I shall be introducing the writer Mona Choban at the Bulgarian Cultural Institute on May 8th.
Over and over again in English bookshops I am reminded of how much readers are missing in the new timorous publishing climate, where so few foreign writers are published in translation and, for those that are, a kind of lottery system operates – one year South American, the next year Turkish, last year Scandinavian.
I feel this injustice in reverse of this every time I enter a Bulgarian bookshop. New globalizing practice dictates the books on most prominent display are popular works translated into Bulgarian. Rarely does a Bulgarian writer make it on to the first display stand that greets the customer. And yet on the shelves devoted to Bulgarian writers a stack of treasure awaits the reader who can read Bulgarian.
Mona Choban is an exciting talented versatile writer whose liquid clear prose disguises a depth of moral passion and an urgent neo-feminist message for our time. Her books are short but as with Jane Austen working on her “little bit of ivory”, their impact resonates long after they are returned to the bookshelf. Her versatility is evidenced by the way she moves through genres with ease – from her earliest so-called chick lit, to her dystopian science fiction and in her latest work, magic realism.
In Dosta Mona Choban develops a theme already present in her previous writing – a subtle but strong critique of the modern Eurovision world and the fraudulent model for perfect life it offers. Her heroine, Katerina withdraws from her emigrant life in Paris to return not just to her homeland but to a mountain village at the back of beyond, inhabited like so many Bulgarian villages by an aged population, who have maintained through their isolation access to an older wisdom.
Dosta evokes a pre-modernist village world where everyone knows each other’s business and newcomers are treated with proper caution. It is a woman’s world, a world in which remedies for ills are found in the inherited magical knowledge passed down the generations. But Katerina quickly adapts to this arcane world. But all is not entirely well. As with Susan Hill’s “Woman in Black”, a restless spirit from the past haunts the village and speaks through the village educated idiot, Pabob. This adds a page turning element of suspense.
Dosta is a wonderful untranslatable title – at once the obscure antique Bulgarian name, a name perhaps given to the last child in a large family and a word meaning much or even too much. Dosta is what Pabob shouts when he is upset. But its sinister second meaning only becomes apparent as the women of the village set about laying the troubled spirit to rest. Shame and horror lurk in the past.
Mona’s fellow Bulgarian writer, Kalin Terziski, describes her as a shining light. Great literature illuminates. And for another male reader (me) she has made me see the world in a new light.