site.btaBooker Prize Winner Georgi Gospodinov to BTA: Literatures Created in "Small" Languages Can Speak about Big Things
About a week after his novel Time Shelter, in Angela Rodel's translation, won the 2023 International Booker Prize and filled his fellow Bulgarians with joy and pride, writer Georgi Gospodinov said in a BTA interview that literatures created in "small" languages can speak about big things. Gospodinov believes that the recognition he received for his book will open doors and will give courage to writers in Bulgaria today. He said: "It is very important for a writer working here in a small language to have confidence that she or he can speak to the world about the important things. This is something that I have tried to struggle for over the years. Literatures written in small languages can speak about the big things, and sometimes even better so."
According to Gospodinov, the reaction which his prize drew from people in Bulgaria makes him at least as happy as the prize itself. "The reaction shows that we have a desperate need for good news. It also shows that we can recognize a piece of good news when we hear it. This means that not everything is lost," he commented.
The news about the Booker Prize reached the Bulgarians on the eve of their Alphabet Day, the nation's most important cultural holiday. Gospodinov commented: "The best thing is that, as long as there is a nation somewhere in the world celebrating its alphabet, a nation which can feel joy about literature, a book, a literary award, not all is lost. As chance would have it, I got to deliver my acceptance speech on the eve of the holiday, about 10 minutes before May 24, so I said these few words in Bulgarian: 'Happy holiday, happy miracle of language!' A miracle it was. A wonderful coincidence. Later, I told people there about the holiday, few of them knew about it."
The writer went on to say that an award like the International Booker Prize does not come overnight. It was a long, long way. Time Shelter was the first Bulgarian book ever to be nominated for it. "The nomination was enough to make me very happy because I knew what this award means. It is really the highest recognition for world literature. The list of those who were nominated for it over the years but did not win it includes such people as Marquez and Milan Kundera, people from whom I have learned how to write. Just having my name next to theirs was something I had never imagined."
Time Shelter has sold out in almost all countries where it has been published. "I read on social media about people ordering the book and having to wait for two weeks to get it," the author said.
Writers from all over the world, from Mexico to South Korea, contested the 2023 International Booker Prize. "Almost all nominees were people who write in 'big' languages: French, Spanish. This is worth noting. It makes my joy double. The truth is that we, coming from where we come from, must be twice as good as the others to be seen as equal to them," Gospodinov said.
He believes that Time Shelter touches readers around the world, not just in Bulgaria, because it is about such an important subject as memory and about what happens to a society when it is afflicted with a group equivalent of Alzheimer's disease. "We are living in a kind of memory gap right now. We take memory for granted. We should not. If you forget a war, it can repeat itself. The matter of memory will be growing in importance. Memory needs daily care."
Gospodinov added that when nostalgia is used as a weapon, it can be countered by persistent discussion, memory, education and culture.
He said: "The idea about the book had come even earlier, but in 2016 I decided that the time was ripe for it, given all that happened. The year 2016 unlocked the realization that the past can be very dangerous. Anxiety was in the air. You could feel it in Bulgaria, and you could feel it worldwide. And now in Britain, during several meetings I had there recently, the audience understood me perfectly well. Twenty-sixteen saw Brexit. Twenty-sixteen saw Trump's rise. I spoke about that with the British audience, I said it to them and they agreed that their Brexit was a referendum for the past. In a way, they chose the past in that referendum."
Asked about his take on the current political situation in Bulgaria, the novelist said: "Sadly, we often project an image of serious political crisis. Particularly in the last two years, it was inevitable. The response of international media and audiences shows that the people on the outside, too, need to see a light in Bulgaria. We are not the only ones who need to see something nice, good and bright. The people on the outside, too, need to hear that there are good things to discover in Bulgaria."
In conclusion, Gospodinov told BTA that he is about to start working on his next book. "I think I will publish a book of essays because the time we lived in, and continue to live in, is a time that calls for reflection. The essay seems to be the genre of crisis," he said.