Writers' Corner

Angela Rodel

2014 Translation Projects

Translator's Statement

As the Mexican translator Reynol Vazquez put it: “There are many sophisticated ways of starving yourself to death and being a translator from Bulgarian is one of them”—the NEA grant will not only help stave off starvation, but also afford me the luxury of time and peace of mind to delve as deeply into Georgi Gospodinov’s novel as it deserves. Translating this free-wheeling text, which hops from thought to thought, era to era and topic to topic, will require careful orchestration, since Gospodinov, who cut his literary teeth as a poet, preserves this poetic sensibility in his prose. His intense attention to sound and jumble of fragmentary snapshots that create a fragile sonic ambience requires the translator to be carefully attuned to this resonance. The NEA grant is not only an incredible honor for me as a translator, but is also a landmark event for Bulgarian literature as a whole, since it has lived far too long in the shadows of its more prominent Eastern European cousins.

Excerpt from A Physics of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov

[translated from the Bulgarian]

Prologue

I was born at the end of August 1913 as a human being of the male sex. I don’t know the exact date. They waited a few days to see whether I would survive and then put me down in the record. That’s what they did with everyone. Summer work was winding down, they still had to harvest this and that from the fields, the cow had calved, they were fussing over her. The Great War had started. I sweated through it right alongside all the other childhood illnesses, chicken pox, measles, and so on.

I was born two hours before dawn like a fruit fly. I’ll die this evening after sundown. 

I was born on January 1, 1968, as a human being of the male sex. I remember all of 1968 in detail from beginning to end. I don’t remember anything of the year we’re in now. I don’t even know its number.

I have always been born. I still remember the beginning of the Ice Age and the end of the Cold War. The sight of the dying dinosaurs (in both epochs) is one of the most unbearable things I have seen. 

I haven’t been born yet. I am forthcoming.  I am minus seven months old. I don’t know how to count that negative time in the womb. I am as big as an olive, weighing a gram and a half. They still don’t know my sex. My tail is gradually retracting. The animal in me is taking leave, waving at me with its vanishing tail. Looks like I’ve been chosen for a human being. It’s dark and cozy here, I’m tied to something that moves.

I was born on September 6, 1944, as a human being of the male sex. Wartime. A week later my father left for the front. My mother’s milk dried up. A childless auntie wanted to take me in and raise me, but they wouldn’t give me up. I cried whole nights from hunger. They gave me bread dipped in wine as a pacifier. 

I remember being born as a rose bush, a partridge, as ginko biloba, a snail, a cloud in June (that memory is brief), a purple autumnal crocus near Halensee, an early-blooming cherry frozen by a late April snow, as snow freezing a hoodwinked cherry tree… 

We am.

Excerpt in Bulgarian

About Georgi Gospodinov

Georgi Gospodinov's experimental narrative style and nuanced portrait of his country’s past and present make him one of the most original Balkan voices to emerge post-1989 and one of the few prominent ambassadors of Bulgarian literature abroad. In A Physics of Sorrow, Gospodinov explores the tension between the dark era of communism and the nostalgic past of childhood, the frantic center-cannot-hold sensation as the narrator moves from a highly empathetic child to a collection-crazed adult, while the narrative likewise slips from linear to fragmentary form.

Angela Rodel

Angela Rodel is a freelance literary translator living in Sofia, Bulgaria. She has a BA from Yale University and an MA from UCLA in linguistics. In 2010, she won a PEN Translation Fund Grant from the American PEN Foundation for Holy Light, a collection of stories by Georgi Tenev. Her translations of Milen Ruskov’s Thrown into Nature, Zachary Karabashliev’s 18% Gray, and Angel Igov’s A Short Tale of Shame have been published by Open Letter Books as part of the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation Bulgarian Novel contest. The UK publishing house Istros Books published her translation of Virginia Zaharieva’s novel Nine Rabbits in 2012. Her translation of Ivan Dimitrov’s play The Eyes of Others was produced at the New Ohio Theater in New York City in September of 2012.

Photo courtesy of Angela Rodel