Saturday, December 08, 2007

Angels' tongues

Non-German speaking readers, avert your eyes.

This book by Dimitre Dinev (Angels' Tongues) is probably the first Bulgarian book I have read (in German, I ain't that good on languages...). Not published in English, I'm afraid. Picked it up in Vienna, which is quite a treasure trove for literature from the more south eastern parts of Europe.

The book portrays not only the lives of two young men from the same town in Bulgaria, but also the development of Bulgaria from the usual soviet-type society to the market economy (though our heroes leave for Austria just as this happens). As it happens, they only meet each other right at the end of their books, even though their fathers bumped into each other at the birth of one of them, and the father who worked in the militia spied on the other who was a big noise in the party.

This 600 page, closely printed paperback is excellent value for money. While it is a bit put-downable, it is also a) very interesting, since what do we generally know about Bulgaria anyway, and b) very funny - the author has a lovely dry sense of humour, and a beautiful turn of phrase (he writes in German, and....just looking at his biography in the front of the book....it's interesting how much of his life may be reflected in the book, too). So seeing as German is not his native language, it might be even more awesome how good he is at words. Then again, some of us are also not writing in their native language.

Take this little example - one of the characters, Iskren, has a successful little business, when he is visited by two guys who offer him 'protection'. Iskren tells them he has nothing to fear; the next day two handgrenades destroy his shop. Up turns the police, and he tells them the story.

'We'll see what we can do', the responsible inspector assured him. As far as the 'see' was concerned, the police had it all under control, but with the 'do' and the 'can' they had their difficulties.'

Lovely little phrase - and the whole book is full of them. (A guy, who was a miner, had been happy under the earth, so happy that he had taken a piece of it out in his lungs when he retired.)

I could read it again to savour the language. It could make quite a nice film, too, I think and produce quite a good documentary of life out East, as it changes, and the impact this has on people and their lives. My Bulgarian friend Radost was surprised to hear that the book also refers to a woman called Radost, who, although her part is very small, is nevertheless a key character. (Sorry, Radost, it may not be available in Bulgarian, unless it has been translated).