After the first page I felt that I was going to love this book but I’m afraid it didn’t quite work out that way.
The setting is a small Bulgarian town in the modern day and it’s a hungry, desperate world for three of the main protagonists, while in great contrast the other two live in the lap of luxury. There’s certainly not much happiness around; the best option for the poor people seems to be emigration while the super rich may be pampered but lack any kind of loving adult relationship. One character does have a liaison that straddles the economic divide, with a devoted young gypsy, but there’s no love left within her family.
The novel is based around the lives of four women in contemporary Bulgaria:- Moni, Di, Nora and Becky. Moni’s the only child of a very rich father, who amassed a fortune by fair means and foul before being murdered by a business enemy or maybe a friend. She’s very fat and physically unattractive (she describes herself as a greasy bulldozer) but has tremendous power because of the money she’s inherited – and she uses it. Di is a beautiful masseuse who’s also a star student but she needs to work all hours to make ends meet for herself and her mother Arma. Nora’s also young and beautiful and at the beginning of the book works in the Greasy Spoon Cafe, where she’s abused by the owner while steering her way through the dangerous clientele, but she also has a layer of steel and isn’t afraid to inflict her own punishments when necessary. Her devoted, hard-working mother and two dysfunctional younger brothers also play minor roles. Becky’s the wife of a super rich and powerful man who employs Di for her massaging skills and perhaps more.
There’s a lot of great poetic imagery and similes – Moni’s thighs ‘jiggling like bowls of congealed soup’ and Nora’s steps sounding ‘like penny coins falling into a street musician’s hat’ – while the extremes of life in Bulgaria are graphically portrayed. But I found that it started to take me longer and longer to pick this book up again as it just hadn’t held my interest enough. Which character was which character? Who was who? I had to keep going back to check on the names. The individual tales are vivid but seem insufficiently developed and perhaps it would have worked better if a couple of the strands had been extended into separate novels.
There’s a lot to commend in Sinfonia Bulgarica but, as I said, it wasn’t substantial enough for me. For anyone wanting to picture the extremes of life in modern Bulgaria though, it would fit the bill well.
Sinfonia Bulgarica by Zdravka Evtimova (2014), is available from Fomite Press: http://fomitepress.com/FOMITE/Sinfonia.html