5 December, 2023
Varujan Vosganian and Vanina Bozhikova (photo: screenshot, BNT)

The translator from Romanian language has given this interview on the occassion of her latest translation – the novel ”The Children of War” by Varujan Vosganian. We discussed about some characeristics of the contemporary Romanian literature and about the need for greater promotion of the Bulgarian literature abroad

Vladimir Mitev

Vanina Bozhikova translates Romanian literature into Bulgarian language. She has graduated from the Sofia Univeristy ”St. Kliment Ohridski”, having studied ”Romanian philology”. She has taught at the Sofia University Romanian language and literature in between 2000 and 2017. Vanina is the author of lots of articles and publications in the Bulgarian and Romanian literary magazines on contemporary Romanian literature and on literary translations. In the recent years she has translated more than 20 Romanian classical and contemporary writers – novelists, poets and dramaturgists, among which are Varujan Vosganian, Nora Iuga, Mircea Cărtărescu, Dan Lungu, Lucian Dan Teodrovici, Octavian Soviany, Lina Maria Baros, and others.

Mrs. Bozhikova, why was it important for you to translate Varujan Vosganian’s novel “The Children of War”?

First of all, I would like to remind that this is the third book by Mr. Vosganian, which I translate into Bulgarian. The first two were “The Book of Whispers” and the collection of novelettes ”The Game of Hundred Leaves and Other Stories”. Usually I remain loyal to the authors, who I translate and Varujan Vosganian are not an exception from the rule. It is third time I translate three books by a given Romanian author. The others are Nora Iuga and my close friend Lucian Dan Teodorovici.

The second reason was the fact that I was convinced that the novel ”The Chlidren of War” was very well recepted in Bulgaria given the similar conditions of both countries’s development in the last years. We went together on the road to accession in the EU and NATO. We fight together against the challenges of the eternal transition. We are mirror countries. We inspire one another reciprocally in good and bad… Taking in consideration those similarities in our European positioning, I would dare to affirm that Romanian literature and Bulgarian literature create a common space in spite of the linguistic differences. This means automatically that their reading public is very close to one another.

What does the book deal with?

The book deals with 70 years from the history of Romania. The story starts immediately after the World War Two, passes through the years of socialism and reaches the times of transition. I think that the action in the novel finishes approximately in 2013. We see the three periods of Romanian socialism – starting from the period after the war, continuing with the relative liberalisation after the ‘60 and reacing the last days of Ceauşescu’s regime.

The main character is a former general from Securitate. He particiaptes directly and even coordinates some of these events.

Why does the author takes on this issue? What is his message?

It will be difficult to answer in detail within one interview. I prefer to let the author answer in a future interview, which he might give on the occasion of his book launch in Rousse in September 2019. But let me return to your question: the main message is the call to cure our comunism traumas, to reopen this wound, because this is the only way to cure it.

Varujan Vosganian is one of the most remarkable persons of Romanian transition – writer, politician, an ethnic minority leader. What is his importance for Romania in the times of transition?

History will decide what is his contirbution to the political development and to the history of postcommunist transition. It is clear however that he is one of the most important contemporary writers. It is not a coincidence that his novel “The Book of Whispers”, dedicated to the Armenian genocide, is nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature by three countries – Romania, Israel and Armenia.

I don’t share the sujbective opinion of a translator, who has already translated three of the authors’ books. The reading public and the literary critics appreciate the role and the importance of Vosganian for the contemporary Romanian literature not only in Romania, but everywhere his book was translated. Also, it is very difficult to separate the politician from the writer. He feels himself the both ways, but doesn’t forget to underline the fact that he is most of all a poet and only after that a minister or a leader of a political party.

As we have already said Varujan Vosganian is the author of a book on the history of the Armenian people, especially on the history of the Armenian community in Romania. He is very well known among the Armeneans of Bulgaria. How developed are the relations between the Armeneans in both countries?

First of all, it is a blood relationship. These two communities know one another and collaborate very well. “The Book of Whispers” was translated into Bulgarian language on the initiative of the Armenean association in Sofia. Let us remember the fact that after Franz Werfel’s book “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh“, which tells the story of the Armenean genocide, Varujan Vosganian’s book is a contribution at international level. It is on one hand fiction – a novel, built on the author’s memories and the story of his family, but on the other hand it is also a deep historic research.

You have the privilege to be translator of Romanian literature in Bulgarian language. It is known that Romanian literature deals most of all with the rural life…

Yes. In the beginning of the XX century the most influential literary curents are the traditional ones – the popularism and the semanatorism, who deal most of all with the rural life and with the problems of the villagers. On the other hand there is the modernist literary current, which is influenced by the French literature. I speak about the psychologism of Camil Petrescu and of other authors, and especially about the influence of the literary circle “Zburatorul” in the interbellic period, which promotes subjectivism and urban life. But yes, you are right, traditional literature deals most of all with rural life. At that moment the urban population was very small.

You know well the contemporary Romanian literature. What are its characteristics? What topics do the writers deal with? What approaches to they take?

Two great interdiction fell after 1990: religion and sexuality. It is difficult to sum up the orientations and tendencies. Communism and postcommunsim (the transition) are a persistant topic, because, to quote Vosganian “the traumas of communism haven’t been cured yet”. This topic will not disappear by itself. Autofiction is something characteristic, whether we speak about male or female writers. The authors tell their story most of all from the first person with lots of authobiographical and autofictional details. They share most of all with great sincerity what they have lived and what they think. The big social issues are approached in a strongly subjective key.

