Interview with Angel Igov
Getting caught up on a bunch of paperwork and spreadsheets today, but thought I’d first share a couple of interesting interviews that were published in the past couple months.
Here’s Steven’s description of the book:
Angel Igov’s first book to be translated into English, A Short Tale of Shame, is a compact road trip novel with an even more compact story line. Boril Krustev, former rock star in Bulgaria and current businessman, has lost his estranged wife to death and his estranged daughter, Elena, to America. Adrift and in mourning, he picks up three hitchhikers embroiled in a complex ménage à trois: the headstrong ringleader Sirma, her friend Maya, and their young male paramour Spartacus.
The four wander to a beach, camp, find a hotel. Not much ostensibly happens, but the novel finds its richness in multiple layers of history. We see the threesome’s past, considered both individually and through their connections to Elena—which are not always pleasant and sometimes painful. We see Krustev’s past, longer and more full of regrets for things undone. We see the pasts of the hitchhikers, not quite sure how they got from there to the present. And we also see the history of Bulgaria, both in its recent transformation from Communist rule and in its deeper sense as a small country that has always been overshadowed on the world stage by bigger, louder neighbors.
These strands of history tie together with an ending that arrives with great tenderness and momentum, breaking live a perfect wave. Among the novel’s strongest points is Igov’s control of language—aided and abetted by translator Angela Rodel—that announces, from its very beginning, a seriousness of intent and a deep awareness of craft.
Steven Wingate: There’s also an old Europe/new Europe vibe to A Short Tale of Shame that shows up in a consistent discussion of ancestry—the distinctions between Phrygian, Daican, Thracian, Slavic, Illyrian, Macedonian. This suggests a Balkanization that runs even deeper than what we see on the recently redrawn maps of the region. Why is this important to the unfolding of your story, as well as to Europe today?
Angel Igov: Balkanization is a trend that the West has always been afraid of and thus relegated to the periphery of the continent. What’s more Balkanized than today’s Belgium, for instance? The term also masks the huge role the Great Powers played for the fragmentation and ethnic trouble of Southeast Europe, from the mid-19th century to the Kossovo crisis. A Short Tale of Shame draws a map that ironically reflects Western stereotypes of the region. To this day, many well-educated westerners would be hard pressed to tell the difference between Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary, for instance. Then why not call them Thrace, Dacia, Illyria, whatever? Would it matter anyway? The attitude would remain the same: far away countries of which we know little, as Neville Chamberlain nicely described Czechoslovakia after signing the Munich treaty. [. . .]
SW: You’ve translated into Bulgarian a number of great writers familiar to English-speaking readers—among them Ian McEwan and Paul Auster. I imagine that the creative influence of writers you’re translating goes beyond what you get from merely reading them. How does that translation experience show up in your work?
AI: I love translation: it’s a pure craft, transposing linguistic material from one language to another, molding words and sentences with your own “hands.” So, first of all, translation makes you good with language, or so I hope. Style, sound, texture—these things are important to me when I write.
Then, of course, it is difficult not to be in some way influenced in your own writing by what you translate. The anxiety of influence is a common malaise of authors. However, if you channel it and manage to create original work even when getting inspiration from other authors, this can be a very useful and joyous experience. After all, no writer is an island; you work in a huge, huge network of texts. At various times Paul Auster or Ian McEwan, or Martin Amis some years ago, have been important to me as models of sorts. However, I don’t think I’ve ever imitated anyone—I just don’t find this interesting. And I also try to make each book of mine different from the previous one.
SW: Fans of the American and European experimental traditions will recognize some of what you do stylistically—your long paragraphs, for instance, and your choice to not use quotation marks for dialog but to fold into your narration seamlessly. What are some of your models for that kind of dialog?
I could name two very different authors: John Banville and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. At one point I realized Jose Saramago was also doing a similar thing. Certainly the lessons of high modernism were also important for me here, Virginia Woolf, for instance. The funny thing is when I started writing this novel, the paragraphs and the dialogue weren’t in any way extravagant, but it just didn’t work: straightforward storytelling had to me a weird tongue-in-cheek quality. I decided to skip the dialogue markers and let the sentences flow—so they flowed on. I like the effect of smooth continuity: after all, when we speak, our utterances are not isolated in quotation-mark cages or comic-book balloons, they are all the time intermingled with our own thoughts that we keep to ourselves even while speaking, we get interrupted by others and so on. For me, this way of writing is not in any way literary: on the contrary, it is much closer to what we do in the real world. I am working now on my next novel (which is set at the end of World War II) and, after some consideration, I chose a similar approach.
Be sure and read the whole thing here.”:http://fictionwritersreview.com/interviews/all-times-are-awake-at-once-an-interview-with-angel-igov