cover image Party Headquarters

Party Headquarters

Georgi Tenev, trans. from Bulgarian by Angela Rodel. Open Letter, $12.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-940953-26-7

Tenev's novel is a phantasmagoria of post-communist Bulgaria. It occurs almost entirely inside the mind of its unnamed, possibly unhinged protagonist, a young man holed up in a Hamburg hotel room with a mysterious suitcase full of money and a mission having to do with K-shev, a once-powerful Communist Party boss now dying of cancer in a German clinic. Little else is fixed or sure in this hallucinatory, careening narrative. It's only certain that K-shev dominates the narrator's imagination: although he contends that "K-shev... is a construct," he may be in a relationship with K-shev's daughter; he also claims to be K-shev's son himself. The narrator, an ex-soldier, grew up in Soviet Bulgaria wanting to become a cosmonaut. He remains obsessed with K-shev's handling of the Chernobyl disaster: Bulgarians weren't warned by their government that the environment was dangerous. Haunted by this history, and by the impossibility of assigning responsibility for the continuing corruption of the country, he searches for escape in dreams, sex, and random acts of violence, juxtaposing episodes from his childhood with scenes of obvious fantasy%E2%80%94alone with the comatose K-shev, he imagines an impossible blood transfusion and an incestuous encounter between father and daughter. This dizzying, uneven, and ultimately frustrating book is a manifestation of the narrator's dilemma: "From what or from whom, and to where and why am I running?%E2%80%94everything is still unclear." (Feb.)