The Elizabeth Kostova Foundation and VAGABOND, Bulgaria's English Monthly, cooperate in order to enrich the English language with translations of contemporary Bulgarian writers. Through 2008 we will 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 will be 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!
by Eireene Nealand, USA
Eireene Nealand is an award-winning, well-published short-story writer and translator of Baltic origin who speaks and reads five languages, including Bulgarian, and worked at the Bulgarian Embassy in Washington (1993). She is a Ph.D. candidate and lecturer in literature.
Inside of the trailer it was cramped. I was one of five children, and nine years old, behind Obe and Ean and Promise and Hope. The year we met Al, we slept in shifts on the foldout benches of our rickety green trailer right where it broke down under a mossy-fork beech across the road from Selah and Dr Ted's rental cottage. Al lived in a camper shell in their back yard.
He sprang out of the bushes with his beret and peacoat, board games and dice. We had broken down on top of some mushrooms that he wanted to collect, but he welcomed us. My mom liked that Al kissed her hand. She hoped he would tell my dad not to be a dolt all the time but he didn't do that. He marched up the trailer's aluminum stairs every sundown to share my awake shift because I didn't mind playing Stalin when he wanted to play Hitler in his three-paneled board game, Eastern Front.
Al had to untilt the trailer's foldout table by holding it up with his knees. He contained himself politely, elbows never touching the table, thin hands setting up markers and dice. He had to lean forward so as not to brush my mother and father's bodies, tangled behind him under a curtain of beads.
"Think of the war brides," Al said. His voice was hoarse, thin as a cracker. An octagon marked off every section of the board, continents and oceans alike. That was how it was in the Summer/Winter Campaigns '41–'43. From the viewpoint of the generals, none of the countries had more than dotted-line boundaries. Those were for history to decide, and our skill.
"During the siege of Leningrad," Al said, "children – especially little girl children – made circuses on freezing wood floors. They carved their performers out of icicles – everything from bears to ballerinas – which the whole winter didn't melt. In fact, many ballerinas and bears outlasted their children." Modest girls refused to take baths when the Soviet Women's Councils came by with wood. Some girls saved food for their supposedly returning fathers, and starved.
"Still, in those times there were war brides," Al said. His pencil mustache twitched when I made my first formation at Mlinsk. He told about Lena, who could have been my great-grandmother if only she'd survived just a few more short years. Lena escaped from the war by covering herself with mud in an unsuspecting farmer's hay cart. She fled with the dirty clothes on her back and a single letter that she couldn't throw out. It read: "Lenka, I've got a piece of bread for you. I'll get more. Love, Morris."
That story wasn't the only thing that made me like Al. When he reached for the dice to make his move on the Caucuses, it seemed somehow right that the trailer's one window was a thick, yellowed plastic with purple checked curtains, sewn too big for feminist reasons. Yellowed plastic didn't let the light in like glass but that was part of it, Al said. At first blackouts were ordered because of fly-over bombers. Later no one had oil to spare.
by Stoil Roshkev, Bulgaria; translated by Angela Rodel
Born in 1976, Stoil Roshkev graduated in Bulgarian Studies from Sofia University. A prize-winning author of poetry he works as a journalist. He published his first book of poems in 1997 and his first novel in 2007, and has just finished his second novel Cybermodernism.
For several months I have been working as a journalist at the Bulgarian National Radio. Last week I dreamt that I was wandering around the radio's impressive central building in Sofia. In front of the main studio. The host of the programme scheduled to go on the air shortly was one of the doyennes of contemporary radio journalism in Bulgaria, Velichko Konakchiev.
However, Velichko Konakchiev's guest for the programme hadn't shown up. Which sucks, no matter how you look at it. So Velichko Konakchiev said to me:
"Look, why don't you come and give a short commentary on my show?"
"OK," I agreed. "But on what topic?"
"On whatever you want," Velichko Konakchiev replied with a wave of his right hand, while his left stroked his white, well-groomed beard.
There wasn't any time.
There were only two or three minutes left until we went on the air, until the end of the song that was playing. In my sleep I feverishly began to try to think up a topic for my commentary. The idea came to me literally the instant the red light lit up signalling that we were on the air. Knowing that sometimes in radio the important thing is not what you talk about but that you keep talking, I confidently began explaining – as if I were an expert – that since our country (which had previously belonged to the so-called Socialist Bloc) was accepted in 2007 into the club of Western nations, better known as the European Union, the situation had improved for the average Bulgarian; we obviously already live better. Of course, this argument is quite controversial at the moment and is not particularly popular – in fact, it is decidedly unpopular. I, however, passionately defended it, giving a long-winded and far-ranging explanation of how much better off we are economically than before.
At that point in the dream the outlines of the studio disappeared, the microphones disappeared, as did the table, the glass separating us from the soundman, the sound-insulated surfaces, the ceiling, the floor…it all disappeared.
Velichko Konakchiev and I found ourselves in a green, sunny garden. We walked side-by-side down one of the beautiful paths. I continued my commentary, but not in front of a microphone; it was as if Velichko and I had gone out for a walk and I was convincing him of the truth of my thesis. I was waving my hands and excitedly laying out my argument that things were exactly as they said they were.
