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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Vladimir Zarev

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Title: Разруха
Author: Vladimir Zarev
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003
Length: 456 pages
Original in: Bulgarian
Availability: Verfall - Deutschland
  • Разруха has not yet been translated into English

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Our Assessment:

B : fine but conventional novel of the post-communist transition

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 24/3/2007 Martin Halter
Die Zeit . 9/8/2007 Sandra Hoffmann

  From the Reviews:
  • "(Z)umindest haben wir jetzt mit Vladimir Zarevs Verfall den großen bulgarischen Wenderoman (.....) Der Sechzigjährige ist jetzt nicht mehr nur der verdiente Held der bulgarischen Literatur, sondern ein Erzähler von europäischem Rang: Dieser Verfall gibt Hoffnung und bezeugt jedenfalls die literarische Europa-Reife Bulgariens." - Martin Halter, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Es ist ein Roman, der einem Volk aus der Seele spricht, weil endlich einer genügend Chuzpe besitzt, um die Misere seines Landes mit der entsprechenden Erzähllust anzugehen, und sagt: Wenn wir so weitermachen, sind wir, wie die beiden Helden und die Liebe, am Ende alle tot. Nur das Papier wird weiterleben, der Roman." - Sandra Hoffmann, Die Zeit

  • "(H)is best work to date" - Yordan Kosturkov, Context (22)

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Разруха is a novel of Bulgaria's transition from Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact state to democracy -- and specifically the switch from planned to free-market economy. Neither democracy nor capitalism work out very well in the short run; as one character notes, even as everyone was preaching the ideals of a market economy in those first years, the only market was in smuggled goods and illegal trade. (Of course, this isn't a failure of the free market, but rather of both law and enforcement, something Zarev does not focus in on.)
       The title of the novel translates as 'Decay', and that's the state of Bulgaria in this first decade or so after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Zarev presents his novel in long alternating chapters. One set is in the first person, the alcoholic author Marti Sestrimski chronicling his travails -- and his ambitions to write a novel ... titled 'Разруха'. The rest tell the story of Bojan Tilev -- a man about whom one should really write a novel, as Marti observes when they meet.
       Marti was (like Zarev) a successful part of the old Bulgarian literary establishment, but once the Communist state fell apart that support-system for the arts fell apart as well. Marti did have some ideas of how to manage in the new system: he knows books, for example, and so takes advantage of the new conditions to become a publisher, enjoying immense success with a new edition of Kathleen Winsor's Forever Amber, for example, but soon finding the bottom falling out of the publishing market. Much later, in considerable desperation, he falls for a get-rich-quick scheme, selling his country house (for cash -- US currency, of course) to buy what turns out to be a fake piece of jewelry.
       Family life also brings problems with it: Marti's wife is frustrated by his alcoholism, and one of their daughters becomes a drug addict; Marti helps the daughter get cleaned up, but that also drives a wedge between them. There's a fair amount of self-pity here, but Marti doesn't wallow in it too much, aware that it's the entire country that is mired in similar misery.
       Bojan's story is an entirely different one, as he manages to get drawn into the the shadier parts of the economy and proves to be quite adept at navigating these, becoming one of the wealthiest men in Bulgaria. Among the coups he's most proud of is getting a huge bank loan to import some booze which he has no intention of selling: he pockets the money from the loan -- far more than the liquor cost him -- and simply eventually defaults on the loan, sticking the bank with the booze-collateral -- a loss big enough to bring down the bank. Bojan gets a bit too big for his britches however: he owes much of his success to a general, and when the man dies Bojan decides not to honour all his obligations. He winds up getting himself drawn into a drug deal that goes very, very bad: he's set up and taken to the cleaners, losing pretty much everything.
       The two story lines cover most of the ups and downs of Bulgarian life in the first decade or so after the fall of communism, and Zarev paints a pretty broad picture of Bulgarian society. For both main characters and their families the Black Sea resort of Sozopol is a nostalgic destination that is now (largely) just out of reach; it is repeatedly invoked -- the easy (and relatively humble) but now lost comfort of old Bulgaria.
       Разруха is a novel almost entirely of decay, from the sickly people who die to the state of everything from literature to the economy. Even what seem to be successes -- Marti's publishing-success (Forever Amber !), Bojan's (shady) business successes -- ultimately undermine the whole system and nation: they are moves of the 'one-step-forward-two-leaps-back' sort. As to Marti's writing-project -- the 'Decay'-novel he wants to write -- it barely moves along: he comes up with the title early on, but can't get beyond that.
       Zarev writes fairly well, though the novel meanders around a bit and, at nearly 500 pages, does run on. The stories are reasonably compelling, but unevenly paced. Marti's story is essentially realist (and depressingly plausible) and Bojan's somewhat exaggerated, but still within the realm of the believable; as such, Разруха gives a realistic but also somewhat dreary picture of Bulgarian decay. Zarev does strike a decent tone, but he seems always to stop just short of outright satire -- suggesting it, but never quite willing to make the leap.
       Разруха is the kind of novel that's been written many times before, and Zarev's decent writing and the uniquely Bulgarian aspects aren't enough to make it stand out. Perfectly competent, but hardly exceptional.

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Разруха: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Bulgarian author Vladimir Zarev (Владимир Зарев) was born in 1947.

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© 2009 the complete review

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