After Elizabeth Kostova’s “The Historian” it became obvious to many people round the world that Bulgaria is a suitable background décor for an adventure novel. Not to mention a historical one – with its rich, often unpredictable in its twists and turns history. And while “The Historian” was expressing a tendency to the supernatural, to the mystic, nothing similar can be said about “Far from the Danube”. While Elizabeth Kostova’s father was a University lecturer, who taught her how to do the research for her book (this is standard practice in the West – most of the serious writers conduct research in advance of starting a new book), the author of “Far from the Danube” himself is a College lecturer, fluent in four languages, apart form his own, which has had a very positive effect on the novel.
You will ask why “Far from the Danube” and what is the Bulgarian connection? The Bulgarian Maria Iskra saves the French knight Gilles Guiton after the battle at Nikopol, they fall in love and aim to get to his family estate in Normandy. There from one war (for your information at the battle of Nikopol Bayezid the Thunderbolt smashes the united army of the Hungarian King Sigismund and the French Knights – mainly because of disagreements between the two sides) they find themselves in another one –between the French and the English. And love between the two characters – Maria Iskra and Gilles Guiton is the only thing, which keeps them going in this mad world.
I mentioned the research Christopher Buxton had done to write this book –it took the whole of five years. But the skill of an author is evident not only by recreating the factual and historical material, but in the fiction, in the creation of characters from the dry data on a person – born, fought, died; or in giving flesh to an invented character (I deeply suspect that Maria Iskra did not exist – the author’s relationship with Bulgaria is of a different nature).
For me it was extremely important to judge the image of the main heroine – the image of a woman, who has lost her land of birth forever. The awful absence of the place, where you return. I have met people like this in my life and the comparison of their sufferings with those of the main heroine confirmed my conviction, that although a debut novel this is a novel of a mature writer.
* Robert Levy is a poet and literary critic