Bulgarian writer Georgy Gospodínov, winner of the Booker Prize for his novel 'Las tempestálidas' (Fulgencio Pimentel) poses behind one of his signatures at the Madrid Book Fair on June 4, 2023.Moeh Atitar
"That's how Madrid smelled, beer and urine, and it's undeniable that there was joy in that smell." This is how the 55-year-old Bulgarian writer Georgy Gospodinov refers to the Spanish capital in his novel Las tempestálidas (Fulgencio Pimentel). He says that Madrid is a good place to live a second youth. Now the author visits the city in the XXI century to sign his novel, recently awarded with the prestigious International Booker Prize, at the Book Fair. Last Sunday in the Retiro Park, between booths and crowds, it did not smell of piss and beer, but of spring; But there was joy in a morning touched by the sun and literature. Joy, yes, but just right.
Review: 'The Tempestalidas', the dictatorship of the past according to Gospodinov
Curiously, at this time another book fair is held in Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, and there also appeared Gospodínov, with his brand new prize under his arm, signing the novel, with such an influx of public that, according to the translator Maria Vútova, the police had to appear to dissolve the queue when the fair closed its doors and the followers did not cease in their efforts to receive the signature.
Las tempestálidas is a neologism coined by the publishing house, run by César Sánchez, to adapt what in English was titled Time Shelter, something like "temporary refuge" or "chronorefuge". "That sounded like a science fiction novel, and it's not exactly that," the publisher explains. The title in Spanish sounds like a tempest, or a chrysalis: the plot of the novel revolves around a character, Gausín, who creates a kind of clinic for people who lose their memory where different decades of history are reproduced, in different rooms: the sixties, the eighties, etc. "Memory loss is one of the fears that affect me the most, that affect society the most, that's why I write about it. I suppose it is a fear that will increase and will be stronger and stronger in increasingly aging societies, in which we want to be more and more long-lived, "says Gospodínov, sitting in a park of the Retiro. "The price of all this is memory."
Bulgarian writer Georgy Gospodinov poses in the context of the Madrid Book Fair on June 4, 2023.Moeh Atitar
Thus, those affected by forgetfulness, Alzheimer's, dementia, can in the novel live in a comfortable past. The idea is so successful that healthy people also demand those pasts and the thing goes beyond the limits of the clinic and towns, cities and even entire countries are formed that live in another temporary moment. A referendum ends up being held in Europe in which each country has to choose the historical moment in which it wishes to live, which ends up provoking something like a new world conflict. "With the current war in Europe we see that the immune system against barbarism has holes," says the author. "And it can take us to a point similar to World War II, as if Putin had decided to fight in a past decade, that of the forties."
Las tempestálidas is a strange, fragmentary, unstructured, they say weird, novel that revolves around the fear of an abolished future, memory, nostalgia. "My three novels are weird, non-linear, they're not like a train leaving point A and arriving at point B," explains the Bulgarian. "They have a lot of side aisles, and sometimes, the author stops in one of those aisles and starts talking to the reader." With this chaotic structure Gospodinov tries to recreate the non-linear character of thought: the genre of the novel is nowadays a very flexible drawer where to house various types of narrative creations.
The theme of this year's Book Fair is science, so it's a nice coincidence that science continually infiltrates Gospodinov's work. If this novel has to do with time and the neurological, the previous ones are related to physics (Physics of sadness) and natural history (Natural novel, both published by Fulgencio Pimentel). "I have always thought that literature can lend a hand to science," explains the author, who has no problem stopping, putting his hand on his chin, focusing his blue gaze on the park floor and taking a few seconds to think about the answers.
The Great Tragedy of Aging
"The great tragedy is not death, the great tragedy about which nobody writes odes is the aging process," he says, "that's why I have a dialogue with the passage of time: I think that by narrating things we slow it down. Time is distracted if we start telling him something." He is so obsessed with time that at the age of 10 he was writing poems about aging. The elders scolded him: such a small child should not be engaged in such things. "But children are interested in death," he says.
Do social networks help to record each day and thus slow down time? "That's an external memory," the writer thinks, "I think they're part of the road to oblivion." And it evokes the dialogues of Plato (he refers to the Phaedrus), where it is considered that the written verb can harm memory, by encouraging its abandonment. It also recalls an aporia of Zeno: if an arrow is still at every instant during its movement, the movement does not exist. If we wrote down every instant of time, time would stop. Maybe that's why we record every moment in the networks. These are speculations.
Bulgarian writer Georgy Gospodinov poses at the Madrid Book Fair on June 4, 2023.Moeh Atitar
Gospodinov was born in communist Bulgaria and in his book he speaks of a certain nostalgia for communism among young people, who understand it as a lifestyle. "There are certain traffickers who sell a false, fictitious, unelaborated past; They are populist politicians who try to revive a nationalism linked to communism, always intermingled," explains the author. That is why so many countries choose the eighties as a good place to live: in Spain a dictatorship was over, in Bulgaria and the countries of the East, totalitarianism. However, Gospodinov would choose to spend an afternoon in 1968: "It was the year I was born, my parents were young, everyone was young, even Mick Jagger." "But it would be different than expected, because nobody is aware that they live a historical moment until time has passed," he adds. In the book appears a character who would like to be 12 years old in each of the decades.
The extremes of Europe
To understand what unites Bulgaria and Spain, two countries at opposite ends of Europe, could be to understand the essence, what makes us European. The writer sees precisely similarities in that dictatorial past and the subsequent opening. "I think that both in Bulgaria and in Spain there is accumulated sadness, in Bulgaria it has not been narrated, and that is dangerous," says the author. There is a difference between the two countries: in theirs there is a greater yearning for Europe, previously inaccessible, behind the Iron Curtain. Gospodinov's parents could not travel to London, to Paris, to Madrid. It is curious: in the novel he talks about the acceptance that the films of the Spanish "uncovering" had in his country, as a form of erotic recreation that crossed the entire continent.
"Nondescript times are easier to inhabit," the novel reads. Gospodinov speaks of futurophobia, of that abolished future so typical of this era in which the catalog of ends of the world is diverse and we seem to hit a wall. Try to analyze the reasons why the past floods us like a flood so easily, why nostalgia overwhelms us. "That has to do with the deficit of the future," he explains. He used to say that the future was cancelled, but a mother of a small child begged him to please leave some room for hope. So since then he prefers to talk about a postponed future. "Like flights at airports," he explains. Is it possible to live without an idea of an assured future? "That's the big question," he adds, "I think it's very difficult. In reality, the future is not a place, we will never live in the future, it will always be beyond. But you need to have that perspective."
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