This issue presents texts by the 2012 Sozopol Fiction Seminars fellows Palmi Ranchev and Cab Tran
by Cab Tran (US); photography by Anthony Georgieff
The Elizabeth Kostova Foundation and Vagabond, Bulgaria's English Monthly, cooperate in order to enrich the English language with translations of contemporary Bulgarian writers. Every year we give you the chance to read the work of a dozen young and sometimes not-so-young Bulgarian writers that the EKF considers original, refreshing and valuable. Some of them have been translated in English for the first time. The EKF has decided to make the selection of authors' work and to ensure they get first-class English translation, and we at Vagabond are only too happy to get them published in a quality magazine.
Enjoy our fiction pages.
Cab Tran was born in Vietnam and immigrated to the United States as part of the Vietnamese diaspora known as the "Boat People." Raised in rural Oregon, he then studied English Literature at the University of Montana. Tran has been the recipient of the David TK Wong Fellowship at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, and a resident at the Writers and Translators Centre of Rhodes in Rhodes, Greece. His fiction has appeared in Black Warrior Review and 580 Split. During his sojourn in Europe he wrote a novella, The Naturalist, which was longlisted for the inaugural Paris Literary Prize. He lives in Missoula, Montana.
On the scooter ride back Hien clung to her so tightly that she had to scold him. They crossed a city brimming with life, past the hotels and cabarets and restaurants, until the lights of Saigon gave way to jungle darkness. They lived on the outskirts of the city, in a cluster of one-story homes with concrete foundations and within earshot of an airfield. A central kitchen and courtyard was shared by all the families. In the day, French planes droned overhead, shaking furniture and wall hangings out of place.
Hien had grown so used to the noise that he couldn't sleep without it, and found that silence, any silence, was far more disturbing than the rumble of aircraft.
He took off his slippers and skated barefoot across the floor. He rummaged in the bottom drawer of a wooden cabinet for a bundle of incense, wanting to pray and ask for new favors before he forgot. The cabinet was the most ornately decorated piece of furniture in the room. It came up to Hien's chest and was used as an ancestral altar. Pictures of Trang's parents were framed and displayed in little holders.
The cabinet's panels and doors had dragons carved into interlocking squares, into which a few pieces of precious jade were inlaid. Between the photographs was a bowl of uncooked rice with dozens of already burnt incense sticks from previous offerings. Bowls of dragonfruit and papayas flanked the altar.
"Not yet, child," Trang said, seeing that Hien had separated incense from the bundle. "We must do the prayers properly. Once we cook the food and offer it, then we can burn incense and make our wishes."
Hien grabbed a used science book off the bamboo shelf. The French-operated secondary schools had recently discarded textbooks for more up-to-date ones. The schoolteacher had brought by history books, science books, language books. Some were waterlogged by careless students who carried them in rainstorms and others had pages torn out, although their binding was excellent. A few of the workbooks were in Vietnamese, but the rest were in an incomprehensible French. That, however, didn't deter him from looking at the pictures. His favorite were ones of animals. He crawled onto the wood-slatted bed and closed the mosquito netting around him and started in on a chapter about reptiles.
Trang observed her child with amusement. "What are you learning about today, Hien? Can you even read French?"
"Madame Avril says it won't be long before I can read this whole book."
"She is a kind woman to teach you. She can have all the soup she can eat for the rest of her life. We're very fortunate. I will thank your grandfather's spirit tonight for guiding Madame Avril to us."
Hien flipped ahead to the section on dinosaurs. His eyes had widened when Madame Avril told him the world had been a single continent back then. She showed him a map and demonstrated how the continents had broken apart in the past and could be reconstructed, like a puzzle. It was why, she explained, some animals lived in one part of the world and not another.
"Come Hien," Trang said, putting down her bowl of sticky rice. "Come sit next to your mother. There's something important I have to tell you." He set his book aside and did what he was told. "What have I taught you, child?"
"That we must obey our parents," he said immediately, knowing it was the correct answer. He'd been asked it a million times.
70 years ago, on 10 March 1943, Bulgaria's pro-Nazi government decided to defy Berlin and halt the deportation of Bulgaria's 50.000 Jews. This was down to the actions of one man - Dimitar Peshev. Just two years later he faced Communist justice and found himself on trial for his life. His niece Kaluda Kiradjieva remembers