I bought this book during my February trip to Daunt Books, where I was completely enchanted by the way the books are organized, by country rather than by genre or author. As I never read anything by a Bulgarian author I decided to close this gap and Kassabova’s book was a good start I must admit.
Kapka Kassabova grew up in the 1980’s communistic Bulgaria, she is around ten years older than me, so had a chance to form conscious memories from that time (I only remember that Aero chocolate was a luxury that could only be bought in special shops and had to be paid for with foreign currency). Her family left Bulgaria when she was 17 and the book, published in 2008, just after Bulgaria joined the EU, is a description of her life during communism, but also her travels around Bulgaria as a grown up, years after she left the country. The first part of the book focuses on her childhood and it is hilarious, full of the every-day absurdities of life in a communistic state, it is extremely funny, but it also is tragic. The second part of the book focuses a lot more on the present, Kassabova describes her travels around capitalistic, democratic Bulgaria and again we see that even as the situation changed, some of the absurd remained and the rest just simply got replaced by another type of absurdity. Kassabova’s style is light and full of humour, but she does not shy away from touching on difficult topics, she manages to describe the unbelievable and often cruel change that happened in post-communist countries within 30 years. A process that is by no means finished, but also when we think how quickly it happened it is impressive.
I laughed out loud reading this book (it is difficult not to if in the first few pages we learn that the airport in Sofia is called Vrajdebna, which means ‘hostile’), I recognized many things and experiences shared across the region, I learned a lot about Bulgaria and also was moved when she was writing about coming back to a country that one has left. Her thoughts on being an expat really resonated with me, confirmed that all expats feel a bit lost, a bit neither here nor there. It was a really good book and I also do appreciate the fact that she managed to describe every day life in communism in a realistic way, but also in a way that, I hope, will help readers from other countries to try to imagine and understand what it was. For example to understand how could it be possible to have entire housing estates where streets had no names.
A really good book, it will entertain you, but also teach you new things and make you think.