Personally, I think that Romanian contemporary literature uses more often fantasy and violence…

In my view violence exists, because it was and it is a reality. As far as fantasy is concerned, let’s not forget that Romania had the strongest superrealist currents in the world. Andre Breton himself recognised the cotnribution of Romanians for the development of superrealism in international plan. Let’s don’t forget that in the ‘60 this surrealism was reinvented. It was reborn under the form of the so-called onirism. This happens in poetry with the writings of Leonid Dimov, Nora Iuga, etc, and in belletristics with the writings of Sorin Titel, Dumitru Ţepeneag, etc. We can speak also about a Balkan magic realism, which is specific to Romanian literature and here I would mention Fănuş Neagu or Ovidiu Dunăreanu, whose collection with short stories ”Events from the year of the serpent” was published in Bulgarian in Rousse a few years ago (publishing house Elias Canetti).

There are plenty of Romanian books, which get translated into Bulgarian, but how popular is Romanian literature in Bulgaria today?

I have to proudly recognise that we have one of the strongest translation schools in the world. Thanks to the fact that Romanian language is studied in all the major universities in Bulgaria, a real translation school of Romanian literature has appeared in our country. After Spain the small Bulgaria is the second country where most Romanian books get translated annually. We need to mention the significant contibution of the Romanian Cultural Institute, which has supported in the last years the translation of more than 40 books through its program for support of translations. I think that the Romanian literature has a loyal public in Bulgaria. As I said earlier, the two countries mirror one another. The sense of humour is similar. We are orthodox. We have been living together for millenia.

We have a lot of common things with Romanian, but don’t you think that this literary connection is rather unilateral? What is the presence of the Bulgarian literature and of the Bulgarian authors in Romania today?

Unfortunately, we need to talk about the translators’ schools. Small literatures – like the Bulgarian one, need to be suported and promoted by the state. The Romanian Cultural Institute gives grants and residencies, organising courses for translators who learn their job. The problem is that in Romania there are not many translators from Bulgarian language. My impression is that somehow the continuity between the generations had been lost. It is not that Romanians wouldn’t be interested to read Bulgarian authors. Lucian Dan Teodorovici used to say a few years ago that it was much more likely to meet his Bulgarian friends like Georgi Gospodinov or Alek Popov in Berlin or Vienna, rather than in Sofia or Bucharest. It is more likely that he knows their work through English or German language, rather than Romanian language.

We’ve been communicating easier with Romanians for the last 30 years, especially after we joined the EU. How is this opening felt in literature and between the writers of the two countries?

The writers know one another. They are friends. But they meet each other in the West. There are cases such as the sincere friendship between Mircea Cărtăresu, Emil Andreev and Ivan Stankov. But, I repeat: there is a need for promotion and permanent support on behalf of the Bulgarian state, a durable strategy for promotion of Bulgarian literature abroad. In this sense we need to mention the National Fund ”Culture” at the Ministry of Culture, which has as a goal to promote Bulgarian culture abroad.

Bulgaria needs to teach its foreign translators?

It is difficult, but not impossible. First of all, it must attract the young people’s interest towards studying Bulgarian language. After that it can give residenceis for translators in formation, which is what the Romanian state does through the programmes of the Romanian Cultural Institute, or through the ateliers for translators in Ipoteşti, organised as part of the literature festival FILIT. Something similar happens through the summer courses for studying of Bulgarian languages, which are organised by the universities in Sofia and Veliko Tarnovo, but the emphasis must fall on literature translation. Translators are – in Mircea Cărtărescu’s words “the Cindarellas of the intercultural communication”. They are modest ambassadors, but they have perseverence, I would add.

It is clear that Bulgarian literature is very good. But it needs to be promoted. Each cultural product is also an economic product, which has to be promoted as such. The more Bulgarian literature is translated, the better Bulgaria will be presented before foreigners.

Let’s conclude with words on the future. What plans do you have for translations in the near future?

I deal with the translation of a Moldovan author. It is shameful that I have translated close to 40 Romanian books, but have ignored the literature of our brothers from the Republic of Moldova. I expect that until the end of the year will appear the novel “Queen of Hearts” from Iulian Ciocan. It is a project in course of implementation. In September or October 2019 we will have the book.

It seems to me that I have recently translated a lot of “masculine” novels. I am tired of violence, of men with revolvers and even of the great historic dramas. I mean not only Mihai Ionescu-Lupeanu’s “Fresh Black Caviar”, but also Octavian Soviany’s “The Death of Siegrfied” and Varujan Vosganian’s “The Children of War”. I would now like to translate a women, to return the sensibility of female literature. I have chosens an anthropologisy, who speaks about Stara Zagora, about Bulgaria, about obituaries. Her name is Ohara Donovetsky. Her novel is titled “Casting for a fairy”.

I also think about poetry. I have translated all the four novels of Nora Iuga, but very few verses by her.

What do you extract from all those works of translation?

First of all, the translation of literary texts makes you patient, teaches you to get accustomed to loneliness, to read and to reflect a lot and deep. As ”ordinary” readers, we know that each book is a separate universe and it enriches us in its own way. There are books, which speak to our minds. Others speak to our hearts. I love all the books, which I have translated. Each book has put its mark on me and is part of the circle of my good friends. Inevitably, I will never depart from them.

Read in Romanian language!

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1 thought on “Vanina Bozhikova: Bulgaria must educate its foreign translators

  1. Thank you for the amazing article on Varujan Vosganian’s work. He is not only a magnificent writer, storyteller and political figure in Romania. His writing makes him a peacekeeper and a reminder of our troublesome history during the cruellest Empire, a fact which unfortunately is diminished in the Bulgarian history school books.

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