cover image The Physics of Sorrow

The Physics of Sorrow

Georgi Gospodinov, trans. from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel. Open Letter (, $14.95 trade paper (270p) ISBN 978-1-940953-09-0

Gospodinov's (Natural Novel) quixotic novel is part family saga, part meditation on Greek myths, and part personal history of growing up in Communist Bulgaria. Despite the challenges posed by this mix of styles and material, it's occasionally moving and points toward a book that might have been. The narrator is a Bulgarian writer who considers himself a collector of stories%E2%80%94literally, as he will often pay strangers for interesting anecdotes. He claims that as a child he could slip into others' experiences, and so when he begins to relate stories of his grandfather's youth and soldiering during WWII, he sometimes presents them in the first person. These affecting but confusing scenes are interspersed with images from the story of the Minotaur and its labyrinth. The narrator feels great sympathy toward this misunderstood "monster," and these passages are some of the best. However, the novel rambles across characters, eras, and stories; by the final quarter, the already thin pretense of a central narrative is completely set aside, and the narrator strings together a random assortment of tales and observations he's collected on his travels. Some of these stories sparkle, but the impression is of padding, and the effect is exhausting. The overall sense imparted by Gospodinov's experimental style isn't so much of having read a novel, as of having been presented with a measured amount of writing. Some of it is very fine, but too much is undisciplined and confusing. (Apr.)