Currently translating Balkan Rhapsody (Colibri, Sofia, 2018) – the debut novel by the Bulgarian-born and France-based author Maria Kassimova-Moisset.
As a truly rhapsodic autofiction, this historical novel follows the internal and external exile of the author’s fictionalised grandmother Miriam and her young family during the 1920s and 1930s. A tale of two coastal cities intrinsically connected through the tumultuous waterways of the Black Sea. Miriam’s journey starts from her native Burgas and sails to Istanbul – another religiously prejudiced part of the crumbling Ottoman Empire, where Eastern Orthodox and Muslim traditions and beliefs both unite and tear families apart. The author’s style embraces poetic spells and similes, period humour and horror alongside contemporary theatrical asides and a clear-eyed investigative journalism prose.
A woman writing struggles not to be reduced to her life. When she writes about something other than herself, she is asked ‘is this about you’? And when she does write about herself, her work is read as small, domestic, narcissistic. Hannah Dawson, editor of The Penguin Book of Feminist Writing
To my mind, Balkan Rhapsody is the autobiographical novel response to Kapka Kassabova’s award-winning non-fiction works Border and To the Lake. Both of these Bulgarian-born yet uprooted authors share a lucid fascination with the complex and kaleidoscopic Balkan identity and history where the Occident collides with the Orient. If Kassabova’s works provide the historical facts, Kassimova-Moisset’s fiction allows us to feel what might have been like growing up and surviving in this multicultural, post-colonial and porous region known as the Balkans. This is a region steeped in history – a condition evidenced through its contemporary literature which often dwells in the past while uncovering its ‘Balkanness’.
We need to know our past as Europeans. It is up to us to tell our own stories to other Europeans. Afterall, we hear them telling us their stories of Vikings, selkies and seafaring folks, Sicilians, Celts and many more… Maria Kassimova-Moisset Webcafe.bg
I identify with the credo of the ‘translator as curator’ and see translation as an organic extension of my curatorial projects. Throughout my professional practice as a translator curator, I have been championing the works of contemporary women artists and authors including Maria Kassimova-Moisset, Madelon Hooykaas, Erica Jong, Margaret Morris, Mare Tralla, Katherina Radeva, Marlene Millar, Alla Georgieva, Miranda Whall, Diana Savova and more.
While now pursuing literary translations from Bulgarian into English, my debut translation was from English into Bulgarian – Salvador Dali’s only novel Hidden Faces which was published by a Bulgarian indie press Paradox in 1993. Lately, I have been publishing directly intо English primarily in the area of contemporary art and moving image critical writing.
Since 2015, as a founding member of Found in Translation reading group at Edinburgh’s Central Library, I have been reading books in translation and following initiatives such as Women in Translation Month by the book blogger Meytal Radzinski and Year of Publishing Women 2018 by the UK small publisher And Other Stories. It was Radzinski who, in an interview with the American Literary Translators Association in 2016, discussed how the relative dearth of translated literature by women in the English-language book world is a problem rooted in the biases of both translators and publishers.
While the problems with representation and visibility of women in translation persist worldwide, I am astonished by the scarcity of published contemporary fiction by female authors originally written in Bulgarian and translated from Bulgarian into English. Could it be just these four books?
Four Minutes (Open Letter Books, US, 2019) by Nataliya Deleva. Translated from the Bulgarian by Izidora Angel
Concerto for Sentence (Dalkey Archive Press, US, 2016) by Emiliya Dvoryanova. Translated from the Bulgarian by Elitza Kotzeva
Everything Happens as It Does (Open Letter Books, US, 2013) by Albena Stambolova. Translated from the Bulgarian by Olga Nikolova
Nine Rabbits (Istros Books, UK, 2012 and Black Balloon Publishing, US, 2014) by Virginia Zaharieva. Translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel