Deyan Enev is the meteorologist of the Bulgarian soul’s darker side. His lightning rod stories capture moments of Bulgarian reality like no other writer.
Circus Bulgaria, a collection of his short stories, is now available to English readers in an excellent translation by Kapka Kassabova and published by Portobello Books.
In his story, Beyond Nine Mountains, Enev describes an emblematic encounter between an Englishman and the Sofia taxi driver who takes him from airport to hotel. Christopher Liner represents a western film company and is in Bulgaria to exploit a provincial story of sexual slavery, pigs and suicide. The Taxi Driver has no time to piss, let alone learn English. It turns out to be a clash between the constipated and the incontinent.
Liner attempts to engage his taxi driver in conversation. His opening question, “Do you speak English?” is met with a cheerful sounding volley of bitter abuse in Bulgarian. Liner is unable to understand suggestions that he fuck himself up his own arse. But Liner is not to be put off – he can manage another language; he tries Russian. This at least leads Liner to reveal his own name. Liner sounds very like the Bulgarian word for shit. And so the driver laughs so hard that he almost loses control of the taxi.
The taxi driver’s burning resentment is all too credible in the polarised small world of Nationalist consciousness. And what harm is there in venting sincere feelings at the expense of a stupid client who won’t understand a word you’re saying? The cream of the jest is the client’s name. And the turd does not question the bill of forty Euros.
After all the Turd is English – representative of a people who are traditionally so up themselves they have no need for sexual advice from Bulgarian taxi drivers. Where Bulgarians rightly smoulder over the cruelties of their Imperial subjection, the English regard their Empire with a smug nostalgia. And the world is still their oyster, thanks to cheap flights and innumerable posh guidebooks on how to deal with stereotyped natives.
And why shouldn’t Bulgarians rage against the unfairness of a World hierarchy which encourages ignorant privileged Westerners to “treat Bulgarians as though they were Aborigines?” This last phrase is a favourite in Nationalist Newspapers and TV stations seeking to portray Bulgaria as the victim of a five hundred year international conspiracy.
Those foreign commentators who do speak Bulgarian will easily understand why their name might become shit in certain quarters. They seek to take part in debate at their peril. If they question the nationalist perception of the west as a heaving pile of writhing Gays, who take time off from their perversions only to murder their parents and children, they will be roundly condemned as anti-Bulgarian and would-be aborigine trainers. This is a reaction to the perceived threat posed by the west to the values of decent Orthodox Bulgaria. These visions are crafted specially for a significant section of the Bulgarian population who are puzzled by the rapid changes in society and in their nostalgia for simple polarities find comfort in the rants of angry men.
In another of Enev’s stories, an old lion tamer is forced to part with his emaciated lion that had once been used as a living emblem for Bulgaria. The story’s title, Circus Bulgaria, conveys on so many levels, the feeling of desperate loss – particularly as the lion is to be sold to some Mafia oligarch. What can the lion tamer do but drown his sorrow at the passing of a golden age. Many of his aging compatriots know exactly how he feels.