REVIEWS

GUIDES TO BULGARIANS' RECENT PAST AND TRAUMAS

If you have stayed in Bulgaria for more than a week and have conversed with Bulgarians of a certain age beyond business transactions and polite small talk, you have probably heard them reminisce about something from their youth that you might find charming, mysterious and exciting, but hard to comprehend. It might have been something from the times of Communism, the period between 1944 and 1989, that despite its proximity in time and millions of living witnesses is getting increasingly mythologised.

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EYEBALL IT: VILLAGE CULINARY ADVENTURES

Rory Miller's book Eyeball It: Village Culinary Adventures is a funny, warm and sometimes poignant exploration of rural Bulgarian life, and its food and people in the 2020s. On the pages of this semi-travelogue, semi-memoir and semi-cookbook you will encounter semi-abandoned villages in the northwest and the southeast. You will walk dusty streets, enter old kitchens that have changed little since the 1980s, and watch how the chicken for the soup is caught, killed and plucked.

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MICHAEL ZAIMOV'S SOZOPOL

Overcrowded, overdeveloped, simply put overwhelming: in summertime, Sozopol is the definition of a place you must avoid if you are looking for some semblance of tranquillity at the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. Off season, the town is more bearable, but reminders of the tourist industry are everywhere. In the picturesque old quarter, clinging to a narrow rocky peninsula, there is hardly a lane free from signs advertising rooms to let, or restaurants with plastic window frames closed for winter, or hip art galleries.

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BULGARIA DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR

What happened in Bulgaria during the Second World War? The events, the major and minor political players and their decisions, the role that bad and good luck played in this country between 1939 and 1945 are often contradictory and hard to explain to outsiders – or to Bulgarians, for that matter. The country started the war being neutral. It became an ardent Nazi ally, but refused to declare war on the USSR. Instead, it declared a "symbolic" war on Britain and the United States. It kept most of the Jews under its jurisdiction from deportation to the death camps.

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FINE DINING: CHECKPOINT CHARLY

As even the most enthusiastic diners in Sofia have discovered, bad restaurants in the capital outnumber good ones. Happily, for more than 15 years now there has been a place in central Sofia where lovers of good food and proper service can feel well – and pampered.

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CZECH BULGARIANS

The first historians and archaeologists to survey this nation's past. The builders of some of Sofia's most prominent landmarks. The creators of some of Bulgaria's finest gardens. Artists whose paintings captured the soul of Bulgaria. They defined Bulgaria's art, culture, industry and education at the turn of the 20th century, and what unites them is that they were all... Czech.

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BULGARIA UNDER COMMUNISM: NEW BOOK IN ENGLISH EXPLORES RECENT PAST

A new book, Bulgaria Under Communism, published by Routledge in 2018, fills the gaps for English speakers. Written by Professor Ivaylo Znepolski and historians from the Bulgarian Institute for Research of the Recent Past, the volume covers the most important aspects of Bulgaria as a Communist country. It provides all the background needed for a person unfamiliar with Bulgarian history to understand how and why Communism took over, in 1944. It also explores the profound transformation of Bulgarian politics, society, economy and culture in the 45 years that followed.

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EUROPEAN SULTANAS OF OTTOMAN EMPIRE

A beautiful princess is given by her brother, the king, as wife to the very man who is conquering their lands: The story of Bulgarian princess Tamara Maria and her marriage to Ottoman Sultan Murad I in 1371, as part of a treaty with her half-brother King Ivan Shishman, is a powerful one. It gave rise to a novel, Tamara Shishman and Murad I, written by Anna Ivanova Buxton in 2013.

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TIPSY OXCART: AMERICANS REINVENT BALKAN MUSIC

Balkan traditional music has the peculiar quality to move even people who are anyway not much into what used to be called world music. It somehow gets inside you, infects you with its madness, and makes you dance and cry with the joy and the sadness, which you usually prefer to keep hidden even from yourself.

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BULGARIA AND THE HOLOCAUST

Seventy years after the Second World War the Bulgarian government is adamant in its denial that the Kingdom of Bulgaria did anything wrong in the territories – now in northern Greece, southern Serbia around the town of Pirot, and the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia – it occupied as part of its deal with its ally, Nazi Germany. With great pomp and circumstance and at a considerable taxpayers' expense earlier this year Bulgaria officially marked the non-deportation, in 1943, of about 43,000 Jews living in Bulgaria-proper.

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LOST IN TRANSITION

A country increasingly difficult to understand even by its own citizens, Bulgaria stands unique in Eastern Europe in at least two respects: it is arguably the least reformed former Warsaw Pact state and – if international surveys and indices are anything to go by – it is populated by the unhappiest people in Europe.

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THE ARCH

The Bulgarian Eva Quartet joined some 50 musicians from four continents on Hector Zazou's posthumously-released album, The Arch. A particularly prolific composer and record producer, Zazou is famous for his fondness of cross-cultural collaborations. His 1983 album, Noir Et Blanc, was one of the first and most celebrated ventures in mixing African tribal rhythms with electronic music.

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THE BOY WHO WAS KING

When Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha established his political party in 2001 and was subsequently elected prime minister of Bulgaria, most people did not see anything strange about that.

Many said he was simply regaining his rightful place as the de facto executive power in Bulgaria, after having been sent into exile in 1946, aged nine, when he was the king of Bulgaria.

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CONCRETE LEFTOVERS

The children of the 21st Century will have a hard time understanding how such a ridiculous and supposedly omniscient system as the Communist one could hold in thrall a quarter of the world's population for so many decades.

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UNKNOWN NANSEN

Sofia's streets are generally named after those who have played a significant role in Bulgaria's past, and they often act as a crash course in the country's history. Among the kings such as Simeon I and Ivan Asen, the clerics such as Patriarch Evtimiy and the revolutionaries like Vasil Levski, Hristo Botev and Georgi Rakovski, there are a few foreigners too.

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SECOND LIFE

What happens when a psychology graduate with the nose of a reporter and the talent of a writer locks herself up in a flat for six months, only communicating with the world through Internet dating sites? In Stanislava Ciuriskiene's case, the result is an intriguing, insightful and edifying book that you won't be able to put down.

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SOLO

According to the dust-cover blurb by Salman Rushdie, Solo is a novel of "exceptional, astonishing strangeness... confirming Rana Dasgupta as the most unexpected and original Indian writer of his generation."

An Indian writer? Writing about Bulgaria?

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