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Authors: Translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel Georgi Gospodinov

The Physics of Sorrow

BOOK: The Physics of Sorrow
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PRAISE FOR

GEORGI GOSPODINOV

“Gospodinov’s first novel blends the personal and the philosophical. . . . The resulting mixture is both earthy and intellectual.”


Guardian

“With
The Physics of Sorrow
Gospodinov launches . . . himself into the premier league of European authors. . . . [Gospodinov] rises above the lowlands of novelistic commercialism and convention, saving not only himself, but literature as well—and with it, the entire world.”


New Journal of Zurich

“Georgi Gospodinov wants to blow your mind. . . . The formal playfulness suggests Kundera with A.D.D.”


Village Voice

“This book is madness. It is extraordinary and restless, reflective, terribly funny, jarring, as philosophical as it is poetic, microscopic and grandiose. In short: fantastic.”


Berliner Zeitung

“Gospodinov’s novel, with its metafictional games, playful narrative fragmentation, and obligatory epigraph from Foucault, belongs more to the cosmopolitan postmodern aesthetic of Italo Calvino than its native locale.”


Believer

ALSO BY

GEORGI GOSPODINOV

And Other Stories

Natural Novel

Copyright © 2011 by Georgi Gospodinov

Translation copyright © 2015 by Angela Rodel

First published in Bulgaria as
Fizika na tagata
by Janet 45 Publishing

First edition, 2015

All rights reserved

Lines from
Works and Days
by Hesiod on p. 145 translated by Daryl Hine, University of Chicago Press.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data: Available upon request.

ISBN 978-1-940953-10-6

This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Additionally, Angela Rodel’s translation was supported by a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Translation Fellowship.

Design by N. J. Furl

Open Letter is the University of Rochester’s nonprofit, literary translation press: Lattimore Hall 411, Box 270082, Rochester, NY 14627

www.openletterbooks.org

CONTENTS

    
E
PIGRAPHY

    
P
ROLOGUE

I.
T
HE
B
READ OF
S
ORROW

II.
A
GAINST AN
A
BANDONMENT
: T
HE
C
ASE OF
M.

III.
T
HE
Y
ELLOW
H
OUSE

IV.
T
IME
B
OMB
(
TO BE OPENED AFTER THE END OF THE WORLD
)

V.
T
HE
G
REEN
B
OX

VI.
T
HE
S
TORY
B
UYER

VII.
G
LOBAL
A
UTUMN

VIII.
A
N
E
LEMENTARY
P
HYSICS OF
S
ORROW

IX.
E
NDINGS

     
E
PILOGUE

EPIGRAPHY

                
O mytho é o nada que é tudo
.
1


F. Pessoa,
Mensagem

                
There is only childhood and death. And nothing in between
. . .

—Gaustine,
Selected Autobiographies

                
The world is no longer magical. You have been abandoned
.


Borges,
1964

                
. . .
And I enter the fields and spacious halls of memory, where are stored as treasures the countless images
. . .


Saint Augustine,
Confessions, Book X

                
Only the fleeting and ephemeral are worth recording
.


Gaustine,
The Forsaken Ones

                
I feel a longing to fly, to swim, to bark, to bellow, to howl. I would like to have wings, a tortoise-shell, a rind, to blow out smoke, to wear a trunk, to twist my body, to spread myself everywhere, to be in everything, to emanate with odors, to grow like plants, to flow like water . . .
to penetrate every atom, to descend to the very depths of matter—to be matter
.

—Gustave Flaubert,
The Temptation of St. Anthony

                      
. . .
mixing

                
memory and desire
. . .


T. S. Eliot,
The Waste Land

                
Purebred genres don’t interest me much. The novel is no Aryan
.


Gaustine,
Novel and Nothingness

                
If the reader prefers, this book may be taken as fiction
. . .


Ernest Hemingway,
A Moveable Feast

             

                
1
   
Myth is the nothing that is everything.

PROLOGUE

I was born at the end of August 1913 as a human being of the male sex. I don’t know the exact date. They waited a few days to see whether I would survive and then put me down in the registry. That’s what they did with everyone. Summer work was winding down, they still had to harvest this and that from the fields, the cow had calved, they were fussing over her. The Great War was about to start. I sweated through it right alongside all the other childhood illnesses, chicken pox, measles, and so on.

I was born two hours before dawn like a fruit fly. I’ll die this evening after sundown.

I was born on January 1, 1968, as a human being of the male sex. I remember all of 1968 in detail from beginning to end. I don’t remember anything of the year we’re in now. I don’t even know its number.

I have always been born. I still remember the beginning of the Ice Age and the end of the Cold War. The sight of the dying dinosaurs (in both epochs) is one of the most unbearable things I have seen.

I haven’t been born yet. I am forthcoming. I am minus seven months old. I don’t know how to count that negative time in the womb. I
am as big as an olive, weighing a gram and a half. They still don’t know my sex. My tail is gradually retracting. The animal in me is taking leave, waving at me with its vanishing tail. Looks like I’ve been chosen for a human being. It’s dark and cozy here, I’m tied to something that moves.

I was born on September 6, 1944, as a human being of the male sex. Wartime. A week later my father left for the front. My mother’s milk dried up. A childless auntie wanted to take me in and raise me, but they wouldn’t give me up. I cried whole nights from hunger. They gave me bread dipped in wine as a pacifier.

I remember being born as a rose bush, a partridge, as ginkgo biloba, a snail, a cloud in June (that memory is brief), a purple autumnal crocus near Halensee, an early-blooming cherry frozen by a late April snow, as snow freezing a hoodwinked cherry tree . . .

We am.

I.

THE BREAD OF SORROW

T
HE
S
ORCERER

And then a sorcerer grabbed the cap off my head, stuck his finger straight through it and made a hole about yea big. I started bawling, how could I go home with my cap torn like that? He laughed, blew on it, and marvel of marvels, it was good as new. Now that’s one mighty powerful sorcerer.

Come on, Grandpa, that was a magician, I hear myself say.

Back then they were sorcerers, my grandfather says, later they became magicians.

But I’m already there, twelve years old, the year must be 1925. There’s the fiver I’m clutching in my hand, sweaty, I can feel its edge. For the first time I’m alone at the fair and with money to boot.

BOOK: The Physics of Sorrow
11.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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