On Maria Stankowa’s Novella The Black Woman and the Archer – Bulgarian Literature Month


I’ve never read Bulgarian literature before and when Thomas (Mystwostotinki) announced he would host a Bulgarian Literature Month in June, I thought it would be a great idea to join him. Since I didn’t know any Bulgarian writers, I picked a book by Maria Stankowa (or Stankova) that had received praise by German critics when the translation came out in 2010. The book is called Langeweile – Boredom and consists of three novellas. One of which The Black Woman and the Archer I’ve read for Bulgarian Literature Month.

Maria Stankowa was born in 1956 in Burgas. She’s a musician, assistant director, and editor. She has written plays, scripts, and prose and is said to be one of the greatest writers of contemporary Bulgarian literature.  The three novellas in Boredom tell stories of women in crisis. In The Black Woman and the Archer, a woman tries to break free from the boredom of a loveless marriage. When she meets her first love, she begins an affair but has to understand, that she’s not really able to love this man either. Instead, she moves on to the next man and we are led to believe that she’s not really able to love but loves being in love. The story explores marriage and relationships and turns a lot of the assumptions that people have upside down. It plays with clichés and stereotype and pairs those with new insights into gender relationships.

Not that much of a story and certainly not something I haven’t read before. What I haven’t read before though is Maria Stankowa’s style. It’s like nothing I’ve encountered before. It blends almost everything you could possibly blend. Straightforward story telling, myth, irony, metaphor, wordplay, poetry, lyricism. Nonetheless, there’s a unity of style. The novella wasn’t always easy to read but it had so many surprising elements, so many fresh and new ways of describing something, that I enjoyed it a great deal and will certainly read the others in the book as well.

Unfortunately, since I’ve read a German translation of a Bulgarian text, it’s not easy to convey her style but I’ll add two small quotes that I’ve translated from my German edition to give you at least a bit of an idea.

“. . .You can’t understand. You’re a woman . . . I have to go to work.”

“I’ll go with you.”

“That’s impossible. The wife has to stay at home. She has to take care of the house. And worry. You have to learn that – to worry. It’s very important.”

He left and she stayed at home and worried. The worries had only waited for that. They were crawling around everywhere. The black woman bought worry poison, swept them up, filled bags and carried them out of the house. But the worries didn’t diminish. And every morning the black woman asked the same question—shouldn’t she leave?


Once, a very long tome ago, he met a girl. She was his first girl. He was her first boy. Their love had been so clumsy and coy. They loved each other. Clumsily and coyly. When she left, she left behind the aroma of burnt grass and the decline of summer, a pain and the almost unbelievable feeling of being a man.

If Maria Stankowa is anything to go by, then Bulgarian literature has a lot to offer.


New Fiction in The Vignette Review and Ink in Thirds

Ink in Thirds

May was a particularly good month for acceptances. I’ve had three stories accepted, two of which have been published by now, the third is forthcoming at the end of this month.

I’m particularly happy about these acceptances because the stories are so diverse. One is a prose poem, one is a historical, and one a YA short story.

For those who would like to read them, here’s my historical flash.

The New Girl

and here’s my prose poem:

I Keep the First for Another Day

Ursula Bloom: Wonder Cruise (1934)

Wonder Cruise

Before Corazon Books contacted me and asked me whether I would be interested in reviewing Ursula Bloom’s Wonder Cruise, I had never even heard of the author before. It sounded like a novel by one of those wonderful English authors who wrote and published in the first half of the last century – Mary Stewart, Angela Thirkell, Barbara Pym -, so I said yes immediately. When the book arrived I was a bit worried because of the cover, but as soon as I started reading I knew I had nothing to worry about. Although it has an unfortunate cover, Wonder Cruise is an absolutely delightful book; it’s as charming as it’s witty. I could hardly believe that an author who wrote like this has become a forgotten author. Especially since Ursula Bloom wrote far over 500 novels. Yes, you read correctly – over 500. She’s even in the Guinness Book of Records.

Written and set in the 1930s, Wonder Cruise tells the story of Ann Clements. You could call it a story of awakening and transformation. Ann is a spinster of 35, with little hope of marriage or an otherwise fulfilled life. She works at an office, doing tedious, boring jobs. In her private life, she is pretty much under the thumb of her older brother Cuthbert, a pompous, self-righteous clergyman who manipulates Ann constantly. It doesn’t look as if there was a lot of hope for Ann’s future but, from the first page on we know that Ann’s a very keen observer and someone who is very much aware of the beauty surrounding her, and we instantly root for her.

She’s aware that she doesn’t like her life and her work but she doesn’t think it could change.

That was life at the office.

It went on and on and on for years, as it would go on and on, Ann felt, long after she was dead. It was a place that she had been sucked into by the giant machinery of life. An intricate pattern of living, and always dismally the same. You could not escape it.

Then something wonderful happens. Ann wins a lot of money in a sweepstake and suddenly life has promise. However, there’s Cuthbert to deal with. He wants her to save the money, so his own daughter will have something to fall back on. Ann’s torn between her feelings of duty and her yearning for another life.

Until this actual moment she had not realised that she was sick of digging, and of doing the same thing in the same way day after day. She had not realised that Mrs. Puddock’s rooms were awful, and that Monday washing, Tuesday ironing, Wednesday mending, Thursday hair-wash were much like a pair of handcuffs set like shackles on her wrists.

Once she’s conscious of her situation and the manipulations of her brother, she is able to break free. She books a cruise along the Mediterranean coast. The ship lands at Marseille, Gibraltar, Naples, Malta, Venice  . . . With every kilometer, Ann becomes more herself, discovers that she is still young and attractive. For the first time, she enjoys herself.

There was the scent of tuber roses, and of lilies and wistaria all blending together. It was far more beautiful than anything she had ever imagined, far lovelier than any picture she had seen, even the one inside the portal of the steamship company in Cockspur Street.

Cockspur Street.

How terribly far away that seemed – and was!

After a few weeks of enjoyment, Ann has to ask herself fundamental questions: Who is she really and what does she want? Can she ever go back to her dull life of routine? And what about the men she meets? Is there one among them that she could love?

I’ll stop here and let future readers find out from themselves how Ann answers these questions.

The descriptions of the various settings are so lovely and spot-on. I’ve been to many of these places and the way Ursula Bloom described them, shows that she knew these places very well. Ann is a delightful character. She’s endearing, naïve but enthusiastic and a witty and keen observer. It’s great fun to read her take on the various people who are on this cruise with her. Bloom enjoys poking fun at stuck-up, uptight Brits who treat the places and people they meet like artifacts in a museum and constantly complain about the heat and the food. Some of the scenes are really funny.

Wonder Cruise has been such a discovery. It offers intelligent, charming entertainment, features an endearing main character, and is full of witty observations and enthralling descriptions. I’d love to read more of Ursula Bloom’s books.