The Elizabeth Kostova Foundation and Vagabond, Bulgaria's English Monthly, cooperate in order to enrich the English language with translations of contemporary Bulgarian writers. Every year we give you the chance to read the work of a dozen young and sometimes not-so-young Bulgarian writers that the EKF considers original, refreshing and valuable. Some of them have been translated in English for the first time. The EKF has decided to make the selection of authors' work and to ensure they get first-class English translation, and we at Vagabond are only too happy to get them published in a quality magazine.
Enjoy our fiction pages.
Ivan Landzhev (born 1986) is a Bulgarian poet, screenwriter and short story writer. He holds a BA in Philosophy and an MA in Arts and Contemporary Culture from the University of Sofia. Currently he is a PhD student in Russian Literature (19th C.) at the same university. He was the winner of several national poetry awards for his debut collection Blame It on Bobby Fischer. His poems have appeared in most of the leading magazines, newspapers and literary journals in Bulgaria, as well as in English, in Granta. Besides English, his poems have been translated into Spanish, German, Slovene and Croatian. He himself translates from and into English. In 2011 he participated in Days of Poetry and Wine, an international poetry festival held in Slovenia.
Outside it rains, humdrum, but it suits the story. Just one guy is not bothered by the rain drops; he stands on the balcony, smokes and ponders. This is Rag the writer. He has an idea for a new book and longs to share it with some colleague (you know an idea shared is an idea half realised). With this in mind he phones his friend Tag the writer and begins breathlessly to tell him. Ideas splash onto his head one after the other, strong as the Sofia rain. It's hard for Rag to contain his enthusiasm – the book will be entertaining, bold, unpredictable, there'll be a quest in it, a search for treasure. And it will be called The Eleven Chairs.
Tag hastens to praise the idea, particularly its originality. He even suggests they write it together. Not even three minutes have passed, and he's already grasped how to develop the theme – for example, the treasure could be some diamonds hidden in the chairs. And wouldn't The Thirteen Chairs be a better title, it sounds more sinister. Tag talks up a storm and Rag agrees that it's a phenomenal idea. With cult-potential.
After they've reached agreement on their mutual indubitable genius, Rag and Tag happily throw down their phones and begin to feverishly think about what brand names they can introduce into their joint book. OK, the brand of telephone will certainly figure, but that wouldn't be enough. Both experienced writers are clear that in a book there's a lot to think through – for example the location of the launch and what kind of visuals will roll out behind them as background to the reading. It should be in black and white, but yet colourful somehow...
Now some envious sod would say that The Thirteen Chairs has some passing similarity with The Twelve Chairs, a book written by another famous pair of writers, but I see no point here in talking about banal, endlessly suspicious souls. When you write something good, spiteful people will always pop up to spit at it. Doesn't it occur to them that coincidences are precisely coincidences – because they happen by chance. It will be good for sceptics to keep in mind that Rag and Tag are not at all talentless, and they have the necessary qualification to prove it. They are entirely legitimate contemporary writers, members of the Union of the Association of the League of Organised Writers, they pay taxes, they've got clean criminal records and Category B driving licenses. They've both got girlfriends, second year journalism students.
Rag and Tag are bold brassy rebels who fight against linguistic boundaries and defend freedom of self expression. They are really cooking up a language revolution. In Tag's last work alone, the adjective, "fucking" is used 1638 times. Not at all bad for a children's book. The five star reviews of Rag and Tag's books are written by established critics like Tic, Tac and Toe (Toe is Tag's cousin, several times removed). But at the end of the day neither the critics nor I can convince you of the worth of these writers better than their books can. The titles speak for themselves and there's no way they'll be unfamiliar to you. Rag is the author of bestsellers like Catcher in the Oats, the chilling dystopian 1985, the masterfully entertaining Three Men in a Motor Boat. But perhaps the most memorable in this illustrious list is his immortal novel The Apprentice and Margarita. And Tag has written such novels as My Surname is Red, South American Psycho, 99½ Years of Solitude, Catch 23 and Punishment and Crime. The crystal clarity of his style is impressive in the novella The Pensioner and the Sea, which hasn't been found in bookshops for a long time now as it's sold out. Unlike Rag and Tag. These people cannot be sold out. Talent has no day off.
Two days before the Friday launch of The Thirteen Chairs in an elite (but not quite so elite) club, Tag, who apart from everything else is a poet, writes a new collection. For a long time he dithers in two artistic minds over how to fashion his most recent prose, but on Wednesday he suddenly sees the light: he narrows the Word file's margins, centres the text…and now poetry bursts from the screen. With prize winning potential. Tag sends it to his publishers with a plea to hurry, because he wants to present his collection on the same evening as the launch. The editor responsible is a responsible soul, he understands what's what, and that he has no time to read it – he prints 1000 copies directly with an average of 3.5 typos per page. Mistakes also count as rebellion – against the ossified system, as well as against literacy.
It's Friday evening. In the elite (but not quite so elite) club the curtains are heavy. The whole second year of the Faculty of Journalism is there, along with the 12 schoolgirls who next year will be first years – Journalism or Literature. The critics Tic, Tac and Toe are grinning at the barmaid and looking stuffed with goodwill. A famous media guru presents the book and warms up the atmosphere with some jokes that are even better known than him, but are skilfully woven into deserved plaudits for the two authors. And now they give out autographs. On the back cover of The Thirteen Chairs it's written next to Rag's photo that he is our most successful contemporary young writer. Next to Tag's photo on the right, it's written that he is our most successful contemporary young writer. Rag and Tag are over 45.
Rag and Tag have connections. And they create connections. Every connection between people is dubious by definition. A person can get tied up in all kinds of danger – with pure cocaine, with a femme fatale, with Islamic extremism, with the Russian Mafia. Or with local literary circles. In this elite (but not quite so elite) club, everything is connected and tied up. Like in the past. Like guts.
I came a little late, just missed the launch, but still I came in – didn't I really want to. They bade me "Welcome."