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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Party Headquarters

Georgi Tenev

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To purchase Party Headquarters

Title: Party Headquarters
Author: Georgi Tenev
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 121 pages
Original in: Bulgarian
Availability: Party Headquarters - US
Party Headquarters - UK
Party Headquarters - Canada
Party Headquarters - India
Casa del partido - España
  • Bulgarian title: Партиен дом
  • Translated by Angela Rodel
  • Vick Prize, 2007

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Our Assessment:

B : quick, deep slice of recent Bulgarian history/conditions

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Party Headquarters situates its Bulgarian narrator in decadent yet still Germanically proper Hamburg. His father-in-law, a once feared and powerful man in the Bulgarian Communist regime of yore, referred to throughout only as 'K-shev', now lies: "dying of cancer in this sterile, private German clinic" -- even as he is on trial, in absentia, in the motherland. Among the narrator's errands: to collect a small briefcase from a bank vault, well over a million euros K-shev has stashed away abroad for such times, when things have gone south with the grand old regime.
       The defining event for the narrator -- and, in some ways, for K-shev and that corrupt regime of the small "tomato republic" that was Warsaw Pact-minnow Bulgaria -- was the 1986 Chernobyl disaster:

For me, Chernobyl is a flash of a moment that surpasses all moments worthy of the name "epic." Like the eureka light bulb going off in Edison's skull: the day you understand everything without needing to think.
       Criminally, Bulgarians were left in the dark about what had happened and the potential dangers of the radioactive fallout -- left, dangerously, to carry on as if nothing had happened at all. Here is the clearest example of the regime's many failures -- and of K-shev's, as its representative. Even now, some two decades later, the question remains:
What prevented K-shev from informing the population on time ? What, for God's sake ?
       The narrator repeatedly returns to that time, when he was still a naïve teenager, and it has marked his whole life. Among other things, it led him to try to study medicine -- though he can't follow through, with chemistry, in particular, his downfall:
     The professor wasn't impressed by my deep yet rather narrow knowledge of one specific section of the periodic table: the radioactive isotopes. It's a little too early for you to be curing leukemia, young man.
       His relationship with K-shev's daughter also dates to that time, the Pioneer girl he first met already then insisting: "that her father did not exist" -- but of course K-shev was a larger-than-life figure who could not be wished or willed away (and the girl was apparently perfectly willing to invoke the terrifying name to make an impression, when needed).
       Party Headquarters touches on the rapid changes Bulgaria underwent in the years following the Chernobyl disaster, from the overthrow of the regime and the time of Transition, to the present day, with its similar corruption, just under a different guise. Set at some remove, in a Hamburg where the representative of the old regime lies rotting away, the narrator holding an unreal amount of (ill-gotten) cash in his hands, and sex reduced very much to a commercial transaction, the narrator is nevertheless entirely obsessed by his homeland and his past. The narrator jogs -- runs, in a futile attempt to flee all this baggage, or exhaust himself of it -- in a fairly effective back and forth between present-day and past; in a sort of near-frenzied final state he is even more directly self-destructive.
       Party Headquarters is a compact novel of the peculiarly Bulgarian turmoil over those two decades -- quick, and perhaps a bit slight, but using the Bulgarian experience of the Chernobyl disaster well as a foundation for the story. The references to the significant events and changes in Bulgaria over the two following decades might seem a bit glancing, especially to foreign readers, but the novel still gives a good general impression of modern Bulgaria.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 December 2015

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Party Headquarters: Reviews: Georgi Tenev: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Bulgarian author Georgi Tenev (Георги Тенев) was born in 1969.

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© 2015 the complete review

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