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Harriman Magazine
Headshot of Georgi Gospodinov, photographed by Kostadin Krustev
2024 Issue | Harriman Talks
Winning the International Booker: “Their Excitement Was the Most Exciting Thing”
Valentina Izmirlieva speaks with Georgi Gospodinov

“People in Bulgaria are rarely united by joy—it happens much more often with negative feelings—but this time, at least for a week, we shared in each other’s joy.”

Georgi Gospodinov, 2023 Man Booker International Prize winner

When Harriman Director Valentina Izmirlieva congratulated Georgi Gospodinov, Harriman’s 2022 writer in residence, on being the first Bulgarian author honored with the Man Booker International Prize, he shared with her the “incredible” response in his homeland (also Izmirlieva’s homeland). Gospodinov’s novel Time Shelter, translated into English by Angela Rodel, was the first Bulgarian book ever to receive a Booker nomination, and when it won, it became an instant sensation. Izmirlieva emailed Gospodinov last August to ask about the award; their e-mail exchange follows:

Valentina Izmirlieva: Congratulations, Georgi! Your triumphant journey to the Booker was a source of much suspense and jubilation for your friends at the Harriman Institute. What surprised you most following the announcement of the award?

Georgi Gospodinov: I was struck by how many people stayed up to watch the Booker ceremony live. It happened a little before midnight Bulgarian time, on the eve of Bulgaria’s most beautiful holiday—the Day of Slavic Letters, May 24. So many people, both at home and abroad, getting excited about a book award, about literature—isn’t that incredible? Three days later I had a signing at a book fair in Sofia. The line was four hours long. People kept coming to tell me stories, to weep and laugh together. Their excitement was the most exciting thing for me during the truly strange days following the award.

Izmirlieva: The Man Booker International Prize was established in 2005 with an inaugural award to the Albanian writer Ismail Kadare, and two more writers from “the Harriman part of Europe” have gotten the distinction before you: [Hungarian novelist] László Krasznahorkai (another Harriman Writer in Residence) in 2015, and [Polish writer] Olga Tokarczuk in 2018. Can we talk about a reorganization of the international literary space, with the former “other Europe” becoming increasingly more visible and influential worldwide?

Gospodinov: I think so. European literary critics have finally begun to take literature coming from Central and Eastern Europe seriously. It had been undervalued for quite a while, played down as merely local, peripheral, or exotic. What I have always aspired to do with my own work is prove that so-called small or peripheral languages and literatures can also speak about big things, about the world’s sorrows and crises. And in recent years, when we feel the center of Europe is the place where things hurt the most—in the East—East European literature can give us even more. ◆