At a certain moment my cell phone rang. I heard the voice of the soundman, who in an admonishing tone scolded me:
"Hey, where have you and Velichko Konakchiev disappeared to?!"
"Relax, we're on our way," I reassured him.
Velichko Konakchiev flagged down a taxi. He told the driver, "Take us to the radio building on Dragan Tsankov Blvd!"
The cabbie just laughed: "There's no Dragan Tsankov Blvd in Sozopol."
by Sonia Nikolova, Bulgaria; translated by Enyo Stoyanov, edited by Angela Rodel
A successful poet, text performer and writer of short stories, Sonia Nikolova holds a MA in Literature Theory from Sofia University. With two books of poetry printed, she has widely published in the local press and on the Internet. Currently, Nikolova is working on her first novel.
"Our mothers are dirty mangy seagulls!"
The girl's name was Oyster. Because the great Portuguese writer Paolo Coelho copied the great American writer Hemingway, who started The Old Man and the Sea with the sentence "The old man's name was Santiago," and as the great Bulgarian writer Georgi Gospodinov claims "every beginning is hard!" as, by the way, my grandfather Velko thinks, who also insists that "life is a sea and whosoever can't swim in it will drown," and my mother, paraphrasing him, says that "Sofia is a sea and whosoever can't swim in it will drown," and my father is of the opinion that Grandma Krema is right, because she says "ain't nothing but dog-eat-dog," that is, life is a school, and the school teacher says that life is complicated, and the school teacher's husband dates Evgenia, whom everyone calls Jenny, just like in a short story by the great Bulgarian writer Chudomir, and right now I want to go clubbing, because Georgi from the other class' thing was huge, and because he is a painter and his father is a painter, and his grandfather is a dentist, and all of my mother's teeth have fallen out, because she used to work at the nuclear power plant in Kozloduy, because she's the one taking care of us, because she is a single mother and she has even read Virginia Woolf and she even knows who my father's current wife is, who is particularly evil, I said that I want Chekhov for a father and everything to be perfect with him, his hair, his clothes, to be dandruff-free and not smelling like vodka, and because my mother's teeth have fallen out, and Georgi's uncle is a dental technician,then I'll make Gosho marry me and we'll fix my mother's teeth, and daddy's jaw, and I'll read my new novel to Georgi, which starts with the following epigraph "Our mothers are dirty mangy seagulls!" but his mother buys Scream magazine and dresses like a dumpy old bag and has a car, and visits the beautician and there she reads Nose and Style magazine and often has plastic surgery on her butt and she often visits the Boulogne Forest where, according to my mother, money grows on trees, as long as there is someone you can give a hard-on, but my mother has no teeth and she doesn't give anyone hard-ons, but her current boss often tells her "you'll eat my dick" and sometimes "you'll eat my prick," and sometimes "suck my cock, you crazy bitch," and mother never says anything to him, only sometimes at night she talks in her sleep and she talks about Chekhov and his short story "Oysters," and sometimes she says "Eat my dick, Chekhov," and sometimes she is very nice and says "Yes, please" and in the morning when I wake up she is already awake and I go to the kiosk where my mother sells sugar and rice, and she says "Take a stick of gum and get out of here" and my first boyfriend Bobby used to sing this rhyme: "Goin' on a picnic, chewin' on a bubblegum stick, water rising up to my… knees!" and my name is Sofia, which, according to my mother, means Holy Wisdom, one of Jesus' hypostases, and my mother's name is Mary and she is a seamstress by profession, and her school teacher used to tell her that "you win a man's love through his eyes and his stomach," and she always wore white at home and sang "Rejoice, Mary, full of grace" and daddy used to beat her every week, and sometimes every other week, and once he even broke one of her teeth but she doesn't remember and thinks that Sasho the stud from the kiosk next door did it, but he doesn't even know her.
Daddy, on the other hand, doesn't know Chekhov and only tells his friends jokes about virgins, and he is Muslim and believes that he will go to HEAVEN in a forest of virgins and there someone will buy him a drink and he'll say "Let me tell you a joke about Mary, my wife, that is," and he'll tell that joke that compares a virgin to a tin can – it isn't so important who the first one to open it is, the important thing is that what's inside isn't rotten, and mother was a virgin when she married him, just like the mother of a great Bulgarian writer whose name I cannot remember, but she publishes in the newspaper of those younger middle-aged guys, who are not like the older writers and who might actually publish some of your writing just like this one for free and you don't even need to give them blow-jobs, as happened with a teacher of mine, who teaches French, Mrs Gekova, who at an advanced age started writing poetry and she had to give the famous local poet Maralampy Maralampiev a blow-job and her poems were published in the Bulgarian Publisher and all the old writers liked them a lot, and this is how the poetic cycle "German Love" was aired on the TV programme "SZO" every Friday on channel BNS. In fact, my name is Sofia, but daddy calls me "Oyster," because the most expensive cans were oyster cans, and my mother was like an oyster when he made me, and I appeared in the world dirty and slobbering in a local pub. During Oyster hour.