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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Come to Me

Bogdan Rusev

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To purchase Come to Me

Title: Come to Me
Author: Bogdan Rusev
Genre: Novel
Written: 2007 (Eng. 2019)
Length: 138 pages
Original in: Bulgarian
Availability: Come to Me - US
Come to Me - UK
Come to Me - Canada
  • Bulgarian title: Ела при мен
  • Translated by Ekaterina Petrova

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Our Assessment:

B : solid triptych of lives in modern Bulgaria

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The three parts of Come to Me are quite distinct -- essentially separate narratives -- but do form a triptych of slices of modern Bulgarian life, from the perspective of an author who experienced the transition from communist to post-communist life while in his mid-teens. Two of the parts have foreign language-titles: the first, 'Komm zu mir', German (the 'Come to me' of the title), and the last, 'À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs', echoing the title of the volume of Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu (translated as: Within a Budding Grove and In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower), and the foreign does play a role here, with a significant character in both the first and last parts working abroad, while in the second the narrator recounts how his parents had the opportunity to escape then-still communist Bulgaria and likely get asylum in France (the narrator noting: "I spent much of my childhood being quietly angry at them for being too stupid and cowardly to do it. Later, I spent a big part of my adult life being grateful they didn't"). Nevertheless, the openings to the rest of Europe are largely incidental here, the narrator and central figures very much rooted in the Bulgarian homeland.
       'Komm zu mir' is a casual road-trip story, the narrator travelling with friends Charlie and Vera, his destination the airport at Burgas, where he will be reunited with girlfriend Dena for a single day, after more than a year apart. There are small mishaps and a large storm along the way, stories, casual encounters, and some drug- and alcohol-consumption. It's a slightly melancholy trip through the Bulgarian countryside; "Everything changes", the narrator notes -- and: "Nothing ever really ends". The anticipation of the reunion with Dena is, until the end, not foremost in his account, but by the end its clear that it is of great significance to him, a ritual and brief togetherness that is deeply meaningful to him; the story, however, stops short of the actual meeting.
       The second part is an 'Ode to my family', in which the narrator recounts some family history, mainly about his parents but also his own experiences in his youth -- including watching American movies, like The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi (which he saw again and again, "every single day over an entire glorious week"), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Speed. He reflects on his teenage years -- "the magnificent soap opera that unfolded all around me" that was high school -- and then his move to Sofia, to university and the freedoms this afforded:

I was free to say I was whoever I wanted. What's more, I was free to become whatever I wanted -- because it was the first time in my life that I was on my own, far away from my parents, free to choose my new friends, anonymous in the biggest city in my country. I could become something I designed and then carried out myself, one day at a time
       The backdrop of regime change remains almost incidental, the personal and generational instead at the fore (including the death of his mother and incapacitation of his father); among the rare specifics mentioned is the 1996-7 crisis -- yet even with regards to this:
Compared to the revolution of consciousness, for which we were rehearsing, the events of February 1997 were simply laughable.
       If this part is an 'Ode to my family', it is also a breaking-free from it; the section closes with the: "magic moment in which the whole world changed and nothing was ever going to be the same" -- and the narrator finding, like so many college-age students, that he has reached the point where: "My life could finally begin".
       The final part of the novel is itself divided into three parts, and begins with an account that is almost fairy-tale-like in tone and presentation -- beginning even: "Once upon a time". It is a love story, the Dena of the first section introduced here as the love-interest of Bobby -- the character who elsewhere is the narrator. It's a passionate romance -- but interrupted by Dena going abroad to work. Here, too, there's some description of the national situation -- though still entirely in keeping with the fairy-tale-type narrative approach:
     When Dena left, all the land languished and suffered from her absence. The rulers of the big city were getting replaced more and more quickly and senselessly, and the new ones were growing stupider and crueler than those who came before them.
       But the love-story remains central, with Bobby determined: "to get her back from the foreign land". He convinces her -- but she sets one condition, and Bobby fails her. From the opening chapter, readers are aware that there remains some connection -- but also that it remains a distant, occasional relationship; it's not quite a fairy-tale ending presented here, but it suggests that, eventually, a happy medium was found.
       In the two final sub-sections of this last part the narrator again emerges in the first-person; one piece is in verse, while the final one then is a more straightforward narrative again, of figuring out and finding love.
       Come to Me is effective in its focus on the personal, the dramatic shifts in Bulgaria over these times significant as backdrop but only a shadow (or cloud) on the narrative, and largely left not spelled out. Much of the narrator's tale is the familiar one of growing up and independent, and of passionate youthful love -- with a heavy dose of alcohol and drug-use on the side. It's hardly exceptional, but certainly solid, and Rusev's tripartite presentation, and its variety, particularly effective.
       A fine little work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 November 2019

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Come to Me: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Bulgarian author Bogdan Rusev (Богдан Русев) was born in 1975.

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© 2019 the complete review

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