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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Bulgarian Truck

Dumitru Tsepeneag

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To purchase The Bulgarian Truck

Title: The Bulgarian Truck
Author: Dumitru Tsepeneag
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 159 pages
Original in: Romanian
Availability: The Bulgarian Truck - US
The Bulgarian Truck - UK
The Bulgarian Truck - Canada
Le camion bulgare - France
  • Building Site Beneath the Open Sky
  • Romanian title: Camionul bulgar. Șantier sub cerul liber
  • Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth

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Our Assessment:

B : enjoyable, playful take on writing

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Irish Times . 2/4/2016 Eileen Battersby

  From the Reviews:
  • "There are abundant tricks, semi-plots, tonal shifts, clues, references to age and, as expected, generous echoes of Tsepeneag’s previous work, all brilliantly translated by the Romanian-based Briton Alistair Ian Blyth, who conveys the humour and light-heartedly serious intent and, above all, the bold authorial confidence. (...) As a feat of literary choreography, The Bulgarian Truck will entertain on several levels. Aside from the technical ease, there is the humour. It is very funny and visual (.....) Yet, miles of pleasure aside, this is no simplistic comedy. It is an exciting masterclass in the art of juggling story in tandem with characters, impulse, subtle pathos and literary theory." - Eileen Battersby, Irish Times

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:

       In The Bulgarian Truck the narrator-author chronicles his efforts to write 'The Belgian Truck', as well his long-distance communications with his wife, Marianne -- she's in New York, having: "left three months ago to take a course of medical treatment not available anywhere else" --, his relationship with Slovak author Milena, and fragments from the work-in-progress along the way.
       He's a bit uncertain about all of these; as he writes to Marianne:

In fact, it's not even a question of a novel. Which is to say, what I'm writing can't be called a novel ... But what then ? I've no idea ...
       Indeed, ambitiously he doesn't even want to call it a novel. In a telephone conversation with Marianne he explains:
- I thought you said it was called The Bulgarian Truck ?
- Yes ... The Bulgarian Truck, and underneath, instead of 'a novel,' Building Site ...
- Beneath the Open Sky ?
- Well, yes ...
- It's silly !
- You think ?
- It's ridiculous !
       The title and idea are inspired both by the 1977 Marguerite Duras film, Le camion ('The Lorry', starring Duras and Gérard Depardieu), as well as the "anti-European bogeyman" imagined by Philippe de Villiers (the next step after the 'Polish plumbers' that were going to take over), those hordes of low-wage Bulgarian truck drivers who were going to roll over their French counterparts.
       A Romanian in Paris, the narrator remains somewhat of an outsider in the French literary scene. Worse yet, his -- Tsepeneag's actual -- translator (into French) gets ill and dies -- the loss of a cultural conduit (though Tsepeneag has also written several books directly in French). (Translators figure prominently here, as Marianne runs into one of Tsepeneag's English translators in New York, too.) Among the other vague presences: Tsepeneag's alter ego Ed Pastenague -- the pseudonym under which he published, for example, Pigeon Post, though as the narrator admits: "My publisher can't stand him. [...] Lately he has stubbornly refused to let his name appear on the cover of any book".
       Life and art overlap for the narrator: "If we think of our relationship as a kind of novel (in progress ...)", he suggests, because he can't see (or live) it any differently. There are conversations, but much of his communication is written, as The Bulgarian Truck is this 'building site' of texts and reflection.
       Communication via e-mail -- indeed the entire, relatively new world of word-processing -- unsettles him, because of the instant and infinite possibility of revision and correction:
In the old days a letter laid down a certain amount of responsibility, and not just stylistically: you wrote it by hand, you thought a little about every sentence beforehand, in order not to be forced to start another letter, to cross out what you'd written and write it all over again, or even to tear up the pages and throw it in the bin. The ordinateur, precisely because it allows you to make corrections with ease, prevents you from thinking seriously, it pushes you into a kind disresponisibilisation
       The complaint extends to fiction-writing, as he (entertainingly) disparages the current French literary situation -- well aware, however, of his own fringe position as well.
       The metafictional and surreal are at play here too. The novel is an extension of previous work, in which, for example, Marianne has also figured; meanwhile, her condition is not your usual medical ailment but rather something of a different order, as she has found herself shrinking and then growing out of all proportion -- significant "alterations of height", as the narrator puts it. Of course, regarding this unlikely condition:
even some trickery on our part couldn't be ruled out, or rather on my part, because I ... you know what I mean ....
       Indeed: "Readers (like the doctors ?) probably thought it was a metaphor".
       Tsepeneag amusingly juggles and interweaves these various narrative threads -- his struggles with and in his relationships, with his novel, with his marginal status, as well as that of the novel-in-progress, which continues, in fits and spurts, with a momentum all its own, too. It's not quite your usual writing-a-novel story; it's also very personal, both in its references to Tsepeneag's previous work (as this is yet another part of a larger whole), as well as to real people (such as his translators) -- and semi-fictional ones, such as his other identity as Ed Pastenague. The insider-aspect (and jokes) -- especially regarding person and work -- may be somewhat frustrating for readers, but there's enough to the whole concept and novel that it can be enjoyed largely regardless of familiarity with these. Translator Alistair Ian Blyth's Preface is also a helpful introduction and guide to some of what Tsepeneag does.
       The narrator does note -- and warn -- right at the outset:
Structure is what interests me most in a novel, but apart from that, to be honest, I don't care about telling a story, even a very interesting, enthralling, sensational story. That kind of thing leaves me cold ...
       For all that, The Bulgarian Truck is more than just a 'building site' -- it does tell proper stories, and Tsepeneag shows impressive command and control in how he holds and twists them together. All in all, it's a fine and often provocative entertainment.

- M.A.Orthofer, 13 May 2016

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The Bulgarian Truck: Reviews: Other books by Dumitru Tsepeneag under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Romanian author Dumitru Tsepeneag (Țepeneag) was born in 1937. He emigrated to France in 1971, and now divides his time between Paris and Bucharest.

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