Wild Tales — Nikolai Haitov (1979)

Stories set in rural Bulgaria populated by bandits, shepherds and farmers.

Its mostly a depiction of a wilder side of peasant life, though wider politics occasionally play a role:

“Then my troubles really began. First came the coup in ’23, when they came after us with bared sabres and I was thrashed good and proper. After that the slump, when a lambskin cost more than a lamb. I got rid of my sheep, bought a couple of mules and set up as a carrier.”

That’s in a story where the weak Shepard idealises a romantic bandit, who ends up getting caught because he wants to sing in a pub.

Read some of the stories here.

The definitive Bulgarian book: There is some esoteric fiction out there, but that has never been my fancy. There is also the national classic Under the Yoke, about a failed revolt against Ottoman rule in the 19th century, but I gave that up because the plot was achingly slow, and the characters very one-dimensional. If you like magical realism (I don’t), you could try Georgi Gospodinov (“I remember being born as a rose bush, a partridge, as ginkgo biloba, a snail…”).

I’d rather read Bogomil Rainov spy novels, but they have not been translated from Russian! However, his short story collection The Road to Nowhere, with the eponymous tale a gripping account of an academic lying in hospital remembering the office politics that destroyed him, seems the best book to get a feel for Communist-era Bulgaria — unless there is a Bulgarian Herta Müller out there?

You’ll like this if you liked: Liam O’Flaherty’s short stories set in rural Ireland (or any rural short stories really).

Rating: Not quite worth a star for me.

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