Finalist for the 2015 PEN Literary Award for Translation
Winner of the 2016 Jan Michalski Prize for Literature
"A quirky, compulsively readable book that deftly hints at the emptiness and sadness at its core."—New York Times
A finalist for both the Strega Europeo and Gregor von Rezzori awards (and winner of every Bulgarian honor possible), The Physics of Sorrow reaffirms Georgi Gospodinov's place as one of Europe's most inventive and daring writers.
Using the myth of the Minotaur as its organizing image, the narrator of Gospodinov's long-awaited novel constructs a labyrinth of stories about his family, jumping from era to era and viewpoint to viewpoint, exploring the mindset and trappings of Eastern Europeans. Incredibly moving—such as with the story of his grandfather accidentally being left behind at a mill—and extraordinarily funny—see the section on the awfulness of the question "how are you?"—Physics is a book that you can inhabit, tracing connections, following the narrator down various "side passages," getting pleasantly lost in the various stories and empathizing with the sorrowful, misunderstood Minotaur at the center of it all.
Like the work of Dave Eggers, Tom McCarthy, and Dubravka Ugresic, The Physics of Sorrow draws you in with its unique structure, humanitarian concerns, and stunning storytelling.
Georgi Gospodinov was born in 1968 and is one of the most translated contemporary Bulgarian writers. His first novel, Natural Novel was published by Dalkey Archive Press in 2005 and was praised by the New Yorker, New York Times, and several other prestigious review outlets. A collection of his short stories, And Other Stories was published by Northwestern University Press. The Physics of Sorrow is his second novel.
Angela Rodel earned an M.A. in linguistics from UCLA and received a Fulbright Fellowship to study and learn Bulgarian. In 2010 she won a PEN Translation Fund Grant for Georgi Tenev's short story collection. She is one of the most prolific translators of Bulgarian literature working today and received an NEA Fellowship for her translation of Gospodinov's The Physics of Sorrow.
Gospodinov's (Natural Novel) quixotic novel is part family saga, part meditation on Greek myths, and part personal history of growing up in Communist Bulgaria. Despite the challenges posed by this mix of styles and material, it's occasionally moving and points toward a book that might have been. The narrator is a Bulgarian writer who considers himself a collector of stories literally, as he will often pay strangers for interesting anecdotes. He claims that as a child he could slip into others' experiences, and so when he begins to relate stories of his grandfather's youth and soldiering during WWII, he sometimes presents them in the first person. These affecting but confusing scenes are interspersed with images from the story of the Minotaur and its labyrinth. The narrator feels great sympathy toward this misunderstood "monster," and these passages are some of the best. However, the novel rambles across characters, eras, and stories; by the final quarter, the already thin pretense of a central narrative is completely set aside, and the narrator strings together a random assortment of tales and observations he's collected on his travels. Some of these stories sparkle, but the impression is of padding, and the effect is exhausting. The overall sense imparted by Gospodinov's experimental style isn't so much of having read a novel, as of having been presented with a measured amount of writing. Some of it is very fine, but too much is undisciplined and confusing.