Peter Delchev is a Bulgarian poet and writer, born in 1971.
His first collection of poems was published in 2006 and was entitled “Mad to be Loved”. The same year was marked by the publication of his first collection of short stories “Stories from Trun” which came out to be a phenomenon in the literary realm of Bulgaria. This book was nominated for the Elias Canetti Award for 2007. In 2016, the Plovdiv Drama Theatre staged a play, Wolves, based on his Stories from Trun, directed by Diana Dobreva. The play received three Askeer awards: for Dobreva’s stage production, for Ivana Pappazova’s supporting female role, and for Petya Dimanova’s theatrical music.
His second book was “A Balkan Suite”, a collection of novellas based on legends. It was first published in 2009. In 2013, Stories from Trun and A Balkan Suite were published in one volume, together with an additional short story.
In 2012, Peter Delchev published his first novel, A Casting for a Messiah.
Peter Delchev is the co-author of the dialogues and the dialects consultant for the film “Voevoda” (2017), directed by Zornitsa Sophia.
Since 2007, Delchev is a member of the Union of Bulgarian Writers.
- Mad to be Loved (2006), poems
- Stories from Trun (2006), short stories
- A Balkan Suite (2009), novellas
- A Casting for a Messiah (2012), a novel
- Stories from Trun + A Balkan Suite (2013), a second, supplemented edition
A Balkan Suite: the Book
The book A Balkan Suite is a collection of three novellas, based on legends set in chronological order, in the centuries when Bulgaria was under the rule of the Ottoman Turks. On the whole, the three novellas are an attempt to penetrate into the mindset of the peoples that inhabit the Balkan peninsular — a crossroads of religions and nations, a seething ethnic cauldron that has kindled the fire of two world wars.
The first novella puts a distinction not between “good” and “bad” people not along the line of “kindred” and “alien,” “Christians” against “Moslems,” but between common people, facing a pack of cut-throats without a trace of humanity in them. Which will prove stauncher: steel or traditions, fire or innocence?
The second novella is based on a legend, told in numerous places in the Balkans, howbeit differing in versions: a (young) man grabs on his back a lassie and tries to carry this burden on top of a steep mountain. If he is capable to reach the top, he will marry the girl; if he fails, he would lose her forever. In the novella The Infidel’s Hill the man and the young woman are of different ethnos, religion, fortune, age, life experience and social status. The only thing they have in common is love. However, their love is impossible in their time and place.
The third novella features Angelina Voevoda (chieftain) — a collective image of all Bulgarian women that took arms and became haidout chieftains to fight for their people’s freedom. This voevoda, however, is not entirely of their kind, because she has found out that serfdom and freedom are states of the spirit. That is why she battles on three different fronts — against the Turkish enslavers of the Bulgarian lands and people, against the ecclesiastical elite who submissively ignore the Greek rapacity despoiling our Bulgarian creed and spirituality, and against those Bulgarian males, who lived like animals and turned their wives into livestock.
The messages of A Balkan Suite are both timely and encompassing, because our Past is what we step upon in order to uplift ourselves and see our Future more clearly.
A BALKAN SUITE
Translated by Petko T. Hinov
The Hill of the Roasted Maiden
“Granny! Granny Vangella! Have you seen our Rhoyda? This morning she went out with the goats, yet she’s not back, look at the time now! Tomorrow’s her elder sister’s betrothal, there’s plenty to do. All of us are buckled down to it, only she’s gone off to who knows where. Told her to get back sooner today, to get things done in time, because betrothal is a great feast, for shame! And look, she’s nowhere…”
The villager who accosted old Vangella on the path from the forest, was not trying to hide his fright. His hands, coarse with labour, were darting here and there, as though fleas were biting him all over – they thrust themselves under the shirt, adjusted the waist-belt, scratched the sheepskin cap, tilted backwards from the sweaty forehead.
“You’re out for herbs? Coming from the woods? So, have you seen our young maiden, Rhoyda, anywhere?” Anxiety thinned the man’s voice and hope made it tremble.
“I have not, master, I have not, Mateyko. Consider where I amble: amid gullies and ravines, and your maiden Rhoyda is a child of the mountains, she ventures to the heights to them her heart draws her. From there your young maiden looks at a wider world and also looks to see Velichko him shepherd boy!”
And the old woman’s laughter came out nasty and evil, as though she was amused by an unseemly secret.
She was a cracky old hag, but she had knowledge of herbs and was able to cure severe ailments in people. Villagers, however, sent for her only when in sorry plight and called her to help only when in dire straits. They all believed she was dealing with magic. She had befriended some evil spirits and they always walked about her, so while she’s taking away one plight from you, she’s bringing you another. These were rumoured among womenfolk and they avoided her as best they could. The elderly related how, in her younger days, Vangella was just an ordinary bride, but her man got together with a chap to roam the mountains and dig for gold. But not for panning off gold sand in rills, as sometimes other villagers used to do whenever they came across a spot unrummaged by the ancient mine-diggers. They were out for “effortless” gold – other people’s money buried for a rainy day and neglected after the rainy days were over.
