I just plowed through the novel/collection of short stories entitled: Cold Snap by Cynthia Morrison Phoel. I bought it via amazon.com this summer in hard copy–there’s no kindle version available. This said, it’s nice to read a book like this, to smell the paper to turn the pages to feel the weight of the book in your hands to see how much you’ve got left to read.
I wrote about this book the first time in June/July but I didn’t finish reading it until September and I haven’t made time to write a serious post about the book until now. It’s fitting considering winter is around the corner.
First off, this is a great book. Buy a copy of it. Read it. Love it or hate it. But read it.
Second, I can shake the feeling of burr after reading the book and thinking about this post. The book reminds me of my first winter in Sofia three years ago when I lived downtown in an older building without central heat. I spent the whole winter cold. Then in January it got even colder with the natural gas crisis. Thinking about it, I am not sure that I was really warm, warm between the November and March. In comparison, last winter was a lot better. And these days my classroom at ACS feels downright balmy.
Three years ago, I didn’t know that I was having a quintessential Bulgarian experience. But that’s how things like this always work. In hindsight, it’s clear at the time however, I was just cold. At the time, I couldn’t imagine that this was an experience that I would latter connect to other than to trade frustrated, humps with my teacher colleagues at the First English Language School.
Anyhow, back to the book, it’s a collection of interrelated short stories set in an imaginary town outside of Sofia.
Cynthia Morrison Phoel was a Peace Corps volunteer during the early years of the program shortly after the country opened up–post communism. From what I’ve read about her, when she was here in Sofia, she was a teacher in Pravetz. Want to know more about her? There’s a great interview/discussion with Cynthia and Petya from the blog How to Marry a Bulgarian. (It turns out that Cynthia taught Petya English here in Bulgaria. How wonderful is that? The the foreign teacher in me loves it. The world it seems is a very, very small place.)
This said, the world that Cynthia created is stark and drab. It’s a world of block buildings, unemployment and under-employment, huge tv sets and lopsided relationships. It seems totally honest to me. It’s a world and set relationships that are brutal but absolutely in line with what I know of life generally and what I can imagine of life more specifically in Bulgaria in the 1990’s.
She integrates Bulgarian apologetically into the stories without translating what she’s just said but in context I think it makes sense even if you don’t speak the language. And with a dog named Krastivtsa (or cucumber in English) and an idealistic American English teacher making a cameo in the book, what’s not to love?
Well a lot. There’s a lot in the book that’s hard to swallow but that’s what makes so good. The book is well written and the characters are well developed. In my mind, it’s the characters who make the book. They’re the kind of people I’ve met, seen, known or imagined in Sofia and Cynthia seems to have captured them on the pages of her book good, bad and everything in between.
Cold. But wonderful.
Maybe it wasn’t exactly the right book to read right before my third winter in Bulgaria but what’s done is done. I guess the good thing about a cold snap is that while it’s intense it doesn’t last forever.
Oh and if you’re interested you can check out the facebook page for Cold Snap. Turns out Cynthia is going to be in Boston this next week. If I were in Boston, I’d go to meet her but I am here in Sofia.