NOTE: This interview is a republication- Source: The Booker Prizes.
How does it feel to be shortlisted for the International Booker Prize 2023, and what would winning mean to you?
I was happy, as were many people in Bulgaria. It turns out that Time Shelter is the first book written in Bulgarian to be nominated for the [International] Booker. This encourages writers not only from my country, but also from the Balkans, who often feel themselves outside the sphere of English-speaking attention. It is commonly assumed that ‘big themes’ are reserved for ‘big literatures’, or literatures written in big languages, while small language, somehow by default, are left with the local and the exotic. Awards like the International Booker Prize are changing that status quo, and this is very important. I think every language has the capacity to tell the story of the world and the story of an individual person. If my novel, Time Shelter, wins, I will know that its anxieties and forebodings have been understood.
What were the inspirations behind the book? What made you want to tell this particular story?
My urge to write this book came from the sense that something had gone awry in the clockworks of time. You could catch the scent of anxiety hanging in the air, you could touch it with your finger. After 2016 we seemed to be living in another world and another time. The world’s disintegration with the encroachment of populism and playing the card of the ‘great past’ in the US and in Europe provoked me. Brexit was the other trigger. I come from a system that sold a ‘bright future’ under communism. Now the stakes have shifted, and populists are selling a ‘bright past’. I know via my own skin that both cheques bounce, they are backed by nothing. And that’s why I wanted to tell this story about the ‘referendums on the past’, undertaken by every European country. How does one live with a deficit of meaning and future? What do we do when the pandemic of the past engulfs us? The last chapter of the novel describes how the past comes to life: the troops and tanks amassed to reenact the beginning of World War II unexpectedly invade the neighbouring country’s territory. The novel was published in Bulgarian in 2020.
You can read the full interview here