Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Cold Snap: In place of an introduction

I am at a bit of a loss for words right now... so I'm just going to go ahead and say it: The night I heard the news about my Grandmother's death, I started re-reading Cold Snap. I hope this doesn't strike you as too morbid. It wasn't like that.

I just needed to hear somebody else talk about her and her way of living... but do it with kindness and humor and compassion. I was lucky to have just the thing.

I love Cold Snap for so many reasons... but, mostly, I love it because it takes a close look at people who are often left unnoticed.

- Simple women: kind and smart but not especially daring nor willing to draw attention to themselves
- Women who could rule the world, really, but due to various circumstances find themselves living small lives. Meaningful, but small.
- Men who simply don't know any better.

That's the kind of people that my Grandma's world was populated with and she navigated it with so much grace and humor. Never pretending it was better than it was nor fretting over how bad it could get. She was just so content with her life, always able to look past the sweat and tears and see the humor underneath it all.

Did you find the residents of Old Mountain as compelling as I did?
Did you find them sweet, charming, brave in their small-town ways?
Did you find them pathetic?

I am very curious to hear what you guys thought about the book and, PLEASE, don't be creeped out by my oh-so-personal introduction. Just let me know what you thought. In the meantime, I will be working on some questions to the author. Cynthia Phoel has kindly accepted to humor us and discuss her debut novel with our bookclub. Hooray!

P.S. If you have a blog, please write a review of Cold Snap and publish it on your site. Then send me a note to let me know so that I can let people know about it! Let's try to get as many people involved as we can! Please help me spread the word.


  1. Petya,

    Please accept my dearest condolences. Your grandma must have been an extraordinary woman. Remembering and celebrating her life in all the special ways she influenced you shows your deep love and respect for her. May she rest in piece.

    I finished Cold Snap a few days ago and am thoroughly excited that it will be discussed here and that the author will participate as well. Great idea for the book club, great first choice of book! Also, thank you for organizing the sweepstakes and giving out two copies, one of which came to me.

    I would be happy to write about my impressions as soon as I get off from work tonight so stay tuned.

  2. Thank you, Eli.
    I very much looking forward to your notes on Cold Snap!

  3. Petya, thank you for starting the Migrant book club. I’ve been drawn to stories of immigrants in the past couple of years and was very excited to find a group of people that share my passion.

    I read Cold Snap and loved it too. Thanks for suggesting it.

    I felt right at home among the people of Old Mountain. They could have easily been my neighbors growing up. The women who rarely had the confidence to match their abilities and the men who often chose a pose to hide their insecurities.

    I am so glad that Cynthia found their stories worth telling even though they lack big intrigues, ambitions or drama.

    Cold Snap made me realize how much I miss the daily struggle with life’s mundane obstacles. I love my life in America. I have the job I’ve dreamt about, a husband who loves me and a beautiful house but it all feels a little bit too easy here. I miss the small accomplishments that made every day a little brighter (a rare find, the repair of something old but treasured, the ability to finally afford something you have long saved for) and the common enemies that brought us all a little closer (the incapable governments, the shortage of water or electricity, the pouring rain that brought floods and shut down my entire neighborhood for days).

    I loved Cynthia’s stories but I felt a pain in my chest reading the book. Yes, the characters were very familiar and I could relate to their stories closely but I felt that something was missing. The people I grew up with knew how to celebrate even the smallest joy and leave all worries behind for a moment, they had big dreams and dedicated their entire lives to achieving them and for the most part they were optimists despite the little likelihood of things getting better. I am afraid Cynthia didn’t experience much of that. I just hope it is mostly due to the time she was there and not that the people have changed.

    I’d love to know what other Bulgarians thought of the book but am also very curious to hear from readers who are not Bulgarian and their impressions of Cynthia’s stories and characters.

  4. ANNA!

    Thank you so much for joining the bookclub and for sharing your thoughts. I laughed out loud when I read your comment about Bulgarians bonding over common troubles. That's SO right on!

