Traveling in the Direction of the Shadow
Iana Boukova’s novel TRAVELING IN THE DIRECTION OF THE SHADOW was originally published in Bulgarian in 2009 (followed by a revised edition in 2014) and has received critical acclaim and several nominations. It has been praised as one of the most innovative, compelling, erudite, idiosyncratic, and ambitious books to emerge out of the contemporary Bulgarian literary scene in recent years.
This very Borgesian novel is a story about storytelling—about stories’ power to mutually attract, to find their path towards each other, and to complete one another. The main characters, whose names serve as titles of the novel’s eight chapters, all have their own complete, cradle-to-grave “biography,” their own hidden, often torturous talent; they have all been marked by fate in their own way. Their lives meet on the thin and changing boundary between chance and purpose, between fiction and reality, where most important things usually happen.
The narrator, a foreigner and collector of stories named Jan van Athen (and Iana Boukova’s writerly alter ego) joins the other characters as an equal without privileges: often comical in his insistence on fabricating even the most realistic fact, he is exposed along with all the others in the twists and turns of the narrative. Intellectually, stylistically, and conceptually, Boukova is in conversation with a global community of authors, brought together by translation and including Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Italo Calvino, Virginia Woolf, Thomas Pynchon, Franz Kafka and Georges Perec, among others.
Chapter 1 Yovana or The Birth of the Hero(excerpt):
She was a strong woman. Everything came to her easily. Her bread always rose and the daisies in her yard grew as big as a man’s palm. Pregnancy added a drop of red to her hair, the births turned her breasts softer and more merciful. Whether because of her quiet luck or because of the gold coin that remained inside her body, she held onto her beauty. Her hands never became swollen, her knees never turned rough. She ripened sweetly in a perpetual autumn of caressing winds and benevolent light. Aged triumphantly.
Gave birth easily. The first time around, they put a coin under her tongue like they did for the sick and poured water through all the openings of the house. They found a trembling little man and tasked him with writing over the threshold the words from the psalm thought to help in such cases: “Tear it down, tear it down to its foundations!” The man sat down with his tongue sticking out, the chalk kept slipping over the blackened wood and breaking between his fingers, the letters came out crooked and illegible, he kept writing, erasing, and rewriting, and even before he had finished, the baby’s cries were heard and the curse had passed. But the coin was never found. If she had swallowed it, it stayed inside her body forever and never came out.
She gave birth to eight children and all of them survived, so the triangle between the front gate, the house, and the well was never covered in grass again. The yard was always filled with people coming and going, with children running around and dogs chasing their tails, with merchants, carts, and horses shifting their weight from side to side, with neighbors coming over for water, with startled chickens. Among all that commotion, a little to the side, in a silence of his own, sat her husband with his blond mustache and his handsome smile, with his always busy hands, amidst the muted, domestic strikes of metal against wood and that soft, angelic dust that remains after the wood is stripped of what is superfluous and given a shape. He started to make barrels by bending staves over the fire and binding them with hoops, so that after his arrival in Thornitsa the wine no longer turned sour by the end of each spring.....
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© 2019, Iana Boukova
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