Under the red ideal…
This post is part of an ongoing mini-series that will feature a different collection of Picador’s short stories each day for the last week of May, National Short Story Month. Today we’re talking about Miroslav Penkov’s East of the West.
I was recently contacted by a journalist writing a column about the books that inspire us to travel. Naturally, he wasn’t soliciting my opinion, but I’ve been turning over my answers anyway. There are the obvious ones, Hemingway for Spain, Simenon for Paris—two locales whose total existence beg for travel, not just on the recommendation of 20th-century, spare prose novelists. So it was reading Miroslav Penkov’s collection of short stories, East of the West, that presented a destination I would never have considered without the help of a book: Bulgaria.
From the story “Buying Lenin:”
Monuments under the red ideal were being demolished all over the country. Statues, erected decades ago, proudly reminding, glorifying, promising, were now pulled down and melted for scrap. (p.65)
Yet Bulgaria still bears some markings of its communist past. I’m particularly fascinated by the idea that these monolithic, abandoned, and vandaled Soviet-style edifices are the closest thing we have to contemporary ruins (excepting the Astrodome, and Six Flags New Orleans). Unlike the Parthenon and Machu Picchu, which have been the object of preservationists for decades, its hard to imagine any future generation of Bulgarians doing more than razing these structures. Yet, because of their sheer size and the inherent durability of concrete slabs, buildings such as the Museum of Socialism, the UFO-shaped structure in the photo above (abandoned since 1989), stand to outlast generation upon generation of Bulgarians. Equally thought-provoking (in a—”what does art mean and how does that meaning change over time as we interact and engage with it”—kind of way) are the alterations that have been made to these monuments since the fall of the communist government.
So read Penkov, he’s great. You’ll spend hours researching Balkan history if, like me, you were previously unacquainted.
PS. Here are some similar structures found throughout the former Yugoslavian countries that are now Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina.