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Thursday, September 24, 2015

****The Physics of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov )

  • Open Letter Book
  • Originally published in 2011; first published in English in 2015
  • Translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel 
  • Contemporary Literature 
  • Author was born in Bulgaria in 1968. He is a poet, playwright and writer.
In Physics of Sorrow, Gospodinov offers his reader an asymmetrical quasi-autobiography as he describes life in communist and post communist Bulgaria. He combines varying levels of humor, irony and sorrow as he describes his experiences and thoughts. Gospodinov uses a contemporary and complex literary language, identifying himself with the mythical Minotaur trapped in the labyrinth. Sometimes I was happily lost within Gospodinov's narrative and other times I felt frustrated by his seemingly random thoughts that I knew were anything but random - they were just part of the labyrinth. Whether I was spellbound or distracted,  I knew I was reading one man's brilliance, such was the quality, complexity and intricacy of the author's narrative.

After taking some time away from this novel, I returned to it for a partial rereading.   I could no longer find what had originally caused my frustration. I realized I needed time to process what I had already read in order to think more about what Gospodinov was saying and why.  Only then was I able to appreciate how his deconstructionist style complemented his purpose and found myself increasingly excited as my understanding of his writing deepened.

I find that whenever I am frustrated by an author's narrative, if I take the time to pull away and process what I have read and revisit the writing, as I did with Physics of Sorrow,  I am able to come out of the process with a clarified and heightened reading experience and a better understanding of the author's process and intention.

Notes on Themes & Motifs

  • Wrote this book, in part, in response to a published article which claimed that Bulgaria was the saddest place in the world.
  • We am. Emotionally connected to his grandfather and father. Shares stories as if he was both his Grandfather and himself, interconnected as one. 
  • Tells stories of his individual experiences growing up in Bulgaria and a collection of memories as lived by his nation.
  • Through these stories Gospodinov  attempts to give meaning to what feels like an otherwise meaningless world.
Primary themes: sorrow and empathy; repression and expression, formation of a collective memory; preserving human experiences. 

  • from Greek mythology 
  • creature with a body of a man and the head and tail of a bull
  • born out of revenge
  • food = humans
  • Theseus was given a golden thread by his lover Ariadne, Minos daughter, so he could find his way out of the labyrinth after slaying the minotaur. Subsequently, enroute home and after Ariadne was left on an island resulting in Theseus distraction, Theseus forgot to put up the white flag for his father, Aegeus, to indicate he was alive after his venture. In response, Aegeus killed himself by throwing himself into the sea, now named after him -  the Aegean Sea. 
  • author identifies with the mythical Minotaur, trapped in his labyrinth.
  • Author's daughter, Aya, is in effect his thread that keeps him from the overbearing sorrow that he began to experience in his adult years. She fills him with pure joy. She is light, the future and hope. 
  • in myth: the minotaur lived in a labyrinth
  • as symbol of the the center of oneself
    •  the depths of the unconscious 
    • a journey through the mind, with detours, loss of direction, redirection
      • undergoes a transformation, searching until one attains a state of grace or enlightenment
        • a victory, from darkness to light
        • author describes his novel as a literary labyrinth
    • Since I (author) am here in his memory (grandfather's)...I am already inside the labyrinth. (p.13)
  •  stories as labyrinth: author's pathological empathetic-somatic syndrome: the corridors toward others and their stories. The author lives out everyone else's story as his own (p. 119)
    • I cannot offer a linear story, because no labyrinth and no story is ever linear.
    • Author takes the reader through his labyrinth of a novel. You travel down one corridor (a story) which twists and turns leading to a different corridor (another thought or story).  He gets lost, bounds forwards and backwards, twists around, bends and heads in yet another direction. The novel continues this way throughout the course of this, ultimately, collective story. The author retells life as we truly live it - without structure and with other experiences occurring in between forming new and varied stories.
  • relates to self knowledge
  • in Islam, a secret chamber where one symbolically withdraws to unite himself with God; where divine knowledge is stored
Repression - Once freed of communism,  Bulgarians were free to tell their stories. Gospodinov wants to preserve these stories through his writing.

Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny - How the Bulgarians came to their history, their evolution and development; how the history of their people continually recapitulates -repeats - itself.

  • p. 3.    There is only childhood and death and nothing in between. ..- Gaustine
  • P. 3.     The world is no longer magical.  You have been abandoned. ...- Borger
  • p. 3.     Only the fleeting and ephemeral areworth  recording. ...Gaustine
  • p. 49   "I dreamed that I was awake." 
  • p. 51   "Words are our first teachers in death."
  • p. 51   "Death is a good gardener..." 
  • p. 53   "There's no God in Bulgaria, Grandma..."
  • p. 56   "I am books." Perhaps my favorite quote. 
  • p. 61  "It is clear that time always devours his children."
  • p. 85   This narrative brought back many memories having practiced duck and cover in the classroom during my elementary years.. Having grown up during the Cold War, I reminisced with a mixture of humor and sadness. Humor because it was ridiculous to think anyone could survive the atomic bomb hiding under ones desk, and sadness because it was ridiculous to think anyone could survive the atomic bomb hiding under ones desk. The Cold War lasted way too long; a whole generation was raised in perpetual fear all across the world.
    • "While I was putting on my gas-mask during our military training drills in school - which took me a whole seventeen seconds - the major kept shouting: 'That's it! You're dead...' And he shoved the stopwatch in my face.  It is not easy living thirty years after your death. "
  • p. 102.  "In December, 1981, we heard about AIDS for the first time. Which,  in 1981, officially put an end to the 60's revolution.  All sexual revolutions were called off for health reasons. "
  • p. 166.  " What a huge part of evolution remains locked up in the fish's silence,  what knowledge have fish accumulated over all those millennia before us! The deep,  cold storehouses of that silence.  Untouched by language. Because language channels and drains deposits of knowledge like a drill. "
        "And so,  the only storytelling creature,  man,my shuts up and steps back,
         yielding the floor to the organic and inorganic ones that have stored up
         silences until now. "
  •  p.184 "....he was an abandoned soul...never go into an abandoned house or visit an abandoned person, there are only owls and snakes there..."
  • p. 251 The grammar of aging: 
    • "There is some sort of grammar of aging.
      • Childhood and youth are full of verbs. You can't sit still...
      • Later the verbs are gradually replaced by the nouns of middle age. Kids, cars, work, family...
      • Growing old is an adjective. We enter into the adjectives of old age - slow, boundless, hazy, cold, or transparent like glass.
  • p. 257 "In the end, old age has made everyone equal."

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