Stories from Nebesna hamlet

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Stories from Nebesna hamlet
Stories from Nebesna hamlet

An original look at the worldview and rituals of the Bulgarians by the best-selling contemporary Bulgarian writer.

"Grandma, tell me a memory" is another inspiring work of Ivinela Samuilova from the heart.

Deeply attached to the Bulgarian folklore tradition, the author offers an original look at the worldview and rituals of the old Bulgarians.

The stories from the Nebesna neighborhood open the door to another world where the demons of modern times do not thrive.

Behind the duvars of the Balkans, grandmother's nines turn out to be magical sanity.

Legends take on flesh and blood. History comes alive. The aromas are enchanting. The simple things of everyday life are filled with meaning.

In her typical style, with a lot of humor, Ivinela Samuilova offers us a touching reading that ignites love for our homeland and restores our self-esteem as Bulgarians.

About the book

In connection with the implementation of a project related to folklore, the main character of the novel finds herself in a small hamlet in the Balkans. There he meets grandmother Ziva and their relationship becomes close, like between a grandmother and a granddaughter. Baba Ziva is not very "learned", but she has unadulterated wisdom. Her views, stories and memories of the past reveal a different world in which people hide folk traditions and customs and preserve the Bulgarian spirit.


The young woman becomes a part of the local company: the clumsy old man Grandfather Petko, the "voice of conscience" and a pillar of the past Grandfather Jordan, the dirty-mouthed grandmother Neda, the extraordinary nun - Sister Seraphim, and the English couple Mark and Lisa.

With each subsequent visit "to grandma", the educated citizen realizes that she does not want to be just an observer, but to participate in this life. To touch the magic of old customs and symbols. To feel the pulse of his uneven rhythms and his wonderful songs. To preserve its history and legends. To rediscover its tastes and smells. In the spirit of the old Bulgarian tradition, the heroine will rethink her attitude to home and family, to land and faith, to life and death.

About the Author

In recent years, Ivinela Samuilova's works have become one of the most sought after in her home market. Her books have been awarded the most important of all awards – the love and recognition of readers. Thanks to them, her novels "Life Can Be a Miracle" and "Where Are You Going, Traveler?" won first and second place in the national competition "The Book That Inspires Me". The novel "The Woman Who Searched for Love" was awarded the prize "Bearer" of universal love" in the contest "Longing for human books"."Riddles from the Sky" took fourth place in the literary competition "Bulgaria's Favorite Book" for 2015

Readers themselves define Ivinella's books as fascinating, life-affirming, awakening, transforming… Probably because the author believes that people don't need teachings, but inspiration for life.

Bulgaria is the fabric of my body and soul

(interview with Ivinela Samuilova)

Ivinela, in your books you started from the miracle of life, went through love and reached God. But now you surprise us with a very Bulgarian book. Why did you put Bulgaria at the top of your creative message?

There are two things I am extremely grateful for that happened to me without my credit. One is that I am an Orthodox Christian, and the other is that I am Bulgarian. And for me, the first is somehow conditioned by the second. Bulgaria is the fabric of my body and soul.

How did the idea for this book come about?

The idea is already quite a few years old. In fact, this has been my idea for a book ever since I was only dreaming of writing. I was thinking of telling the memories of my grandmother Ivanka, after whom I am named. An amazing woman, with a life truly worthy of a novel. "Grandma, tell me a memory" are actually the words I used to say to her in the dark in the evening as a child. I didn't want fairy tales - I wanted to listen to her memories of "once upon a time". They were so exciting, real, colorful… Unfortunately, I didn't record anything and I have almost forgotten everything. However, the feeling remained very vivid in me. It guided me as I wrote this book. And I think that the moment in which she appears is the most appropriate. Because, on the one hand, I had to "grow up" for this book, and because, it seems to me, it is in tune with a universal resistance against anti-national trends in local and international politics, which in turn creates a longing for the native, a desire to return to the roots, to Bulgarian.

The characters in "Grandma, tell me a memory" are extremely colorful, and the story is very authentic. It's hard to believe that your characters really don't have a real prototype, and you've never lived in a village yourself?

That's right, I've never lived in a village, but I've always dreamed of it… My parents still laugh at me for crying when I was little to buy me a village. Perhaps that is why, at every opportunity to touch this way of life, I have absorbed and continue to absorb everything with a special sensitivity and awareness. I notice everything! Everything makes an impression on me - how people speak and what they say, their way of life and spirit, their language, the smell of old houses, the tastes and aromas of the village… And my characters, although they really don't have real prototypes, are not entirely fictional. Touches of the images of various living people are woven into them, many of our grandparents, with whom I have met and talked during my constant tours through the villages of Bulgaria. And I am very glad that the first reviews of the book confirm its credibility and authentic sound.

