Ballad for Georg Henig

Victor Paskov, Author, R. Sturm, Translator Peter Owen Publishers $29.95 (144p) ISBN 978-0-7206-0796-3
Set in poverty-stricken 1950s Bulgaria, this affecting novella opens with the narrator, Victor, reflecting on the career of his mentor, Georg Henig, a Czech who emigrated to Sofia at the turn of the century. Henig found work as a musician and master violin-maker; his subsequent rejection by the country that had embraced his talents parallels what Paskov sees as Bulgaria's cultural decline. Victor meets Henig when his parents commission a child-size violin from the elderly violin-maker. Some years later, Victor's mother, who, like other inhabitants of her ramshackle apartment building, is slowly being driven mad by poverty, persuades her husband to construct a sideboard, a task which is ``the equivalent of building a three-story villa with a pool and fountain today.'' Hoping to use Henig's cellar workshop, Victor's father is shocked to find the old man dying of starvation. As the sideboard takes shape, young Victor absorbs the Czech emigre's bourgeois values--belief in God, respect for civilized life--which are lacking in his Bulgaria. This finely wrought, elegiac tale ends with a bittersweet coda. (May)
Reviewed on: 12/01/1990
Release date: 06/01/1990
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