Zdravka Evtimova was born in 1959 in Pernik, Bulgaria, where she lives and works as literary translator from English, French and German. She has lived and worked as literary translator in Köln, Germany, and in Brussels, Belgium. Her short stories have appeared in the USA, Poland, France, the UK, Canada, Australia, Russia, Germany, Iran, Vietnam, South African Republic, Japan, Argentina, Spain, etc. – altogether in 23 countries of the world.
Interview by Jack Little (UK/Mexico)
Published in The Ofi Press issue 46
1. Do you believe that translation is an act of creation in itself?
Translation, in my view, is harder than writing itself. Writing is freedom, territory where you can go everywhere and everything can happen. Although you are the writer, characters are full of surprises for you, and this makes writing so attractive. Translation is the task to follow the road the writer has paved for you, and when I translate, I often get angry as I disagree with the way this or that character acts, and it is very hard for me to go on translating. On the other hand, translation teaches me to deeply respect different cultures, to be patient and humble, and bow down before every written word. In my case, literary translation has shaped and is still shaping my way of tinkling, my behavior, and my heart. Yes, translation is creation; it is a process of improving human nature.
2. How does your identity as a female Bulgarian writer impact upon your work?
In Bulgaria, women find jobs more easily than men. Every day, I commute from my native town of Pernik to the Bulgarian capital Sofia where I work; approximately 67-70% of the passengers in the train are women who work in Sofia as I do. Men do not actually say it is hard for them to work as hard as their wives; they look for higher salaries and tend not to put up with their bosses’ opinion. I have my dignity, they say, and after a superior tells off a man, the guy wouldn’t hesitate to quit his job. A woman will think not twice, but a hundred times, she says, “I have my dignity, but I gave children, and they need food, notebooks and textbooks. “ After a husband loses his job, it is the wife who puts bread on the table. I deeply respect both Bulgarian women for their willpower and Bulgarian men for their dignity; I think women are more flexible, more patient, more enduring. I often work 12 hours a day, 8 at the office and 4 hours at home, writing. And I am not an exception to the rule; this is what most Bulgarian women do, I respect and love for these hard working girls, and their strong-willed and proud men. My understanding is that Bulgarians deserve and will earn a better future for their children and for our country. My hope is the source of my thirst to write.
3. Does your day or your writing procedure include any element of ritual?
No, I do not have any rituals. Time for writing is the key word here. I write at night when my children and husband sleep, I write in the train on my way to work, and I write instead of meeting my friends at a café. It is really maddening, the stories and people in my head that try to push their way into the world. I dream of having free time for writing, and I have the feeling that maybe I am happy - anytime I can “steal” an hour for writing, a story comes, uninvited but welcomed. In Bulgaria every street is a short story, and a ritual will hamper your writing by eating your very, very limited time. My novel SINFONIA was among the three finalists for SINBAD literary prize 2015, Italy, in Foreign Literature category. The Organizers invited me to stay in the town of Bari for a week. I managed to get away from work for 12 hours. My flight to Bari and back to Sofia lasted 5 hours altogether. But I was happy I could attend the discussions and meet other writers and publishers in Bari.
4. What do you believe in?
I believe that talent holds together words and hearts, and I believe that honesty is the shortest distance between human lives. I believe in human dignity and in human courage to oppose men stronger than you both in everyday life and in the short stories a woman or a man writes.
5. Do you believe that literature can 'make a difference'?
Literature is the most powerful enemy of humiliation. We, human beings, are weak, greedy, revengeful, selfish, and fraudulent. But every one of us hopes to find a friend who is not week, greedy, revengeful, selfish and fraudulent. We try to get rid of avarice, selfishness and fraud in order to win somebody’s heart. In my view, it is literature that shows us how to do this. Literature tells us this is difficult to achieve. It does not lie to us, and that is the reason it makes a difference.
6. How do you judge the value in things?
If a thing, a book, a thought, an idea makes me feel I can overcome a difficulty, I think it has great value. If it helps me endure in a situation when many people surrender, but I continue trudging through difficulties then this book, poem or idea has become a part of my being, perhaps the best part of me.