Theodora Dimova discussed the inspiration for her novel Adriana, an excerpt of which (translated by Angela Rodel) appears in the March 2017 issue: From the Edges of Europe: New Bulgarian Literature.
I was five years old when my father died. He was then at the height of his fame as a writer and playwright. The huge scandal around his novel Tobacco, which was crucified by the communist critics, had already died down. His plays were being performed all over the country, his novels were constantly being reprinted, and at every step, his readers demonstrated their close attention and gratefulness. It’s no coincidence that today, his work is required reading in schools. The first line I wrote in my life, in a notebook that he had given me, was: “Dimitar Dimov died.” The pain had been uttered, written in the notebook, and the sudden gaping wound was no longer so unbearable and terrible. From that moment on, I knew that I would become a writer, without having any idea whatsoever of what it meant to be a writer.
After his death, a manuscript of an unfinished novel, which didn’t even have a title, was found in his archives. None of his friends or family had ever heard him talk about this novel, even though back then, in the middle of the last century, it was very common for authors to read their works-in-progress to a small group of friends.
I reread my father’s novels from time to time, and I always discover something new in them. Ten years ago I also reread the nameless novel. It breaks off suddenly, in the middle of the most interesting episode, in the middle of the page, in the middle of a sentence. I said to myself, this isn’t right, this can’t be true, it’s unnatural, these characters are still alive, Adriana didn’t end with this book, she lives, she lives on, she is still alive! In my father’s novel, Adriana was twenty-nine years old, the beautiful, spoiled, and unsatisfied daughter of a rich factory owner, sated with pleasures and her abuse of them, a talented artist who is destroying both her life and her talent.
I quickly calculated when she was born and realized that if she were still alive today, Adriana would be ninety-three years old. And she was alive, I saw her, I knew what she looked like, with her desiccated, shrunken body, thinned hair, bony hands, and her eyes, I could see her eyes, still green, albeit now faded from old age. She had lived before totalitarian regime, she had lived through it and after it, she had passed through those three epochs, her life represented the history of Bulgaria itself. And I could hear how she talked, she was speaking to me, begging me, Theodora, she was telling me, even literary characters have the right to die, they also live in a world from which they have the right to disappear, which I have been deprived of this destiny, you must help me, Theodora, so I can die, too. Have mercy on me, Theodora, show some sympathy, it’s inhuman, sinister to not be able to die, to linger in this world with an unfinished and unlived fate.
So I started writing her confessions. I would sit in front of the computer and she would sit somewhere near me and we began, she would speak and I would write. I know it sounds crazy, I rarely tell this story in such detail, but this was the most mystical experience I have ever had, inexplicable yet real. Through Adriana’s confession, I grew the closest I had ever been to my father, I understood him, I felt as if he were alive, his death somehow disappeared, he had not died, he was alive.
Adriana is a declaration of love to him.
Adriana is not a continuation of his novel, because he would never have continued it in this way. His Adriana would never have lived to such a ripe old age, she would never have felt the urge to tell her life story to anyone, to confess her sins, to purify herself, to become almost translucent, almost incorporeal in her final days, ready to pass into the beyond, relieved and focused. I was crying as I wrote about her death, but I was crying tears of joy.
This is the story of that book and it is an honor for me to have the opportunity to tell it to readers of English.