Image of The City and the Writer: In Oklahoma City with Nathan Brown

The City and the Writer: In Oklahoma City with Nathan Brown

                                    Special Series / Oklahoma 2014 If each city is like a game of chess, the day when I have learned the rules, I shall finally possess my empire, even if I shall never succeed…...read more »

Sculpting in Uzbek

Translators sometimes try to refrain from passing judgment, but I feel compelled to say that Uzbek is a strange and mysterious language. It is built on a solid Turkic framework fleshed out with some Persian and Arabic vocabulary, then gilded over with Soviet-flavored Russian. It’s the language…...read more »

The Week in Translation

GO what:TRANSLATABLE: A Multilingual Open Mic In Honor of International Translation Day when: Tuesday, September 30, 6:30pm where: Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library 901 G St NW / Washington, DC 20001 (Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro Station) more info: http://ow.ly/BvRTK what: Bread Loaf Translators’…...read more »

New in Spanish: Miquel de Palol’s “The Garden of the Seven Twilights”

Miquel de Palol (Barcelona, 1953) is one of the signal voices of contemporary Catalan letters. An architect by trade, he began to publish poetry at nineteen, and averaged a book of verse per year before bringing out El jardí dels set crepuscles (The Garden of the Seven Twilights), the novel…...read more »

The 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature: Our Office Pool

Between the World Cup and the World Series comes high season for world literature: time to place your bets on this year's candidates for the Nobel Prize in Literature. You can read two of the usual suspects, Adonis and Ko Un, right here, as well as laureates Herta Müller, J. M. G. Le Clézio,…...read more »

Russia is Restless: A Brooklyn Book Festival Event

On September 19, almost sixty people gathered at Karloff Restaurant in Brooklyn for dinner and conversation with exiled Uzbek writer and BBC reporter Hamid Ismailov and Russian-American novelist Boris Fishman. The Brooklyn Book Festival event was hosted by Restless Books, a Brooklyn-based, digital-first…...read more »

The Week in Translation

GO what: Multilingualism in the US: Do Americans need more than one language?| when:Thursday, September 25, 5:30pm Roundtable Discussion, 7:30pm Reception with European specialists where: The Graduate Center, CUNY/365 5th Ave, New York, NY 10016 more info: http://ow.ly/BvU0v what:TRANSLATABLE: A…...read more »
Image of Where the Sidewalk Bends: In Search of Manoel de Barros’s Pantanal

Where the Sidewalk Bends: In Search of Manoel de Barros’s Pantanal

It’s an odd sensation to arrive in a place that you’ve never been before, but that you’ve already experienced through someone else’s eyes. Especially when that other person is a poet. I first learned about the Pantanal—vast wetlands in central Brazil that seep over the border…...read more »
Image of The City and the Writer: In Tulsa with Rilla Askew

The City and the Writer: In Tulsa with Rilla Askew

Special Series / Oklahoma 2014 If each city is like a game of chess, the day when I have learned the rules, I shall finally possess my empire, even if I shall never succeed in knowing all the cities it contains. —Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities Can you describe the mood of Tulsa as you feel/see…...read more »

The Week in Translation

GO   what: Book Signing for Evelyn Trouillot’s novel The Infamous Rosalie when: Wednesday, September 17, 5 PM where: La Caye Restaurant, 35, Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, NY   what: Imaginary Gardens With Real Robots in Them: On Translating Science Fiction (Ross Benjamin, Terry Gallagher, Michael…...read more »

Most Recent Entry

New in Bulgarian: “Sunflowers for Maria” by Kerana Angelova

Kerana Angelova is a Bulgarian writer whose works would appeal to readers anywhere in the world because she deals with universal themes of the human soul: love, pain, time, god, violence, and happiness. What makes her special is the beauty of her words, the subtle transitions between fantasy and reality in her world, and her ability to draw readers in with her relatable characters. Unfortunately, few of her poems exist in English now, and none of her prose is accessible to the English-speaking reader.

A short introduction: Kerana Angelova is the author of four novels. Her first novel, Elada Pignyo and the Time (2003), is a masterpiece of contemporary Bulgarian literature, and has received numerous literary awards in Bulgaria. Three other novels followed—Inner Room (2006), The Street of Butterflies (2010), and Sunflowers for Maria (2013)—along with six poetry collections, two novellas, and a nonfiction collection of short essays and notes entitled One After Midnight (2013). Kerana was born in the mystical Strandzha Mountains in Southeastern Bulgaria and lives in the seaport city of Burgas. Her stories are imbued with the sense of magic woven into the local lore and language of her home region.

Kerana is a friend of mine. She sent me a chapter of her latest novel, Sunflowers for Maria, in early 2013. It was still a work in progress, and the author told me that she was so haunted by her characters that she needed to take a break from them for a short while. Especially from the most obsessive one: Vincent Van Gogh. His strong personality and restless genius was too much to bear.

Kerana sent me a chapter consisting of Vincent’s imaginary letter to Maria, a young photographer who lives in contemporary Bulgaria and shares his passionate love of sunflowers. I let Maria’s vivid dreams engulf me. I started seeing sunflowers everywhere and let myself hear the words reaching Maria from another place and time. The words that she knew were meant for her and connected her to a different reality. The sunflowers in Maria’s present life witness the unbearable pain and the bittersweet aroma of death after the 2012 terrorist bombing at Burgas Airport, where she was the first photographer to cover the tragedy for a local newspaper.

Many months later, after the novel was published and I could read it in its entirety, I was able to grasp the broader narrative, and discovered that a third character, Stephan, is the connecting thread between Van Gogh and Maria. Stephan, the same age as Maria, was also born in Burgas. He lives alone. As a child, he witnessed a different terrorist attack that killed many people before his eyes. A woman in a red jacket, her head hanging loosely; a crying baby and the bitter smell of vitriol. When news about the bombing at Burgas Airport airs on TV, Stephan is shocked. He has a flashback to his childhood nightmare. Smells and images return. TV footage of the tragedy cuts deep—a young woman with a boyish haircut vomiting by a sunflower field.

Vincent Van Gogh is choked by his gloomy and sunless homeland. His genius needs space and sun. Love. He considers life without love “a sinful and dissolute state.” This fundamental belief adds to his confidence that the love of his life exists, albeit somewhere in the future. Vincent knows for sure that the women in his present life are only temporary consolation, substitutes for a future dream. Rarely acknowledged, painfully alone, he transfers his sorrow and madness to canvas. Vincent is aware that time separates people. He will not allow time to prevent him from living his dreams, though. The awkward, ugly Dutch peasant opens his arms to meet his dream woman, his love, Maria. She has a boyish haircut, a peacock for a pet, and an obsession with sunflowers.

Vincent, Maria, and Stephan reenact each other’s lives. Kerana Angelova rearranges literary time and makes this communication across ages and countries possible by using the power of creative empathy. If somewhere in his nineteenth-century Vincent Van Gogh moaned in pain or ecstasy, then Maria (and we, the readers) shall also moan, engulfed by the same experience. The acts of love, violence and compassion reappear, crossing the boundaries of past, present, and future. The difference between cultural eras begins to disappear if we only dare look at time from the vantage point of the creative spirit. The bombs of hatred are exploding today just as they were in the past, but so are the blasts of love. Today (and centuries ago), man has at his disposal this great power—love. It dictates our impractical but heavenly choices. It cures injured souls and helps us remember who we are, even as the world falls apart under our feet. If this is not enough, we can always rely on life-saving signs that someone from the time before ours has left for us: words, colors, sunflowers.


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