Under the Yoke (Bulgaria)

by Ivan Vazov

When this book arrived (by special order from Auntie’s Bookstore) I was surprised to see that it’s two-language. In the Rosetta series. The left pages are all in Bulgarian (Cyrillic script). The right pages are in English. I was actually thrilled, because I love languages. However, I soon found out that:

I’ve only got the first 16 chapters of this Bulgarian classic, written in 1888. And why?

Completely Ridiculous, Yet Hilarious Introduction

And I quote: “This volumes includes the first 16 chapters of part one. There are two reasons for this-the first is praticality, (sic) a complete bilingual edition would be around 600 pages long; secondly it is at this point that the translations start to diverge quite significantly. It is hoped that the current volume provides enough grouding (sic) to allow the student to allow the student to proceed with the rest of the novel in the original.”

Are you &*%&^&*^!! kidding me?!!!

I have taken a Russian language course at EWU. I have the Russian Rosetta Stone software. I read Cyrillic. But I don’t speak Bulgarian! Yes, I can translate the title as Pod Igroto, but I would have NO idea it meant Under the Yoke if the English weren’t right beside it.

I could read the book with a dictionary, manually and laboriously translating word for word like the censors in Laos (see Colin Cotteril for explanation)…it would probably only take 5 years. Sorry, other books to read!

OK. Enough grousing. On to the book.

The Turks Were Like Flies

The novel begins in a mill in rural Bulgaria. The miller’s 10-year old daughter is asleep on a cot in the corner and the father is preparing to turn in himself when there is an ominous and thunderous knock at the door. The miller looks out to find a notorious outlaw and a muscle-bound henchman standing there. The old man has no choice but to let them in.

Huts in BulgariaThey tell him to go fetch alcohol for them from town. The miller, knowing they will assault his daughter if he leaves, says no. The creeps then start stringing the miller up from the rafters so he can watch. The swaggering bullies aren’t afraid of an old man and a little girl. So they’re very surprised when a healthy young man who has been hiding in the mill leaps out and attacks them. He puts an end to their atrocities by killing them.

(The outlaw had, in just the last week, cut the head off another child, a boy from the village, for no apparent reason other than that he could.)

Ottoman soldierThe young man is the hero of this tale, and he’s just escaped from a Turkish prison. The miller, in gratitude, helps him get established in the village and to fly under the radar.

The narrator of this book is very scathing about the Turks. “They were like flies,” he says, and this is not a compliment. (I mention it because in ancient Nubia, flies were so respected that their likeness appeared on medals of honor. The Nubians thought the flies persistence was appropriate to warriors.) Anyway, the Bulgarians were “under the yoke” of the Ottoman Empire, and had been for centuries.

Ivan Vasov doesn’t like it. The people chafe. The town doctor, the Chorbaji, the escaped prisoner and others are all quietly plotting revolution. You can see why.

Gone Missing

Bulgarian MapIt would have been helpful to have had some footnotes while reading this novel. Dr. Phil always says “You can’t change what you can’t acknowledge.” Well, you can’t understand what you don’t know isn’t what you assume. Confused? Here is the beginning of the novel:

“On a delightful evening in May Chorbaji Marko, bareheaded and in dressing gown and slippers was sitting at supper with his family in the courtyard.”

Well naturally I thought this man’s name was Marko Chorbaji, written in the Hungarian and Japanese way (and apparently the Bulgarian) with the family name first. But as the book goes on, it talks about the Chorbaji class. It’s the upper middle class of society, not a name. Huh.

I enjoyed the book. It was an easy read. I would like to read the rest of it! (In English.)

Rating: Five Higoumens! (A Higoumen is the leader of a monastery. The one in this book is a patriot. Very interesting.)

3 thoughts on “Under the Yoke (Bulgaria)”

  1. Yes, the dialogue is stilted and the characters are cardboard, but it provided a touchstone to a nation after 500 of Ottoman rule. The phrases “under the yoke” and “Turkish yoke” were used until relatively recently when “Ottoman” began to be substituted for all historical references and Turkey used only for the modern nation.

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