Wandering around Sofia as a first-time visitor could be disappointing. The capital of Bulgaria lacks magnificence, charm and grand sites of interest, and many foreign tourists look genuinely relieved when they reach the end of their guided tour and are herded by their bored tour guides toward some restaurant for the obligatory lunch with Shopska, rakiya, grilled meat and folk music.
If foreign tourists in Sofia had the guide from Alexander Shpatov's short story A Yellow Brick Road, however, their experience would be quite different. Or probably not. Although the guide in question makes up outrageous stories about what in Sofia qualifies as "major" sights, the only one interested in his fabrications is one little girl.
Shpatov's collection of shorts stories, #lifefromsofia, is the book equivalent of this unfortunate cicerone. The stories try to explain Sofia to both its citizens and to its visitors, but not as a guide book, a history lesson and or a travelogue, but as a burlesque amalgamation of fact and fiction, of reality and fantasy, peppered with twist endings. The sentences are fast, the language is snappy and the protagonists (where there are any protagonists) are often borderline schematic. More often than not, the stories give you the impression of listening to a strangers' conversation in the Number 604 bus, or reading someone's chat history, rather than indulging in fiction. Indeed, the collection is deep with all of its 176 pages into the times of the digital and the social media, from the breathless storytelling to the clever hashtagging in the title to the app allowing you to tag at places mentioned in #lifefromsofia.
Supported by the Programme Culture of the Sofia Municipality as a part of its (unsuccessful) campaign for European Capital of Culture 2019,#lifefromsofia has not only Bulgarian, but also English-language edition, in the translation of Angela Rodel. The book is published by Colibri.