It is already a tradition at the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative to organize a series of “Literature Months” devoted to the national literatures of countries and languages from all over the world.
In this tradition, the month of June will see the “Bulgarian Literature Month” in which our readers will have the opportunity to get an overview regarding Bulgarian literature that is available in English translation.
“Bulgarian literature” means in this context: poetry and prose written in Bulgarian, but also in other languages (by Bulgarian authors), and also a few interesting non-fiction works written by Bulgarian authors or books with a Bulgarian topic will be presented. There will be also a few pieces about works not yet translated – but worth the attention of publishers in the English-speaking world -, and some interviews, presentations of publishers, and a few translated poems.
Readers should keep in mind that Bulgarian literature is rarely translated in English – the Three Percent Translation database of the University of Rochester lists only 17 newly translated books (prose and poetry) from Bulgarian published and/or distributed in the U.S. in the last ten years; it is therefore obvious that English-speaking readers can so far know only the tip of the iceberg of Bulgarian literature.
Bulgaria is a small country with a rich and rather turbulent history; I knew comparatively little about it when I arrived there in January 2001. It has a remarkable variety of people, traditions, landscapes and despite all its problems, Bulgarians have developed also a remarkable literary culture which is today maybe more thriving than ever. And apart from visiting this beautiful country and making friends with Bulgarians, the best way to get to know it is for sure via its literature and art in general.
When the monk Paisius of Hilendar (or Paìsiy Hilendàrski) – today a saint of the Orthodox Church – completed the manuscript of his Slavonic-Bulgarian History in 1762 (see the first page of the original draft above), he had the impression that Bulgarians were on the verge of losing their language and national identity. The country had lost its independence and was since several centuries a province of the Ottoman Empire, and the Bulgarian language was more and more replaced by the Greek language, and therefore Paisius’ book was also a wake-up call for his fellow Bulgarians:
“Oh, you unwise moron! Why are you ashamed to call yourself a Bulgarian and why don’t you read and speak in your native language? Weren’t Bulgarians powerful and glorious once? Didn’t they take taxes from strong Romans and wise Greeks? Out of all the Slavic nations they were the bravest one. Our rulers were the first ones to call themselves kings, the first ones to have patriarchs, the first ones to baptise their people. (…) Why are you ashamed of your great history and your great language and why do you leave it to turn yourselves into Greeks? Why do you think they are any better than you? Well, here you’re right because did you see a Greek leave his country and ancestry like you do?”
Paisius’ contemporaries and the following generations heard his wake-up call. The rich and interesting literature of the country bears witness to it.
My great thanks to Rachel Hildebrandt and Karen Van Drie from the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative for this opportunity and their trust to nominate me as editor of Bulgarian Literature Month; and of course I am very much indebted to all those enthusiasts who were willing to contribute to this event.
Stay tuned and follow Bulgarian Literature Month in June – Happy reading!
Thomas Hübner is a German-born economist and development consultant with a life-long passion for books. He lives in Chisinau/Moldova and Sofia/Bulgaria. He is also the co-founder of Rhizome Publishing in Sofia, and translates poetry, mainly from Bulgarian to German (most recently Vladislav Hristov, Germanii, Rhizome 2017). He is blogging at Mytwostotinki on books and anything else that interests him.
Photos: Wikipedia/I.Stankov: A photo of the first page of the original draft of Istoriya Slavyanobolgarskaya by Paisius of Hilendar – Creative Commons license; Photo T.H.: Cornelia Awear
The quote is taken from the Wikipedia article on Paisius’ Slavonic-Bulgarian History.
This blog post is part of #BulgarianLiteratureMonth.