"Late Death" by Ivan Stankov

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"Late Death" by Ivan Stankov
"Late Death" by Ivan Stankov

About the book

The main characters in this book are two men and one woman.

They are unconnected lonely vertices of a love triangle.

They live unbearably long, to this day.

Otherwise they are peers of the new Bulgarian state.

They make their way through wars, rebellions, coups.

But History is just decoration.

Like most books in the world, this one tells about love and death.

Heroes must withstand both.

In both life and the book, early death is repulsive.

The late one is attractive.

But does anyone ever leave on time?


Writing is a rescue mission that begins before there is any more to rescue. In this way, the writer also saves himself.

Interview with Ivan Stankov

Ivan Stankov is a writer and translator. Professor of Bulgarian literature at Veliko Tarnovo University. Born in 1956 in Gomotartsi village, Vidin district. Graduated from Bulgarian philology in 1982. Author of monographic studies on the works of Asen Raztsvetnikov, Yordan Yovkov, Dimitar Talev, Vasil Popov, Boris Hristov, etc.

Translator from Romanian by Mircea Cartarescu, Dan Lungu, etc.

Author of the books "Memories of Water. Dm" (2014), "Streets and ships. Gm" (2017), "Names under the snow. A7" (2019) and "Evening Wedding" (2020).

Recipient of the National Literary Award "Elias Canetti", the literary awards of Portal "Kultura", "Stoyan Mihailovski" and "Helikon".

Mr. Stankov, you are the author of four very successful collections of short stories, and in a few days your first novel will be published - "Late Death". Why did you decide to change genre?

I didn't change it. The book changed him. The publishing house also supported the change. In the deposited manuscript of the book, there was no genre specification after the title. The publishers convinced me there was. And write "novel" there. That still doesn't make me a novelist.

It's always slippery in genre territory. Like metals in nature, they are increasingly rare in their pure form. I feel comfortable in that inter-genre liminal zone where nothing is certain. In the Bulgarian tradition, from Yordan Yovkov through Vasil Popov and Yordan Radichkov to G. Gospodinov, many people have successfully resided in these no man's lands.

For me, it is far more important that an author has not his own genre, but his own world, and that this world is recognizable in all his books, no matter how different they are from each other. It doesn't matter if you read Boris Hristov's poetry or prose, you will be in the same place.

My first short story books always wanted to be something more, and I think they really were. They were actually pushing themselves to be novels, they wanted to go to the heavier category and I was barely holding their reins, convincing them to leave me alone. Don't you see, I was telling them that I don't have a novel mindset, that this job requires special things that I don't have.

Consciously or wrongly, these books of mine were also called novels. And by writers and university people who rarely make mistakes unconsciously.

My new book asked at its conception to be a novel. We barely agreed. We both smelled so there was no crying and gnashing of teeth while writing. And yet it was not quite hers! Two parallel three-person novel lines are implanted in the body of Late Death. Their threads twist around each other, almost without touching. At the same time, each chapter is formed as independent and in some sense complete. It's like a novel made of stories with the same characters. In any case, A Late Death is pretty close to the novel, even in my eyes. And whether it is really a novel, the readers will decide for themselves, if that interests them at all.

In “Memories of Water. Dm", "Streets and ships. Gm" and "Names under the snow. A7" write about your present. "Evening Wedding" takes us back 100 years in time. Where will you take us with Late Death?

"Late Death" spans from the Stambolov era to the present day. With a non-linear chronology. With flashbacks and introspections. Non-rhythmic. Sometimes slowed down, other times choppy. In both reality and the book, some days roar and swirl like cyclones, and then the entire next decade barely drags under the sun.

During the long time of almost a century and a half of the book, the world and life change a lot. Only man stands somehow outside of time and wants to show us that since the expulsion from paradise, nothing in him has moved and he remains the same complex equation with a thousand unknowns.

The time in the book is neither uniform nor authentic enough from the point of view of History. Figures of real historical figures pass around the love triangle of the main characters, most of them only crossed out. Some are well-known political figures, high-ranking officers, famous writers. But they are all just decorative shadows. The book really has a light historical aura, because through its characters it must necessarily tell their time. But Late Death is by no means a historical novel.

What is the place of the eternal themes of love and death in the overall design of the book?

