September 14, 1930, is the birth date of the great Bulgarian novelist Anton Donchev who is one of the country’s best writers of historical prose. His works shed light upon crucial turning points in Bulgaria’s historical past, including the spread of the Bogomil heresy to Western Europe in the Middle Ages. His most popular and widely translated novel is Time of Parting depicting 17th century Bulgaria in the Rhodope Mountains and the forceful conversion of Bulgarians to Islam. As the New York Times wrote about the book, “Anton Donchev possesses the insight of Homer, the classic perception of both Bulgarians and Turks, and a deep veneration toward the undying faith and surging wild energy of both nations”. As Bulgarian publisher and literary critic Ivan Granitski commented, Anton Donchev is the successor of a long tradition in Bulgarian literature in which novelists are not only masters of refined written words but also spiritual leaders of their time.
“Anton Donchev has been trying to offer answers to fundamental questions related to our national development”, says Granitski in an interview for Radio Bulgaria. “How did this mystical moment happen some 1,300 years ago when our ancestors, Thracians, Bulgars, and Slavs, bury their weapons and found the Bulgarian state? Where did they come from and what happened during the next centuries when they were joined on the scene of history by the Longobards, the Pechenegs and the Cumans? And what happened in the historical melting pot during these 13 centuries of the existence of the Bulgarian state? Anton Donchev’s novels help us find answers to questions such as we are who we are, where we are headed and what our future destiny might be. Of course, there are also other issues he tackles, but I most appreciate Anton Donchev’s historical and philosophical reflections on the fate of the Bulgarian people”.
In an interview for Radio Bulgaria, Bulgarian novelist Anton Donchev himself argued that an honest historical author is able to see the crossroads and intertwining paths that nations have trodden through the centuries. “Sometimes the author is sad to discover the calamities that the peoples had to undergo because they failed to notice the dangerous curves lying ahead on their path”, Anton Donchev said and added:
“Historical novelists are as precise as scientists who predict what is going to happen in 50 or 100 years’ time. We see that even for events that happened only 20 years ago in Bulgaria, opinions often sharply diverge. And just imagine the variance of views when it comes to events that took place hundreds of years ago. At that time, the information we have about our history is derived from mainly foreign sources, and id it requires a huge amount of effort to shed some light on these frescos of time. Just picture a hall whose walls have been painted with historical scenes and you hold a candle near them and you see battles, warriors, and places. After you look at all the painted scenes, your idea of what really happened becomes fuller and clearer”.
Novelist may try hard but would never be really able to conceal their liking or disliking of certain characters and events, and thus, consciously or not, invest their books with certain messages or opinions, Anton Donchev says.
“Writers love their readers for the simple reason that literature is borne in the moment of reading. Writers should never forget that readers are virtually co-authors. If a book remains unread, then it is only a pile of paper leaves. A writer needs to know his readers and be aware of how his message would best reach them. For this reason, I have never let myself indulge to the temptation of narrating things as I like but have always attempted to talk to my readers. Bulgarian writers some 30 or 40 years ago were really lucky because they had a huge number of readers that has now decreased, but is still there anyway”, Bulgarian novelist Anton Donchev said in an interview for the Bulgarian National Radio.
To mark the writer’s 80th anniversary on September 14, this year, the Bulgarian National Radio organized a meeting with him where Anton Donchev donated to the radio’s library 12 volumes of his works published by Zahari Stoyanov Publishing House.
Translated by: Rossitsa Petcova