Street Without a Name Childhood and Other Misadventures in


Street Without a Name Childhood and Other Misadventures in Bulgaria Kapka Kassabova grew up in Bulgaria under the Communist regime immigrating to New Zealand in 1991 at the age of 19 In the years after her departure she returned to the country several times to visit older relatives and to sightsee The first part of this book is a solid 4 star memoir about her childhood; the rest documents her travels and earns 25 or 3 stars Unfortunately the travel section is the longer so I’m rounding downThe memoir immediately captured my attention with stories of life amidst hardship Although Kassabova’s parents were well educated the family lived in two rooms in a shoddily constructed concrete apartment building surrounded by mud and thousands of other identical buildings; the chance to buy anything new was so rare and even dangerous when shoppers physically fought over merchandise that the author’s mother had a breakdown on a visit to a Dutch department store; and interactions with anyone from the other side of the Iron Curtain were fraught as they truly came from different worlds One escape was music; in a twist of irony as a teenager Kassabova enjoyed protest music from the West The censors allowed it through because the lyrics raged against the capitalist machine not realizing that teens reversed the meaning raging instead against the only machine they knewThe writing is clear descriptive and a little self deprecating and so combined with interesting material the first section succeeds But then we get to the travel Kassabova initially presents her trip in 2006 as a return to Bulgaria after many years away but it soon becomes clear that she has traveled in the country as an adult on several occasions and she splices these trips together cutting back and forth between different visits to the same or nearby places which is disorientingThere doesn’t seem to be much direction to Kassabova’s travel; the organization of this section felt scattershot and the reader gets little sense of why we should be interested in these particular places I’m not sure what the author was looking for on this trip but don’t believe she found it; the whole book is rather melancholy Certainly Bulgaria doesn’t seem to have improved much with the fall of communism; the overall picture Kassabova paints is one of foreign investors getting rich while regular people struggle to get by without a safety net and smaller towns continue to decay But I was interested to read about how the country has changed as well as a bit of its earlier history and the author’s conversations with the people she meets are often entertainingUltimately this one is a cautious recommend certainly worth reading if you are interested in the subject matter but not the first book I would urge on an armchair traveler Street Without A Name by Kapka Kassabova A must read for anyone interested in Bulgaria Street Without A Name tracks the emotional and physical journies experienced by the author as she revisits the land of her birth soon after its entry to the European Union Glimpses into her childhood and teens years under communist rule are written with passion but never sentimentality against a backdrop of cuttingly outlined history We see both the big picture and the small one a forced exodus described by the government as a holiday at the time; detailed visits to loved grandparents repeated at intervals until death intervenes For me the book has a particular fascination as some of the descriptions of how people lived 'back then' could almost have been written today Communism ended in 1989; Bulgaria entered the EU in 2007 but in some respects only the storefront has changed Kapka Kassabova's Street Without A Name is a roller coaster of a read a true tour de force and a history lesson all in one If Ireland has Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes Bulgaria has this by Ms Kapka Kassabova She was born in Sofia Bulgaria in 1973 and grew up amidst the hardships of a communist country controlled by a totalitarian regime At the age of 16 her family managed to emigrate to New Zealand She did some travelling before finally settling in Edinburgh Scotland Written with exceptional poignancy and wry humor You'll learn about Bulgaria reading this than actually going there and looking around The best part of this book was the fact that the author grew up in the neighborhood I live in so I recognized many of the streets and local landmarks she references hey there's a photo of our McDonald's Other than this novelty factor though this book really paled in comparison to other Bulgarian books I've read and international coming of age stories in general Persepolis comes to mind as a similar story but is far better not only in uality of writing but also ironically in giving a compelling portrayal of Bulgaria and the Balkan region The freuent and direct comparisons to Orwell's 1984 were heavy handed and sounded trite and adolescent my Bulgarian 10th graders who just finished reading 1984 could pick apart some of the