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.


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

  1. Wonderful review, Caroline! I haven’t heard of Maria Stankowa before and now thanks to you I have discovered a wonderful new writer. I haven’t read a Bulgarian book before and so if I pick this up it will be a first for me. I loved what you said about how she blends everything in her style but still there a unity to it. Something that is so hard to accomplish. I also loved the passages you have quoted. The one about worry was so beautiful. I can’t wait to read my first Stankowa book.

    • Thanks Vishy. Now I only hope you can find her in English. There’s a risk she wasn’t translated. The writing us like nothing I’ve read before and according to a review I read she has style you would recognize once you’re familiar with her.
      I liked that passage about worries so much. It turns everythingupside down and says something very true. I hope you can find her or other Bukgarian authors.

  2. I don’t think I’ve ever read any Bulgarian literature either. I’m not sure I’d know where to start, but it sounds as though you made a good choice when you picked this one.

    Do you think her training as a musician plays a factor in her ability to combine all these stylistic elements into something that comes together as a whole? I guess I’m thinking of the combination of different notes and rhythms in music, different instruments too. (That might be a difficult question to answer, but I just wonder if it might be an influence on her style.)

    • If she’s anything to go by its well worth looking for other Bulgarian authors. I’m pretty sure the fact that she’s a musician plays a role but since I read her in translation I can’t be entirely sure but there is a musicality. I think you would like her.

  3. I don’t know any Bulgarian writers either, Caroline, but these quotes are wonderful. Really makes me want to read her work.
    By the way, thank you for introducing me to Nina Berberova. I’ve read three of her books and enjoyed them immensely.

  4. I checked my Goodreads shelves and I have one Bulgarian novel on there: 18% Gray which I liked very much. I also found a few others to read in my recent non fiction read of the review guide to contemporary world lit.

    • My pleasure. It was great to discover something new, a new author. I’ll have to look at your suggestions again.
      Too bad she wasn’t translated. Maybe she will be.

  5. The style as you describe it sounds so good. I also like the quotes that you posted.

    Whenever I run appealing prose in translation I always wonder what has been lost or changed.

  6. I am sure I have not read any Bulgarian literature either. I can’t even think of a mystery or crime novel set there let alone written by a Bulgarian writer. I have not been keeping up with my Feedly-feed so I am woefully out of touch with what others have been reading. I should go take a look at Thomas’s blog and see what else he might have suggested to read.

    • I just bought the Complete Review Guide to Contemporaray World Fiction after Guy reviewed it and I feel a book buying frenzy coming on. There is a section on Bulgarian literature.
      Bulgaria hasn’t had the same appreciation as Poland, Hungary . . . and other countries from the region. Not even in German.

  7. Pingback: Mahasweta Devi: Indefatigable chronicler of the oppressed – ഇടനേരം idaneram

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