Zdravka Evtimova: I want to see our heads unbowed obediently
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There are stories – ostensibly inspiring, beautiful, yet swamped in a quagmire of convoluted, feeble words. And then there are others – genuinely inspirational, stories that reach out to readers’ hearts with the fleetness of a bird in flight. As if on outstretched wings, Zdravka Evtimova’s stories stir our souls and, like a soft breeze, alter moods and emotions, bringing back memories and whispering dreams.
Endless July by Zdravka Evtimova is the most preferred Bulgarian book by the Sofia Library readers for 2018.
Her short stories and novels are read and have received awards in many countries around the world – USA, Great Britain, Canada, France, Greece, Israel, and more recently – in China. The author calls herself a “train writer” because so many of her stories have been born in the compartments of the trains running between Pernik and Sofia – the towns of her home and her workplace as English language translator. But whatever the story she may be telling, her works cast their spell with three inherent ingredients – goodness, empathy and love.
Goodness is inside of us, she says. And when you turn the good in you to the people around it brings out the good in them. As to empathy and love, they are the reason why the human race has survived and is still evolving – in spite of greed, malice and all other negative emotions. Just remember how people in concentration camps on finding an apple gave to someone who is sick.
Yet suffering can also unleash ignominy and even cruelty. Just as in Blood of a mole – the story written with so much sadness of heart which is on the school curriculum in Denmark and USA.
When something is born of sorrow it indubitably carries sorrow inside and conveys it to people, the author says. In truth, there is sorrow in our lives but whether we shall turn it into a permanent state or whether with our thoughts and actions, with the things we experience, we shall transform it - from darkness to light - is in our own hands. So that of this light joy may be born.
And grow to become happiness. Writing is a very happy kind of solitude, if I don’t write I feel as if I am ill, Zdravka Evtimova says.
When I am writing in my native language, it feels as if I have Bulgarian history behind me – the years of the First and the Second Bulgarian Kingdom, of glory, but also of the tragedy of the blinded soldiers of Samuel, of the blood spilt by our countrymen. And without meaning to joy and tragedy, and pain all find their way into the words. In English it is different – there is no sense of joy, of drifting off somewhere as if you are not even there when you are writing.
Annual literary rankings usually mean taking stock of things past, but also asking ourselves – are we reading more, or what our society would be like if we each spent time book in hand every single day.
A reading person is a beautiful person, but also a person of more courage, pride and dignity, the writer says. Good literature is just that, a lesson in dignity and honour. A reading person is also a person determined, a person who cannot be manipulated or made to slavishly bow down his head.
And as, at the beginning of every year we wish one another all kinds of things how would Zdravka Evtimova like to see Bulgarians as they grow as individuals and as a community, and describe them in a future story or novel?
I would like to see the dictum that “no sword shall cut off a head that is bowed” buried and forgotten. I would like to see our heads unbowed obediently, I would like to see us holding our heads high with dignity, eyes wide open and unafraid to express our opinion. A bent head survives but that is no life, it is slavery. We, Bulgarians are no longer living in slavery and it is time to channel our efforts towards building something powerful, something that will be remembered, something for other nations to admire. I think we have all the qualities to do that.