11 May 15 | Kaija Straumanis

The latest addition to our Reviews section is a piece by Izidora Angel on The Physics of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov, translated by Angela Rodel and out last month from Open Letter Books.

This book—and call it a shameless plug all you want—is by far one of the best books I’ve read in the last year, and has been on my personal Best Books of 2015 list since I first read it over a year ago. I can’t say enough or put the proper words to what the reading experience was like, but this is a phenomenal work, and if you’re not able to fit the entire book into your schedules, you should at least read one of the many excerpts posted across several online journals, including Little Star Weekly, which ran a three-part excerpt of Physics over the course of March and April. Really, really, truly, I can not get enough of this book.

Izidora Angel is a Bulgarian-born writer and translator living in Chicago. She is at work on translating the multi-award winning “The Same Night Await Us All: Diary of a Novel,” by Hristo Karastoyanov, from Bulgarian into English. She was just recently in Rochester as part of a three-week residency for Bulgarian translators, sponsored by the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation. Here’s a snippet of her review:

Georgi Gospodinov’s The Physics of Sorrow was an immediate best-seller when it was published in his native Bulgaria in 2011, which is no small feat considering best-seller lists in the country are almost always dominated not by indigenous literature, but by a slightly schizophrenic gathering of translated literature of varying merit. To give an example, fellow best-selling books in fiction that year included The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Şafak (2010), and The Bastard of Istanbul (2007) by the same author, as well as, perhaps, the inevitable: Fifty Shades of Grey (2011). This points to the Bulgarian reader’s eclectic taste: the Dumas, Dostoevsky, and Remarque of her childhood paving the way for an enduring historical and intellectual thirst followed by mired fascination with an exotic, far-away America via its spiritual junk food.

As a writer, Gospodinov travels freely—physically and metaphysically—attempting to grasp the national fascination with chujbina or “foreign country,” along with the necessity of revisiting another quite foreign thing: your own childhood. The metaphor he utilizes in The Physics of Sorrow for doing the latter is a child Minotaur, necessary perhaps only for the natural resistance of Bulgarians for self-introspection.

In his native country, Gospodinov (whose last name essentially means “Sir,” giving him an innately superior status) is a literary star, celebrated for many reasons, one of which is his translation into over twenty languages. This kind of success doesn’t come without detractors. He has received death threats for essays he’s written and many decry what they perceive to be the contrived mass-hysteria that follows the release of his books in Bulgaria. But Gospodinov’s writing speaks for itself; it is effortlessly relatable and that, in turn, translates.

For the rest of the review, go here.


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