    I think you are right that the book's characters seem a bit too joyless... and I was trying to figure out why that's the case and I think that it IS because the narrative spans a fairly joyless period on recent Bulgarian history.

    In my personal life, that's a period of handmade sweaters, crowded school-bus rides, uninspiring food and tragic haircuts that I had sort of tucked away. Cold Snap is bring it all back.

  5. So it took me a little longer to get around to writing my thoughts about the first Migrant Book Club read, but I am excited to finally share them with you...

    For me, Cold Snap was not just a book, it was an experience - one that was very emotional but also truly intimate. These were not just stories of men and women in Bulgaria - these were their lives with everyday struggles, victories, and joys. Their lives in the present, in the past or in the future sometimes told and sometimes only implied. The life of Galia growing up and becoming a wife and soon-to-be-mother, but also the life that she wished for and the one she had in front of her - "Another truth - one she loathed to admit: they were not so different, she and her mother. And another one...she, Galia, could never take flight." It was these ordinary lives that made it possible for all the different personalities and characters to stand out. And getting to know the characters is what made it so personal for me.

    I will agree with Anna in that it did make me feel uneasy - sometimes sad because it was as though everyone had given up on life and lived for one thing only, the heat; sometimes mad at the reminder of absurdity, "...Tati was unwilling to take chances with his only child. She would not have to work or worry in order to succeed." I too remember people dreaming big and constantly making plans for a brighter future or at least being optimistic about what was ahead of them. But at the same time, there was that glimpse of hope in the eyes of Nasko and Marina. Nasko, for being a human being, friend, and a neighbor first and then the person responsible for who gets heats and who does not. Marina, for realizing the real reason for the visits to her office at that particular time of the year, but not minding it as it made her feel better being able to offer a place of warmth even for a short while.

    In the end, maybe I related to some of the stories, maybe I did not; but I felt at home. It was not the separate stories that I felt so familiar, but the common thread - the close-knit nature of the Bulgarian towns and villages. The feeling of knowing your neighbors or their kids, of growing up with the same friends, going to school with them, watching them go through their lives. The freedom to knock on your neighbor's door and ask for a cup of sugar or milk or eggs. The feeling of company as neighbors and friends would just swing by your house to have a glass of rakia at your table. I sometimes feel these things can get lost here in the USA. It could just be me or the place I live in now, but when I was living in an apartment complex I rarely saw my neighbors, let alone knew them or felt even remotely close to them to ask for a favor.

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  8. I know this is already getting too long and confusing probably but I want to make one last remark - the contrast of the people and their lives and at the same time how peacefully they shared the same apartment building, town, country. Galia and Vladi's apartment with multiple heaters in the same building as Boris' freezing apartment. The gypsy, the elderly, the young, the lonely...all of them being part of one cohesive unit. I have been really taken aback by the recent or maybe not so recent far extremism in people in Bulgaria - be it politics, race, ethnicity, wealth, background, etc. I just wonder what happened to the people from the town in Old Mountain and why did they turn into what we see today...

    Well, I know it's a little all over the place and there are many other details that can be discussed but these are probably the things that struck the most with me. I am looking forward to hearing other people's thoughts.

    P.S. I loved the idea of having certain Bulgarian words intertwined in the text - it made it so much more personal and real. I also loved the feeling of reading them among the rest of the English words. It made them stand out and it also gave them such power! I wonder if it was randomly or if there was symbolism in the ones that were used. I also wonder how other, non-Bulgarian, readers felt about it - was the essence lost, did they have to translate them, did it make them curious...

  9. Wow!Eli!

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply. I've been wondering... how much of this feeling of uneasiness that both you and Anna describe has to do with the pessimism of the narrative and how much of it is our own struggle to remember those years differently...?

    I struggle with this all the time... preserving my memories as accurately as possible yet shamelessly romanticizing the past to the point where I no longer trust my own narrative.