On the 25th of November at 7 pm, next week, Annie and I will be on stage at the BCI London supporting Bulgarian writer Jochan Devletyan in his presentation of his collection of short stories: Man and a Half, published by Janet 45.
Anyone conversant with the history of Bulgarian writing will know that the best classical and contemporary authors excel in the short story format. Perhaps this is down to a natural Bulgarian story telling talent, which reveals itself round every table where a company gathers to eat and drink. This is Jochan’s first published book of fiction, but he has learned his craft well – from his father, whom he describes as the best raconteur he has met and from his encounters with so many writers when he was working as Cultural Director in Plovdiv.
The stories in Man and a Half have masculinity as their common theme, with the Bulgarian contexts ranging from the Turkish subjugation through the Communist period to the present day. They share a poignancy, a sometimes humorous, but more often tragic reflection of patriarchy under threat. The male characters are often isolated, obsessed, filled with remorse and seeking redemption for misunderstandings and lost opportunities. The dramas are played out most often in small tight knit communities where the individual is pitted against the locals. In his story “To murder a Forest” a misanthropic ex-forestry manager is at war with the local Communist Women’s committee – he refers to them as “slipper slappers” , not just because of the sound they make as they walk around block entrances, but also the way they slap down on your soul. For extract, follow link.
The stories encompass a rich variety of mood. “Inheritance” gives us a larger-than-life portrait of an Armenian whose plan to emigrate to America is thwarted and delayed by encounters with fraudsters, a brothel madame, a band of vigilantes, and finally by the sight of a female ankle in Plovdiv. “The Double Girl” is a disquisition on the wonder and absurdity of human love – with an ending that might remind readers of a similar reflection on love by Philip Larkin in his poem “An Arundel Tomb”. In “Mercy”, a young soldier awaiting court martial and inevitable execution is horrified to witness a young boy killing a white dove through the bars of his cell.
Importantly in the context of recently fanned racist prejudice, the stories celebrate Bulgaria’s diverse ethnic population – a genuine respect for the culture of Bulgarians, Jews, Armenians, Turks and Roma is conveyed in the richness of the language.
Annie and I are looking forward to Wednesday, where interested Bulgarians and non-Bulgarians will meet Jochan who will talk about his stories and also reflect on his time as a Cultural manager for over 30 years from the time of Lyudmilla Zhivkova to that of Vezhdi Rashidov.