Georgi Gospodinov and The Physics of Sorrow

“If you are not reading this text, then it doesn’t exist. Exactly this is the first miracle of reading. Every book which lays unopened in the library is like those sleeping kingdoms we are told about in fairy tales. If you open the book and start reading then the kingdom comes to life. Some kind of magic is produced when the eye meets a letter. It is of this kiss between the eye and the written text that the miracle happens. The first thing I would like to tell you, personally and quietly, is that you have many books to awake from their sleep. Consider this, between ourselves, as a small feat. You are she who awakes books. You are he who awakes books. And the one who awakes books awakes worlds.” Georgi Gospodinov, Invisible crisis

With his enigmatic stories Georgi Gospodinov has enchanted readers worldwide and thus become Bulgaria’s internationally most well-known contemporary author. He combines anachronistic storylines and queer characters in a poetic flux describing everyday life.

If his first novel, Natural Novel, was well-received, the second one – The Physics of Sorrow became a real sensation in Bulgaria and a best-seller for 2012.  It received overwhelming positive reviews in a number of prestigious review outlets and became a finalist for among others the Strega Europeo and Gregor von Rezzori awards.

Characteristic for the book is the intertwining of a variety of identities into one and same protagonist. He takes on a journey from antiquity to modern times in a variety of forms and shapes, crossing different spatial and temporal dimensions to thus unveil the sorrow of different ages.

The Physics of Sorrrow by

The Physics of Sorrrow by

This is how Garth Greenwell describes in the New Yorker the intricate plot of this story which takes the reader back and forth in time and contains fragments of the author’s own life and his perception of others:

Very loosely, with many leaps forward and doublings back, the novel follows the contours of Georgi’s life, from his birth—which, like Tristram Shandy, he remembers—through his schooling and army service under Communism, to his adulthood as a successful writer and an increasingly melancholy man. In childhood, Georgi is afflicted by “obsessive empathetic-somatic syndrome,” a heightened, involuntary empathy that inserts him in the experience of everything around him: family members, neighbors, animals, even a slug his grandfather swallows as an ulcer remedy. He loses this capacity as he ages, and compensates by becoming an obsessive collector of other people’s stories. He writes the novel as a middle-aged man, “the most hesitant and unsure of writers,” spending more and more time in his basement. He suffers from a “Noah complex,” hoarding stories and experiences against an apocalypse that he senses as impending, though its form remains uncertain: global warming, nuclear war, the horsemen of his grandmother’s forbidden Bible, take your pick. Like “Natural Novel,” the book is a collection of disparate parts that cohere, to the extent they do cohere, as a kind of frustrated bildungsroman, the narrator’s attempt to understand his own sadness and sense of doom.”

Read an excerpt here and make sure to read the full book after that if you are interested in this instant Bulgarian classic!

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Cult Bulgaria correspondent
Lora - Sofia

An eager reader, writer & traveller. Always curious to learn new things and hear new stories. Keen on studying languages. A to-be graduate in Scandinavian studies. I have joined Cult in order to showcase a part of Bulgarian culture that is often ...

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