Elizabeth Kostova introduces American readers to Bulgarian literature

Apr 13, 2014

Elizabeth Kostova says she’s lost count of the number of times she’s visited Bulgaria, but she can’t forget the first time she visited as a student.

It was 1989, and she arrived just a week before the wall fell in Berlin.

“We were there in time to see the first public demonstration in the streets of Sofia in 45 years,” she said. “It was very moving.”

Since that first trip, Kostova couldn’t stay away. She loved the country nestled between Romania and Greece, with its scenic Balkan mountains, the plains, the ocean, and Bulgaria’s people.

“It has always been on the crossroads between East and West, so it has a very rich cultural and ethnic heritage,” she said.

When Kostova toured the country for her first novel, The Historian, she was struck by the lack of resources for Bulgarian authors since the fall of communism.

This didn’t seem to stop Bulgarians, though-- they would come to signings and say the only thing that got them through their past was by writing about it.

So she started the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation to help provide writers in Bulgaria with more opportunities for literary success.

It’s through that foundation that we meet two Bulgarian novelists: Virginia Zaharieva , author of Nine Rabbits, and Albena Stombolova, who wrote Everything Happens as it Does.

While the books are distincty different in subject and tone, Kostova says both stories are contemporary but also about the recent, Soviet past, which can be difficult to reconcile.

And in their own way, Kostova says, each work represents a larger theme commonly seen in Bulgarian literature.

“I find that there’s a real thread in Bulgarian literature of fable and fairy tale,” she said.  “There’s also a real sense of magical realism. Sometimes things happen that take off the plane of ordinary life. And yet they don’t seem whimsical of hokey.”

Kostova will interview both authors Sunday afternoon at Malaprop’s Bookstore in downtown Asheville.