Kyle and I are leaving for Bulgaria on Tuesday. We are both excited, of course, but I'm also a tiny bit anxious. We were home around this time last year and in the months that followed our trip, my grandparents have been getting sicker and sicker to the point where everyone has started preparing for death, my dad's business (subcontracting with real estate developers) has been (understandably) doing really bad, and for the first time since coming to the State (1999), I really feel like my life is not there anymore.
That's a strange feeling to acknowledge. Contrary to the experience of many of my friends, I never really wanted to come to the States. Things just sort of happened that way and I ended up following in love (with a man AND with the country). However, I never lost touch with my friends. In fact, my best friends are Bulgarians living in Bulgaria who I met AFTER I moved to the States.
I'm not sure what has triggered the shift. I think it is not unrelated to finally settling down after so many years of nomadic existence. But that's not all. In the past year I have felt more irritated and exasperated with Bulgarian politics, social conservatism and provincialism. THIS has SOME to do with the conversations on my feminist blog but that's not all. It has to do with the pettiness of Bulgarian media, the total lack of vision in governance, the numerous attempts at creating "The Bulgarian X" as opposed to starting something genuine and authentic. I realize that this sounds both vague and pessimistic and probably, makes little sense to those of you who have not visited Bulgaria yet. Those of you who have... please let me know if you feel the same way.
The ONE thing that has actually helped me cope and clear my head about this is Cynthia Phoel's book, Cold Snap. I read it a few months ago while the book was still being edited. Now that it's out, I am packing my copy for our trip. The book is a collection of related short stories set in a small town, not much unlike the one where I grew up, in the mid-1990s. Many of the characters sound and feel like people I know well: hardworking women who manage, nurture and pull entire families forward; men who don't mean harm but end up harming many; eccentric and creative types who anywhere else in the world would be recognized for their free spirit and authenticity but in Bulgaria end up being laughed at and turning to knitting and mushroom-picking for release.
When I first read Cynthia's book, I just loved how brutally honest it was. I was simply smitten by her ability to describe a life both gritty AND tender, patriarchal AND loving, provincial but remarkably touching. In a way, the book really changed the way I think of Bulgaria and triggered a shift in the relationship I have with the stuff that has bothered me the most. That's why I am so excited that our BookClub is reading the book too!
Kyle and I leave for Bulgaria on Tuesday. Before we go, though, I would like to send a courtesy copy of Cold Snap to two How to Marry a Bulgarian readers. I only ask that if you do end up with a copy of the book, you promise to be active in our discussion of it towards the end of July! For a chance at winning a free copy, please leave a comment under this post with your name and email address. This will be a quick contest, since I need to mail the books tomorrow.
Good luck and happy reading.