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the Complete Review
the complete review - autobiographical

The Story Smuggler

Georgi Gospodinov

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To purchase The Story Smuggler

Title: The Story Smuggler
Author: Georgi Gospodinov
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (Eng. 2016)
Length: 37 pages
Original in: Bulgarian
Availability: The Story Smuggler - US
The Story Smuggler - UK
The Story Smuggler - Canada
from: Bookshop.org (US)
directly from: Sylph Editions
  • Translated by Kristina Kovacheva and Dan Gunn
  • With artwork by Theodore Ushev

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Our Assessment:

A- : very nicely done

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Story Smuggler is a short autobiographical text, published as part of The Cahiers Series, in which author Georgi Gospodinov traces his becoming a writer, situating it in the experiences of life in Communist Bulgaria, complete with the pervasive sense of an otherness being out there, beyond its borders.
       He begins with the Bulgarian word 'тъга', and, as he will later explain:

It is not sadness, nor exactly sorrow, nor is it melancholy. The word cannot be translated into English without translation of the entire Slavic concept behind it. In тъга there is longing, something unrealised, a dream of what has been lost forever or what has never been achieved.
       As he sums up: "Bulgarian тъга is a second-order melancholy: sorrow over the loss of something that has never been possessed". He nicely evokes that Communist-era longing for the imagined possibilities elsewhere, from the superstition of the umbilical cord stump that falls off a newborn's belly button which: "serves as a token of the baby's future" and hence is deposited in some auspicious site (like a foreign land ...) to the souvenirs from abroad suggesting what those places might be like, making people: "collectors of un-happened stories [....] of memories from unvisited places".
       From early on Gospodinov found an escape, a way to realize some of this otherness, in forms of writing, from taking some control by writing down his nightmares in childhood to classroom 'lexicons' -- notebooks passed around between students in which they responded to each other's questions and added marks of their own, an unofficial, illicit variation on the tidy, boring official notebooks they had to keep. .
       Stories are fundamental to him, and so at one point Gospodinov fantasizes about: "a brave new world in which everybody exchanges stories with everybody else", where stories are currency, used in lieu of money. A scheme he came up with at university, just as the Berlin Wall has fallen, was to make up dreams in order to sell them, helping a population with: "no fantasy-life left to nourish their dreams" to resuscitate their own imaginations.
       Gospodinov becomes and remains: "a collector if impossible (hi)stories" -- and finds in writing and creation the necessary hold: "I tell stories, therefore I am".
       A winding tour of anecdotes, reminiscence, and creative reflection, The Story Smuggler is a charming essay connecting experience (of a particular sort, in the Bulgaria of those times) and the making of a writer. A lovely piece of work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 December 2022

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The Story Smuggler: Reviews: Georgi Gospodinov: Other books by Georgi Gospodinov under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Bulgarian author Georgi Gospodinov (Георги Господинов) was born in 1968.

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© 2022 the complete review

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