Just continuing on from yesterday’s interlude on Kapka Kassabova…. I guess my interest is not only in the beauty of her writing, but also in the way she explores the immigrant experience and the experience of childhood from beyond the veil of emigration – and immigration.
For example, Kassabova’s Street Without a Name: Childhood and Other Misadventures in Bulgaria begins (with a Prologue, titled ‘I went into the woods…’):
“As children growing up in Communist Bulgaria, we played a pantomime game called ‘I went into the woods’. It goes like this: I went into the woods, I shuffled the leaves, I found a picture of… Then you mime the thing that you found, and others have to name it. Simple yet devilishly hard. Because anything could lurk under the leaves, from a mushroom to a dead body, and usually, it did.
Totalitarian regimes are not interested in personal stories, they are [-p.2] interested in the Party, the People, and the Bright Future. Nor are post-totalitarian democracies. They are too busy staying alive.
Equally, in the West there hangs about a vague idea of collective life behind the Iron Curtain, and life after it, but there are surprisingly few personal stories to go with the idea. There ought to be more. After all, half of Europe lived on ‘the other side’ for half a century. And perhaps half of that half (by my own rough estimate) still feels as if it’s living on the other side of something in the shape of a wall. The ghost of the Wall won’t go away until it is laid to rest. This book is, among other things, my own act of exorcism.
In 1990, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, I left Sofia for Britain, New Zealand, and again Britain, occasionally stopping in France and Germany for a year or so. In the process, I acquired lots of visas, one passport, some half-wasted lives, and an impressive collection of delusions.
My chief delusion was that by becoming deeply absorbed by every other country on the planet except Bulgaria (which I carefully tiptoed around as if it was a ticking bomb in the shape of a country ready to detonate at the slightest touch of memory) I could get rid of two things. One, my Bulgarian past, which was not of the miserable variety but bothered me nevertheless, like an infirm relative calling out from a darkened room at the back of the house. Two, the need to answer directly the question nice people ask when they meet you: so, where are you from?” (pp.1-2)
Ref: Kapka Kassabova (2008) Street Without a Name: Childhood and Other Misadventures in Bulgaria. Penguin Books: North Shore, etc.