20 November 12 | Chad W. Post

Albena Stambolova’s novel, This Being How, translated by Olga Nikolova, has been selected as the winner of the third iteration of the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation’s annual novel contest supporting Bulgarian literature.

Open Letter will be publishing this book in October 2013, making it the fourth Bulgarian title to be published by OL as a result of this award. Past winners include Milen Ruskov’s Thrown into Nature, Zachary Karabashliev’s 18% Gray, and the forthcoming A Short Tale of Shame by Angel Igov. All three of these novels were translated by superstar Angela Rodel.

(We’re also going to publish Georgi Gospodinov’s The Physics of Sorrow, after which, we will have effectively have a monopoly on Bulgarian literature. BOOM.)

What’s particularly interesting about this year’s winner is that the translator Olga Nikolova was selected as the recipient of last year’s Bulgarian Fellowship Contest, and spent three weeks here in Rochester working on her translation of This Being How, learning about the American publishing scene, and enjoying the cougar-tastic vibes of Taylor’s, a local dance club. (Which, interestingly enough is run by Cuban author Jose Manuel Prieto’s brother.)

In terms of Albena Stambolova, she is a language specialist and a psychologist, with a MA from the University of Paris VII Jusseu and a PhD from Sofia University St Kliment Ohridski. This Being How (2002) is her debut novel, which has also been transalted into Polish. It was followed by Hop-Hop the Stars (2003), and An Adventure, To Pass the Time (2007). The author of numerous articles and translations, she is now working on a book about fairy tales and a collection of short stories.

I’ll post an excerpt from This Being How separately, but here’s a brief description of the book as a whole:

Boris, a young boy painfully uncomfortable around people, feels at ease with bees. The apian approach to life, admirable in its single-mindedness, makes human existence appear imperfect and burdensome. He falls in love with a girl who wears a pleated skirt. He never speaks to her but he feels her presence as a spatial relationship his body cannot avoid. She disappears one moonlit evening magically climbing the wall of a house. In the meantime, Philip, a 27-year-old pathologist meets Maria, a woman whose eyes, we are told, are like fog. Philip proposes to Maria as if driven by some mysterious compulsion. They marry and have children, the twins Valentin and Margarita . . . And the story continues, accumulating archetypal events and relationships, until, one Christmas Eve, the fates of all its seven protagonists become tied in one existential knot. Unlike more traditional narratives, the novel does not provide the reader with the pleasures of a classical denouement. No character reaches a higher moral ground, no relationship is resolved, no mystery is solved. Rather, as with many a musical composition, the reader is led through a high-spirited climax, a detailed love-making scene in a chapter appropriately called “Erotica,” and a tragic one, the death of the mother, Maria, whose evasive yet intense presence in the book has formed its center of gravity. For a Christmas tale, which the novel is in so many ways, the lesson is not obvious, and if any, it concerns mostly the impossibility of making the deep as immediately accessible as the shallow.

In its scalpel-worthy succinctness, and in its psychological astuteness, which enhances the fairy tale elements of the novel in unexpected ways, Stambolova’s style is quite unique. An openly allegorical assemblage of stories, written with a preference for simple structures, This Being How is both highly readable and profoundly meaningful.

And here’s a quote about that appeared in Kultura newspaper from Milena Kirova:

This Being How as the title suggests, is not a conventional narrative novel. Its plot is not smoothly interwoven into an easy-to-follow logical sequence. . . . The novel begins with a series of seemingly unrelated individual stories, which gradually collide, overlap and blend into a whole, building a complex, and yet astonishingly simple, picture of life’s paradoxically chaotic order.

The runners-up this year—samples from which will appear here on Three Percent and at the Contemporary Bulgarian Writers website—are:

Ivan Dimitrov’s “Life as a Missing Spoon”
Kristin Dimitrova’s “Sabazius”
Milen Ruskov’s “Little Encyclopaedia of Mysteries”
Momchil Nikolov’s “The Spherical Fish”
Neli Lishkova’s “The Unborn”
Stanislava Ivancheva’s “Fake Is a State of Mind”
Teodora Dimova’s “Mothers”
Vladimir Zarev “Ruin”

If any publishers are interested in taking a look at these, you should contact Milena Deleva (milena.deleva[at]gmail.com), and I’m sure she’d be willing to send you the samples. (Which are pretty substantial, BTW.)

And thanks again to the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation for making this all possible!

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