Good Bulgarian books should be shared and talked about with at least a fraction of the excitement with which we feel they have been written with. At least, that’s what I think. Therefore, today I want to tell you in a few lines about the novel “Brussels Naked” by Irina Papancheva, without revealing anything from the plot.
I met the author during my visit to Brussels last December. Until then I had not read her works, which I count as an omission. And probably at that moment she was already working on her book. How I wish I could have read a little from it back then, so that I could see Brussels through Irina’s eyes even if for three days, but I already have the best guide to the city for my next visit.
The novel, of course, is not a guidebook. It is a deep, candid, sometimes startling, but more often surprising and fascinating experience of the European capital. Brussels is a flesh-and-blood hero, with twists and turns in his destiny, with moments of horror and fear and others of love and intoxication. A soul hidden behind the mask of institutions that changes through the contact with each inhabitant. In this sense, the city, often criticized for being gray and boring, reveals itself to us in a completely different light – it is exposed as beautiful and seductive.
“Brussels Naked”, however, is a guide to the stories of nine people of different nationalities – a Dutch, a Belgian, an Australian, a Moroccan, a Croatian, a British, a Senegalese, a Syrian and her child. All of them living in our very modern times and touched by the Bulgarian Iris – a young and ambitious journalist who arrives to the city for 6 months to do a traineeship at the European Institutions. Six months that would turn into an eternity and cost her marriage. Because for the main character, Brussels becomes eternal love. The same love that sometimes brings us to ecstatic moments, other times it presses and wounds us, until it finally condemns us to loneliness and emptiness. Iris reveals herself and the city completely, without inhibitions, full of criticism and self-criticism, soberingly frank, at times somewhat irritating and provocative. However, this only shows her rich, alive and authentic voice. She is one of those characters whose presence you feel in your mind long after you close the last page of the novel.
Irina Papancheva’s style is impressive not only in terms of language, syntax, measure of descriptiveness and dialogues. She is distinguished by a penetrating intellect, deep emotionality, excellent knowledge of modern European history, hypersensitivity to the culture and problems of the Other and the Other. Every character in the book is built without any cracks in their psychological completeness. Everyone reminds us of someone, something, and all together – the world in which we live. If I had to sum it up in one sentence, for me this is a novel about the path we walk and the lasting trace we leave in each other and in the world. A novel about the hope that whatever we choose it is always the best for us.
I recommend it to you.
Viktoria Beshliyska , author and blogger, “Po dirite na dumite”