This is your first novel in which you speak in the first person. Why did you choose this form?

Because this book is extremely dear to me in a very personal way, and I wanted my readers to read it with the same feeling - experiencing it as personally as possible, identifying as fully as possible with the narrator. Because this is a story about each one of us - about the most intimate, the best, the most valuable, the most imperishable, the most valuable that everyone who had the privilege of being born on this sacred Bulgarian land, with its unique culture and spirituality, carries in his genes.

What is the most interesting thing about Bulgarian traditional culture that you learned while collecting information for this book? Is there anything that surprised you?

Whatever we touch in Bulgarian traditional culture is amazing, and the depth is amazing. As I researched various sources - whether it was ethnographic sources or living accounts of people - I was struck by this understanding, feeling and experience of life as magic, as full-blooded and complete living in a depth unattainable today. All ritual, from the daily rituals of being to the holidays, is aimed at expressing the joy of being alive. The life of Bulgarians is a blessing and gratitude for the miracle of existence, participation in the magic of this wonderful and good world, and this is reflected in all aspects of his life - in the way he built his home, in the symbols on his clothes, in the rituals for the most important events such as birth, wedding and death, in all festive rites, in his attitude to the earth, in his union with nature, in his songs and people… All reality for a Bulgarian is a sacred space in which man is a co-creator of God, imbued with the joyous feeling of life as a festive event. It was amazing to me to learn that in our embroidery and carpets, as well as in the martenitsa, there are symbols of seven millennia before Christ, conveying a message about the relationship between man and God. A connection that today is vital to rekindle in order to restore the lost harmony between earthly life and the divine. Each person is responsible for the well-being of the whole world. No one saves only himself, but drawing closer to God, drags up the whole universe as well. And this, while a worldview of seven millennia, sounds much more Christian than many popish philosophies you will hear today. I claim it as a theologian.

This is very interesting – a theologian writing about folklore. Aren't Christianity and the "grandmother's nines" contradictory?

Christianity today is full of its own "grandmother nines". Folklore, of course, is also full of them. Man is a master of creating them - of turning faith into superstition and religion into religiosity. However, I have tried to escape from this by extracting from the old worldview what is also essential for Christianity - the living relationship with God. Christianity stepped on the knowledge of God, the thought of God and the experience of God that the ancient people already had. That they knew God as "Gentiles" is less scary than the situation today. If Christ had come today, there would be nothing to "step on." Because today's world is an apostate and a God-hater. Fundamental to Christianity is the belief in eternity, which is already a reality for those who love God during their lifetime. For the Thracians, whose culture we have inherited, eternity is also an undeniable reality. I had read somewhere that they had no word for death. I have not checked whether it is true - the Thracian tombs show that they had funerary customs. But from what I have touched, I get the impression that they celebrated death as a transition to eternal life with God. It is the same in Christianity. Therefore, from Christianity back as far as it can be traced - and that is several millennia - we see that the culture of our lands has been a culture of life. Having rejected God, today's culture is a culture of death. Our ancestors celebrated the joy of life that is eternal. People today are paralyzed by the fear that they will die, and that's the end of it for them. You can't live like that, let alone live happily.

Is there an opposition between the city and the village in your book, or is it something else?

I do not oppose the city and the village, but two worldviews - today's profane, infinitely complicated by all kinds of theories about life, addicted to false ideals and seduced by the ancient devilish lies of success, money and fame, and the former, characterized by the pursuit of holiness, free and simple because he recognized the truth. However, there is resentment towards the way in which the Bulgarian village was destroyed and continues to be destroyed. The modern urban lifestyle with its cosmopolitan attitudes is the antithesis of traditional culture. Tradition means something that is of utmost importance for the preservation of a nation, to continue to be passed down between generations in order to preserve the nation. Above all, her moral values, experience and spiritual culture. For me, the destruction of the village is tantamount to the deliberate killing of the national self-awareness, the spiritual memory, the livelihood, the national and personal identity of every Bulgarian. Breaking the connection simultaneously with the land, with traditions, with God and between generations is the most terrible deliberate crime against the Bulgarian. By the way, the word "city" also means "hail". Figuratively speaking, this is what we look like today – juicy Bulgarian tomatoes killed by hail. Basically, with a unique, unrepeatable taste, except that after the hail they are useless. "Village" also means "island" in one of the Slavic languages. And indeed - as if only on these almost depopulated islands of a surviving Bulgaria can we touch what we were and what is worth being. The city replaces authentic living with living rules that are increasingly universal and therefore anti-human, because they depersonalize us as individuals and as a nation with their globality, uniformity and multiculturalism.

