A meeting with Emil Andreev

04/08/2010 by Christopher Buxton

An evening with writer, Emil Andreev. Thursday November 18th at 7.30 pm Bulgarian Embassy Queensgate.
organised by the British Bulgarian Friendship Society

Emil will be talking in English about his work and the situation contemporary Bulgarian writers find themselves in.

Emil Andreev is one of the stars of contemporary Bulgarian fiction and drama. A master story teller from Lom on the River Danube, he is the winner of several awards, including the Vick and Helikon prizes for fiction. His first novel, The Glass River has been filmed in Bulgaria with an international cast and is due for release this autumn.

His novels are all set in the present, but as befits a writer born on the Danube they reflect on the confluence of the fragile present with a relentless past. In his latest book, Crazy Luka, the eponymous Bulgarian hero pursues his monomaniacal quest for enlightenment through churches and monasteries in Cathar France, Italy and Bulgaria. A series of objects – an old helmet, a row of pearl buttons and pages torn from a notebook, point to the extraordinary coincidences of life, as a doomed love story emerges from the old Jewish quarter of Vidin in the turbulent 1940s.

Extract from Crazy Luka published in Bulgarian by Faber 2010

For dessert there was pudding and pears – softened pears picked the previous year by no-one but Grandpa Francois, then preserved according to his own special method.

“The pear is a more delicate fruit than the apple, because it contains more water. It’s very important not to bruise its skin as you pick it.” He spoke with pride and then carefully took one out of the delicate porcelain fruit bowl. In spite of its exuberant brightly painted decoration, for me it looked like the old helmet in the cellar. And an unbidden memory came into my mind of one of my grandfather’s many fantastic stories from the First World War.

They’d been on the attack, they’d charged ahead with sharp bayonets and twisted faces. The enemy began to retreat, but our lads didn’t stop. And as he charged towards death, my Grandfather Luka saw to one side of the field a man sitting with his back against the trunk of a single tree. He knew from the helmet that it was a French soldier. He was wounded and was dying. The tree was a pear tree. The boughs were weighed down with fruit… “So big and juicy that when I saw them I just wanted to eat!” my Grandfather said. Some guy trotted up beside him, some Kolyo from the Belogradchik village of Giorgich, who also looked at the enemy soldier. And instead of charging ahead, this Kolyo decided to go right up to the Frenchman. My Grandfather stopped to see what would happen. He thought Kolyo would finish off the soldier – one, he was an enemy; two, to put him out of his misery. But something unexpected happened. The Bulgarian took the helmet off the wounded man who looked up pleadingly and quietly whispered something. “Ey right now he’ll smash his head with his rifle butt” my Grandfather told himself. But Kolyo left his gun on the ground and in front of his comrade’s astonished gaze began to pick pears and fill the helmet of the man who was dying close by. My Grandfather couldn’t believe his eyes. What was this madman doing? Instead of fighting he’d set to picking pears. Was he that hungry? True the food was bad and there wasn’t enough – but right now? But Kolyo filled up the helmet, put it onto the dying man’s lap and gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder…”Eat!” he told him, and then picked up his gun, shouted out “Hurrah!” and rushed onward. Grandfather Luka instinctively followed him, but for a long time he couldn’t make sense of it. When that evening before lights out, he asked Kolyo why he’d done it, the man from Giorgich answered: “Ey well this guy; if he’s going to die anyway, he shouldn’t die hungry!” Kolyo died three days later. A shell cut him in half. “He didn’t feel anything, poor sod! That Kolyo – how could I forget him!” Grandfather Luka finished his story. As to what happened to the Frenchman, he never found out.

(translated by Christopher Buxton)