That was not a trade, but now and then somebody was taken in by old wives’ rigmaroles. Vangella’s husband became deeply entangled in this, up to the eyebrows! For in a world like ours, where your most likely companion is disillusion, your bread is your best hope and your salt comes from your sweat. So he was obsessed by this dream, he was seized with this gold fever. He lost his affection for his child, regarding him as one alien. He started beating his own wife, no tenderness remained in him for her. In those days, when she was pouring for him water to wash and handed him an embroidered towel, Vangella touched, as though by accident, his body, warmed her hands and heart upon his masculine strength. But after he sickened for gold, she warily kept her distance, for he would lift a hand for nought. He never struck, only raised the back of his palm and that seemed even more gruesome. He disliked his food, his bed became too rough for him, all things in their little house stood in his way.
And yet, they had married for love: both orphaned, both lonesome poor souls. The young lad promised to build her a palace so that she, Vangella, would live in it like a queen. He would adorn her bedding with gold coins – so they would shine for her in the night while she’s combing her long hair. Such things did he say when they fell in love, dirt-poor but young – ready to hug the whole world. Big words did he utter; great wishes did he cherish – to make his sweetheart happy. While he was talking to her, she would always smile and look him in the eyes. This man could not realise that for her, his voice was more sonorous than the ringing of gold coins pouring from an earthen jug, that his hands were a cradle hanging on two trees in the garden of Eden.
Years passed and penury overwhelmed him and broke his heart. Whatever did he not try? And yet, he not only did not earn money for a palace, but was barely able to pile up a hut. Nevertheless, it never occurred to him what a queen lived in it. By and by, he became taciturn; and in this dumb silence, his heart became ferocious. He would bare his teeth and by and by, his words became like snarling. In his heart, he reproached Vangella that she was the one who rubbed it into him to trudge for a hidden treasure; that her words for that palace was what took away his peace. His bride, nonetheless, continued to look him in the eyes and smile, until he became totally cold and started showing off his manly strength – seeking support in it rather than in his manly heart.
Vangella endured all this; she endured it, till one morning she finally resolved to antagonise him. She stood up at the gate in front of him when he was preparing to go out beating about the hills for treasures, and told him either to take to business in the field and quit on his humbug treasure-seeking, or to leave this house and never return. Let him seek his palace, let him find his queen elsewhere! She was hardly able to intimidate her husband, blinded by the demons of gold, for he raised his hand and this time did not stop short of hitting her – as though he had been waiting for this resistance, to have the floodgates of his bitterness open and turn it into seething ire.
Vangella fell flat on the ground. She hardly summoned up her strength to get up – for she wanted to comfort her little child who was shrieking as a chicken on the chopping log. She saw the wide back of her indifferent man moving away through the yard; this instant she realised that her life had irreversibly changed – as only love, hate and death can change life. Then, she was obsessed with such unimaginable spite – it flooded her, it blended with her blood streaming out of her broken lips and along with the teeth knocked out, her spite flew out on the wings of inhuman curse to reach her husband. So furious that curse was, that it horrified Vangella herself! She cursed him: whatever his heart would seek – may he find at his feet; whatever he would find at his feet – may his eyes behold; whatever would his eyes behold – may his hand touch; whatever would his hands touch – may it turn into a serpent! May the serpent swallow his eyes – so that he would look and see nothing; may it bite his hands – so that whatever he would hold, would slip away; may it writhe round his feet – so that he would try to walk, and stay immovable! May a serpent poison him, but let him live in agony, until he comes to abominate his own heart and then may his heart turn into ashes.
This is how she cursed him and the darkness took her away, while her body was lying prostrate on the threshold. When she came to herself, her child was gone. She called him, she sought for him in the hut, she ran recklessly round the yard and finally found him drowned in the draw-well. The water pail had proved too heavy for his little hands – and he had tried, poor dear!, to scoop up cold water, to bring round his darling mommy, to wash her face, but the pail escaped his little hands and dragged him down, rope and all, straight into the icy bosom of the well.
The very same day, some men carried Vangella’s husband home. Dead. They had found him nearby the Bear’s Pit – the bottomless abyss. His feet were tied with a rope, his hands were squeezing an empty jug, his face was sliced by a yataghan across the eyes. And his heart – it had been pierced by a bullet, from so near that his shirt and flesh were burned and ashes were falling from the bullet-hole. His comrade was gone and nobody knew where and for what reason. Some people said, that roving janissaries had attacked them both. Such gangs were numerous, on account of Sultan Mehmet’s disbanding his Janissary corps: The Sultan had bundled off thousands of destitute soldiers with only a few pennies in their purse – their last pay for centuries of service. However, the janissaries did not surrender their weapons. For the sake of a jug of gold they did away Vangella’s husband, so they say, and his comrade they pushed into the pit. Others swore they had seen his partner scooting across the mountain with a load on his back – he was running so desperately, as though Kutsulan, the chieftain of wolves, was breathing in his tracks.
 Kutsulan, in Bulgarian folk beliefs, is the name of the most dangerous and bloodthirsty wolf. Although he is usually presented as a lone wolf, he is also believed to be the leader of the wolf pack. He is imagined as a big lame wolf (kutsulan, in Bulgarian means one lame or limping), but sometimes as an old man, and is given the role of a wolf shepherd.