe because of the fact that he felt always loved by his parents and his sister, despite the fact that this family was not like other families; maybe because of  the fact that there was always a woman in his life who made an important decision for him in a crucial moment (his mother; his sister; Mildred; Florence; Clare) that proved to be life-altering in a positive way. But in the end, it remains a mystery why some of us not only survive difficult childhoods but do something meaningful with their lives, while others in similar conditions turn into criminals or end in suicide. 

Dell has not become a beekeeper, something he wanted to become when he was young; and he has also not become a strong chess player, despite the fact that he studied Mikhail Tal’s combinations again and again when he was young. But he took a few good lessons from life and mastered it somehow, even when the odds were against him in his youth, and even when his father and later Arthur Remlinger tried to make him an accomplice to their crimes.  

For me this is the best work of Ford so far – and his previous books were already excellent. Canada is a book about the fragility and loneliness of life, and how to come to terms with this fact. It left a very strong impression on me.


Richard Ford: Canada, Bloomsbury, London 2012

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

Vier Gedichte von Ivajlo Dobrev

И ти – като нищожна част
от огромния часовник,
и все пак твърде значителна
за неговите механизми,
бъди сигурен, че времето
е безкраен любовен плащ –
съвкупност от зависимости
на взаимност.

Und du – bruchteil
des riesigen uhrwerks,
und doch sehr bedeutsam
für seine mechanismen,
sei versichert, daß die zeit
ein unendlicher mantel der liebe ist –
eine ansammlung von abhängigkeiten
auf gegenseitigkeit.


Дребна мъдрост
Веднъж ученикът
отишъл при учителя си
и го попитал, после
учителят отишъл
при ученика и
го попитал, а после,
не им харесвало и
спрели да се виждат.

Einmal ging der schüler
zu seinem lehrer
und fragte ihn, dann
ging der lehrer
zu seinem schüler und
fragte ihn, und dann
mochte er nicht mehr und
sie hörten auf sich zu sehen.


Почивам си от поезията
доизносвам роклите на мама
доизносвам обувките на татко
броя големите банкноти в сакото
на чичо Фред почивам си от поезията
отдадох се на здравословен живот
ям малко спя много вечер се моля
не чакам просветление искам да съм
опашката на куче – да изразявам радост

Ich ruhe mich von der dichtkunst aus
ich verschleiße mutters kleider
ich verschleiße vaters schuhe
ich zähle die großen scheine im sakko
von onkel Fred ich ruhe mich von der dichtkunst aus
sie gab mir ein gesundes leben
ich esse wenig schlafe viel abends bete ich
erwarte keine erleuchtung will nur
der schwanz des hundes sein – um freude auszudrücken


Две четири стишия
В плетения кош
на жълт лист хартия
върху ръждив ключ
има част от старо стихотворение
Ти не можеш да бъдеш разделена
ти не можеш да бъдеш разделена
Женитба на тъжното
в бледното око на радостта

Zwei vier verse
Im weidenkorb
auf einem vergilbten blatt papier
über einem rostigen schlüssel
steht ein teil eines alten gedichts
Du kannst nicht getrennt werden
du kannst nicht getrennt werden
Ehe der traurigkeit
mit dem blassen auge der freude


Ivajlo Dobrev: Ptitsa v kljuchalkata (Ивайло Добрев: Птица в ключалката), Janet45, Plovdiv 2014

Aus dem Bulgarischen von Thomas Hübner

© Ivaylo Dobrev and Janet 45, 2014
© Thomas Hübner and, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Drei Gedichte von Tanja Nikolova

и без въпроси, моля
седим и пием след работа
защото той иска да се самоубие
но ние сме там –
една мижава алтернатива на смъртта
и се шегуваме
и пеем
и пием…
основно пием
опитваме се да измислим
за него
и за себе си
доводи за живот:
“- Животът е хубав!”
(е добре де…не е)
“-Трябва да се живее!”
…а любовта?
а бе…
я наздраве!
любовта не е живота
животът в ХУБАВ и ТРЯБВА
(като лозунг)
и без въпроси,


und ohne fragen, bitte
wir sitzen und trinken nach der arbeit
weil er sich umbringen will,
aber wir sind da –
die freunde
eine schäbige alternative zum tod
und wir scherzen
und singen
und trinken…
vor allem trinken
wir versuchen
uns für ihn
und für uns selbst
gründe fürs leben auszudenken:
“- Das leben ist schön!”
(na ja … ist es nicht)
“Man muss leben!”
…ach komm…
wir trinken
…und die liebe?
hör doch auf…
na dann prost!
die liebe ist nicht das leben
das leben ist SCHÖN und MAN MUSS
(wie eine losung)
glaub es!
und ohne fragen,
bitte …



твоята кухня, мила,
е моят аеродрум
летя, летя
вино, сирене и музика
ах, каква музика!
вълшебно е от лекота
но ти знаеш, мила,
с теб летя


deine küche, liebes,
ist mein flugplatz
ich fliege, ich fliege
wein, käse und musik
ach, was für musik!
magisch ist die leichtigkeit
aber du weisst schon, liebes,
mit dir fliege ich

Писмо до Кабул
написах писмо
цяла страница ситен шрифт
за децата, за къщата, за приятелите
объркано и простовато
зa малките неща
които са големи, големи
по-големи от всеки стих
представям си как четеш и се усмихваш
и се смалявам
до сълза


Brief nach Kabul
ich schrieb einen brief
die ganze seite in delikater schrift
über die kinder, das haus, die freunde
verwirrt und seicht
ein brief
über die kleinigkeiten
die groß, groß sind
größer als jeder vers
ich stelle mir vor, wie du ihn liest und lächelst
und vergehe 
vor tränen



Tanja Nikolova: Tolkoz (Толкоз), Literaturen forum, Sofia 2007

Aus dem Bulgarischen von Thomas Hübner

© Tanja Nikolova and Literaturen forum, 2007
© Thomas Hübner and, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.