flawed parallels in a heartbeat reducing this complex country and people into a kind of archetype and while I did like some of the stories surrounding Kassabova's education in the French lycee in Sofia and the subseuent lack of a sense of place for herself and her classmates the contemporary parts of the book with the author road tripping around Bulgaria were fragmented hard to follow and frankly seemed exploitative as did much of the book overall I don't know much about the author but I very much got a sense of I know how I will break out as a writer I will Write a Book about my Obscure Country and it will be my Literary Niche and thus the road trip felt like a means to that end rather than a sincere and organic reflection on her country of birth Also the book needs a way better editorproofreader ie someone who can get the spelling of Libya correct on a consistent basis Street Without a Name is a pure memoir bookThe first half of it reads easily not to say that you flow through the pages It is an interesting sneak in how a young also obviously uite switch on person felt about the surrounding environment in the 1980 90s on the threshold of the collapse of the communist regimeThe second part of the book is another story though; not to say that it's nowhere near my literary taste Party the reason might be because I am Bulgarian and have basic knowledge of our history which is the main topic in this second halfUnfortunately I didn't see an in depth interpretation of the present through the prism of the past which seems to have been the author's initial idea To me the reason for this failure is Kassabova's inclination to criticize everything Bulgarian This on its side created the unpleasant feeling of an outsider who used to be part of that same environment and just because is not any looks at it with an eye of superiority We all have seen enough of this already The Balkan sulkiness which every now and then the author points out as a main reason for Bulgaria's misfortunes not that she is wrong is deeply incarnated in her writing style This felt unfair 15 Unfortunately this wasn't for me I found parts here in and there that fascinated me and I'm so interested in learning and knowing about Bulgaria and it's history but this had a lot of excessive details that pushed me from enjoying what was being shared It felt to me that it dragged on and there seemed to be a lot of tangents that I don't feel were necessarily important for us the readers to know but maybe it was important for her to tellAround the world pick for Bulgaria Memoir history book travelogue this book is written with clarity honesty sentiment not sentimentality and humor It's beautifully written The family stories are touching The history portions scratch the surface of huge gaps in my knowledge And the sections devoted to Kassabova's country of Bulgaria had me googling images of almost every place she mentions In fact it would be nice if there were a map in this book for easy reference Between Hotel Drustur and the Golden Dobrudzha I have walked exactly five minutes and twenty five yearsAnd let's face it since arriving a few weeks ago I haven't been myself A few weeks alone in the country of your childhood wreaks havoc on your imported adult personality p 302 3 I am going now and I know never to disturb the natural laws of that country where the people we used to be stroll along the fault lines of a white cliffed town eating vanilla ice cream in the slightly otherworldly September light p 296 1979 was also the year after the assassination by State Security of the dissident writer Georgi Markov in London with a poison tipped umbrella Bulgaria's main claim to fame in the last century if we don't count weightlifters with hairy backs But that year I was preoccupied by a far momentous event the kindergarten summer camp p 24 Kassabova was born in Sofia Bulgaria and grew up under the drab muddy grey mantle of one of communism's most mindlessly authoritarian regimes Escaping with her family as soon as possible after the collapse of the Berlin Wall she lived in Britain New Zealand and Argentina and several other places But when Bulgaria was formally inducted to the European Union she decided it was time to return to the home she had spent most of her life trying to escape What she found was a country languishing under the strain of transition This two part memoir of Kapka's childhood and return explains life on the other side of the Iron Curtain An articulate bright author returns to her native country to bash all things Bulgarian Sometimes insightful and interesting other times times navel gazing and tiresome Kapka spoons up a combination of history travelogue and Iron Curtain memoir with some uestionable exaggeration and pretentious zingers Relevant to those who have lived in Bulgaria or have some connection to or special interest in the country Really enjoyed this trip through BulgariaThe author gives a fantastic tour of her country in a writing style that is easy to read yet full of emotion and pathos

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