Hopefully that headline got your attention. But seriously, check out this bit from the By the Book feature that appeared in the New York Times this weekend:
Are you a rereader? What books do you find yourself returning to again and again?
I don’t do much rereading anymore because I’ve been ill and feel that I’m running out of time. But recently I did reread all of Evelyn Waugh’s novels, and was pleased to find that he was almost as thoughtful as, say, Olivia Manning, although his snobbery sometimes grates. Also, I enjoyed “Lucky Jim,” by Kingsley Amis, all over again: the funniest novel I have ever read. Is there some Bulgarian equivalent, languishing untranslated? Probably not.
Really, Clive James? Really? That’s not just ignorant, it’s kind of insulting. (“In Bulgaria, funny book writes you!”)
And ignorant. Let’s stick with that one for a moment. Over the past two years, we’ve published Milen Ruskov’s Thrown into Nature, which is extremely funny in a picaresque, Quixotesque way, and 18% Gray by Zachary Karabashliev, which is a bit more slapstick and American in its humor, but is also quite funny.
I’m sure James didn’t mean to insult all Bulgarian writers ever, and I realize he’s trying to say that there’s no Bulgarian book that’s as funny as Lucky Jim, but jesus shit does his statement come off as being dismissive in a middlebrow American sort of way.
What’s especially heartening is that Izidora Angel wrote a letter to the editor calling him out:
As someone born in Bulgaria, raised in America and educated in England, I can assure James that Bulgarian is a grammatically rich and unique language. Like the people who speak it, the Bulgarian language survived 500 years of Ottoman rule, and it is colored by Turkish, French and, currently, American and English words and phrases. Its slang is funny, touching and bittersweet.
Although Bulgaria may have given the world the Cyrillic alphabet, few of its notable works have been translated into English, except for a couple of classics from the late 19th century, like Ivan Vazov’s novel “Under the Yoke” (1893) and Aleko Konstantinov’s travelogue “To Chicago and Back” (1894). Gaining support to translate important Bulgarian works and commentary into English is an uphill economic battle. The Elizabeth Kostova Foundation is an important part of the effort.
I hope that rather than mocking a language and people he does not know, James will pick up a translation of Konstantinov’s “Bai Ganyo” and enjoy some Balkan humor.
And just to drive home my point about the arrogance and ignorance of his statement, I’d like to point out that James hails from Australia, a place utterly lacking in refined cultural humor. There’s no Lucky Jim that’s been written by a Australian, that’s for sure. Shit, the only thing they really have going for themselves humor-wise is Fosters and all the potshots the rest of the world can take at them, since we all know that the New Zealanders are a million times funnier. And prettier.
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