The collection “The Same Woman” in a special way fits into the long and rich tradition of presenting the village in our literature
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The review was republished by “Literaturen Vestnik”.
“The Same Woman” by Danila Raycheva
Danila Raicheva’s stories from her debut collection “The Same Woman” are like a hot sun that dives into the small eddies around the stone slabs and gilds them. These stories are bright and warm, in them the interhumanity is also approached with care – that narrow space between two people that must be guarded.
The author is a philologist, and her poems and short stories have been published in various publications. In 2022, he graduated from Zdravka Evtimova’s master class, and in 2023 he was awarded a scholarship by the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation for the Sozopol creative writing seminars.
Danila Rajcheva unfolds her stories mainly in the Bulgarian village, where people from the city get off a small bus, get on another, bigger one and never stop, and the grass creeps more and more towards the houses. But the emphasis is not on depopulation, a theme that is by no means new. The collection “The Same Woman” in a special way fits into the long and rich tradition of presenting the village in our literature. Recently, the idealization of the patriarchal and traditional, the idea of the village as the “lost paradise of the Bulgarian man”, conceived as early as the 80s of the 19th century, seems to be reviving with new forces.
Danila Raicheva’s stories, however, bring the hope that the literaryization of the Bulgarian village will go forward not only with ornaments, not with “bagpipes and abes”, but as Tsvetan Stoyanov insisted in the early 1960s – with a translation of the national spiritual specificity of the language of the common human existential problematic.
The village in Danila Raycheva’s stories is not a dummy setting or an exotic anachronism, nor is it a nostalgic escape from modernity. It is authentic and therefore so alive. Raicheva’s characters are also alive, they are people whose life flows like a river in its bed, with its own problems, and it doesn’t matter at all whether they live in the city or the village, because the author skilfully enters the world of man and explores his pains with a psychological sense and difficulties, but also hopes and dreams, describes it with warmth, but without excessive sentimentality. In some places, Raycheva’s characters stumble into moralizing, but most of the time the author manages to tame it with original solutions.
The stories are conceptually connected – the titles bear the names of different women, and a thin thread interweaves the fates of the fourteen heroines in the collection and forms a prose cycle. Perhaps only “Emma” stands slightly apart from the general atmosphere of the book. But even with the first story (“Boryana”), Raycheva shows her stylistic originality and sets the tone for the entire collection.
It must be because of the two illustrations by Aysyal Aladzova, which frame the book, but from the very beginning I perceived Raicheva’s full-blooded female characters as flowers. Some of them have been broken and forgotten like herbariums through the hard pages of life, others have been transplanted to foreign land, others have firmly planted their roots in their native village. Gathered together, however, they are a colorful wreath composed of bitter or even poisonous herbs, of delicate or beautiful but capricious flowers, of wild and prickly plants grown under the sun, whose traces Danila Raycheva managed to capture and even make portraits of . In her stories, it pours its red hair like rain on the roofs of the houses, or climbs onto the roof of the panel block and, seeing that it is noon, begins to overflow from there onto the hot asphalt.
The title of the collection and the cover of Liliana Dvoryanova point to the idea that this is the same woman, bearing the imprints of everyone before and after her. Whether she’s losing a loved one, raising her child alone, dwelling on that terrible day in July that hasn’t ended in twenty years, or digging into the past of abandoned houses to sell it and buy a future, this is a woman who wearing different skins – of mother, wife, daughter, friend, sister, grandmother, granddaughter or great-grandmother, but always looking for the same thing – a piece of the heavenly chaos in the order of the Earth.
One of the ideological cores of the collection is at the end of the story “Katerina” and seems to describe the image of this same woman, and why not life itself, in which we all play “I’m never here”:
We are all one in this circle. It has no beginning or end. Arranged like this, we look like a large sundial. Without realizing it, we count our last childhood memories ourselves and let them flow through the summers to come, locked forever in that bottle. We do not know if we will have the strength to swim against this current. We don’t know if what we “never are” today will one day not answer so many unasked questions. […] We will wander, we will get lost, we will be different in a common whole. Each of us will be born, seek our answers, sin every day and die a saint to make room for the other.
The language in “The Same Woman” is often lyrical and filled with plastic metaphors. The narrative voices are artistic, the author shows a skillful assimilation of the fairy tale tradition, and her compositional decisions are diverse.
Today, the patriarchal “yesterday” goes further and further back in time, and thus its idealization becomes even more intense, and social processes seem to further strengthen this process, sometimes surpassing even the kitschy balkanturist image of the native, known to us from the literature during the era of socialism. The question with an exclamation mark, asked by Tsvetan Stoyanov in 1962, is increasingly relevant: “Doesn’t our literature go overboard here and there to indulge in cheap patriotism!”.
Danila Raycheva’s “The Same Woman” is a very nice, talented exception to this trend.