|© Dobrin Kashavelov|
This is the second in a series of posts that will preview the upcoming issue of Absinthe, our 17th, focused on Bulgaria. In this post we present a brief excerpt from Georgi Gospodinov's novel Physics of Sorrow.
from Physics of Sorrow, translated by Angela Rodel
Szervusz, kenyér, bor, víz, köszönöm, szép, isten veled . . .
I will never forget that strange rosary of words. My grandfather strung them out on the long winter evenings we spent together during my childhood vacations. Hello, bread, wine, water, thank you, beautiful, farewell ... Immediately following my grandmother’s quick and semi-conspiratorially whispered prayer would come his szervusz, kenyér, bor ...
He always said that he used to be able to speak Hungarian for hours, but now in his old age all he had left was this handful of words. His trophy from the front. My grandfather’s seven Hungarian words, which he guarded like silver spoons. My grandmother was certainly jealous of them. Because why would a soldier need to know the word for “beautiful”? And she simply could not accept calling “bread” by such a strange and distorted name. God Almighty, Blessed Virgin, what an ugly word! Those folks have committed a terrible sin. How can you call “bread” kenyér, she fumed, in dead seriousness.
Bread is bread.
Water is water.
Without having read Plato, she shared his idea of the innate correctness of names. Names were correct by nature, never mind that this nature always turned out to be precisely the Bulgarian one.
My grandma never failed to mention that the other soldiers from the village had brought real trophies home from the front, this one a watch, that one a pot, yet another a full set of silver spoons and forks. Stolen, added my grandfather, and they had never even taken them out to eat with, I know their type.
But my grandmother and Hungary were not at all on friendly terms,between them that spirit of understanding and cooperation as it was called in the newspapers back then just didn’t work out. Quite a while later I came to understand the reason for this tension.
I found it strange that my grandfather didn’t like to talk about the war. Or at least he didn’t talk about the things I expected to hear and had seen in movies, the constant battles, artillery fire, kurrr-kur-kurrr (all our toys were machine guns and pistols). I clearly remember asking him how many fascists he had killed and bloodthirstily awaited the tally. Even though I already knew that he couldn’t chalk up a single kill to his name. Not one. And to tell you the truth, I was a bit ashamed of him. Dimo’s grandfather from the other neighborhood had shot 38, most pointblank, and had stabbed another 20 in the gut with his bayonet. Dimo took a step forward, thrust the invisible bayonet a foot into my stomach and twisted it. I think I gave him a good scare when I dropped to the ground pale and started throwing up. It’s awful getting stabbed in the stomach with a bayonet. I barely survived. READ MORE by ordering Absinthe 17.
Learn more about Georgi Gospodinov at the Contemporary Bulgarian Writers site.