Is that why the ambiguity of the name of Nebesna hamlet?

Yes. The name of the place where my story takes place came as an epiphany. Mahala Nebesna is not only an expression of some romantic nostalgia for the old days. It is also the Ne-Besna hamlet - a place where modern demons do not thrive.

Folk songs are one of the ways of communication between the heroes of Nebesna village. Why do they occupy such an important place in your book? And does musical folklore have any special meaning for you?

Our folk songs are a folk chronicle. They are an amazing source of information, a treasure trove for preserving and learning about our national identity. There is everything in them - everyday life, emotion, history, work, and nature… Living life is reflected as it was, and most importantly - sung in all its manifestations - both in the good and in the bad, and in the beautiful and in the ugly. Here are the joys, and the sorrows, and the downfalls of men, and the greatness, and the remorse, and the gratitude, and the benevolence - unadulterated life, without falsehood, in all its fullness. Because of all this, musical folklore has a special meaning for me, but I am especially grateful to my father, who discovered this magic for me as a sound as well. He is the head of several folklore formations in our region, and through his work I learned a lot about folk music, about its unique rhythms, about our great composers, who turned many of our authentic folk songs into world-famous musical masterpieces.

Few people know that you have a foundation whose main activity is the preservation and promotion of Bulgarian musical folklore. Tell us more about this activity of yours

Yes, at one point I was actively involved. My father and I did several trainings in Bulgarian folk singing for choirs in Great Britain, we have welcomed choirs here as well, we have organized joint concerts. Unfortunately, in recent years, there is not much time left. The last initiative in which I supported my father was the establishment of a festival for Northern folk song in my hometown together with the municipality of Sevlievo. The first edition was in 2014, in connection with the centenary of the birth of the unique performer of northern songs and our fellow citizen - Boris Mashalov. However, this idea still needs to be expanded and I would like to take it to another level and scale. In recent years, Bulgarian musical folklore seems to be dominated by "pirinfolk", which is often not authentic folklore either in sound or in text, and to some extent even debases the idea of Bulgarian folk music. Here and there a Rhodope bagpipe creeps in, more often Thracian folklore sounds. Northern music seems to remain the most unpopular, although it presents some of the emblematic examples of Bulgarian musical unequal rhythm: Paidushko horo, Daichovo horo, Elenino horo, Gankino horo… It is the unequal rhythms that make Bulgarian folk music unique on a global scale.

And what is your favorite dance?

Daichovo, as my readers already know. It's in all my books. I play it on my guitar and play it everywhere - at home and abroad, on streets, in meadows, in village choirs, teaching it to everyone who happens to be around me. Last yesterday I showed it to a six-year-old girl in the village of Dobralak.

Grandma Ziva, the main character in your book, rests by knitting or sewing, and how does Ivinela Samuilova rest? Do you cook some of the old recipes shared in your book at home?

I rest in nature, in the mountains or while walking around the villages. However, I have vowed to one day learn to knit socks with 5 hooks - the "five hook", as my great-grandmother called it. And to weave. A grandmother gave me a loom. As for the recipes – I have yet to try some of them. Therefore, I will be glad if the braver cooks among my readers share the result if they decide to prepare one of the proposed recipes. And please, if you get the three of a kind, be sure to set aside a bowl for me.

Which of Grandma Ziva's "unlearned wisdoms" do you personally like the most?

"If there's a hook, there's a hook." That is, if we are "hooked" on this lifestyle that takes the joy and authenticity out of our lives, there is always a way to "unhook" and rediscover the magic of existence.

Does this wonderful grandmother Ziva really not exist?

It exists, of course, although in the book its image is allegorical. Just as my anonymous main character is a collective image of all of us, modern Bulgarians, who have inherited this unique Bulgarian culture for free, Grandma Ziva is a collective image of that beloved grandmother that most of us had - whether in the village or in the city. She is alive in our hearts and we hope to be like her someday, to mean the same to our grandchildren. But for this we need to keep alive precisely this continuity of the intransitive native in its innermost essence. Baba Ziva is every Bulgarian grandmother, she is a unique image of Bulgaria. And how long it will remain alive depends on each one of us, on whether and how we preserve the Bulgarian…

Released on November 3, 2016

Volume: 320 pages

Publisher: "Hermes"

Price BGN 14.95

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