Under the glass cover of love and death, you can put all kinds of people and events - real, credible, imagined. Probably the whole of humanity lives precisely under this cover, and that is why literature is so fond of both themes. By the way, are there others? I don't remember. Of love and of death man himself is made.

In the title of the book, death is called late because the characters live too long. Their small lives seep through the great historical events as if through something distant that barely touches them. Because the motive, the deep motive of their life is love. Inscrutable, invincible, in all forms. Sometimes angelic, other times painful. Not always righteous, often wrong, sometimes perverse. So - human. And at the end of love and at the end of man is always death? The book answers this question: choose, reader!

In the novel you write: And the last person, the most fallen, and he is a good news, a gospel. Therefore we must read it with faith. How strong is your faith in man?

Both the most beautiful and the most terrible things in this world are made by man and for man. There is no other center. Neither the world nor life has any choice but to be anthropocentric. Man is the nut of the walnut. It is not only a center, but also a meaning in itself. If the whole of humanity could gather bent over a mother who has just given birth, then we would see seven billion people smiling at once! If we gather these same people over the notebook with the first six of a kid or at the first pure love kiss of two young people - the number of smiles will still be the same. He who loves flowers or animals, or water, or the air, or the handle of his knife, will invariably one day realize that he also loves man. Because he has truly been the good news of this world since his creation!

And what is the point of even the most beautiful seaside rock if it has never been and will never be seen by man? Man is not only meaning in himself, he gives meaning to everything else.

And last but not least - man is the image and likeness of God. And even if he stumbles through the labyrinths of temptations, through the swamps of hatred and through the abysses of crime - even then he is given a chance, as happened to the robber Barabbas.

Whatever the writer sits down to write, from a quatrain to a novel, he will do it to save someone. Writing is a rescue mission that begins before there is anything else to rescue. In this way, the writer also saves himself.

In "Noah's Ark" Radichkov addresses death with "our benefactor".

And here the three main characters – a provincial teacher, an officer and a socialite – find peace only at the end. Although they suspected all along that they were living in a book written by someone else. One reconciles, the other rebels, the third outright fights for the copyright over his life. Their late death soothes and shelters them like a benefactor.

Whatever we want to be - modernists, postmodernists or supermodernists and ultra-avant-gardes, far from the manifestos, and sometimes contrary to the intentions of the authors themselves, literature will always continue to educate. Even when she tells about villains, she inevitably works for charity. Because at the bottom of our being lies the mustard seed of faith. It is wrapped in the thin veil of the primal human fear that the account of our life is being written by someone outside of us, and that one day that account will be unbearably complete, without a second missed. That's what it says in the books, that's what it says in the Book! One does not always take into account the berry and the fear. But they are there, at our bottom. And literature constantly reminds us of it. She hopes, poor thing, that she has made us a little better than we can be.

You tell about a long and complex period, build multi-layered images, touch on important life topics and all this in just 240 pages. How did you manage to say so much with so few words?

Whether the words are many or few - it doesn't really matter. The important thing is that there are no excesses. You can't take a single word out of good books or add to them. Not the quantity, but the measure, stands on the plate of the reader's scales. From Thomas Mann we cannot ask for few words, because his thought is epic. Also, we cannot expect many words from Khalil Jubran, because he is at the other end of the section.

I don't know what kind of writer I am. I don't even know if I'm really a writer yet because I'm still alive. But I am a writer, and so I confess here that I am merciless with what I write. I long ago lost all pity for the scribbled out, for the discarded words, paragraphs and pages. I have no writing notebooks, every next page for me is the Arctic - untamed and ferocious. And I have to turn her into an igloo. I have seen European writers who write by hand without a single correction on the pages. As a maker of words, I am rather like the sculptors-what awe I feel when I think of how much excess of the marble cube Michelangelo threw away until the Pietà was produced.

And to be honest, since I have to read a lot (after all, I teach literature), the large volume of the book fills me with suspicions. Not always justified, of course. But I notice that sometimes the publishers increase the volumes with technical tricks. So the modern person who reads less probably cures the small number with the large volume, I don't know.

But both among the voluminous and undersized books there are large books. I have passed out with admiration for both Kafka and Proust. So not the volume, but the measure is the criterion. I should be very pleased if the distant, anonymous readers, who are actually the most important readers of any book, are left with the impression that I have said a lot in a few words. Now that my book is on its way to them, that's exactly what I'm wishing for!

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