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Interview with Theodora Dimova

"Literature connects heaven and earth"

Interview with Theodora Dimova, winner of the Great Award for Eastern European Literature sponsored by Bank Austria.

Ms Dimova, congratulations on the award! Did you celebrate?

Dimova: Thank you. Yes. In June, the day after the decision, Fedia Filkova – she was a member of the Bulgarian jury – phoned me and said that I won the prize – actually she said "We won! We won!" (laughs). It was 8 o’clock in the morning and I was jogging on the beach by the Black Sea. I was on holiday there. And I was very surprised and happy. I could not believe it and I did not expect it. In the evening my husband and I went to a restaurant to celebrate.

Your text "The mothers" is about child–parent relationships. How did you find the topic?

Dimova: It is based on a real murder in 2004. Two 14 year old girls killed their 14 year old classmate in Plovdiv. The newspapers were full of reports and stories about child violence. How come that children become so violent? These two 14 year olds don’t come from deprived backgrounds. Their families were pretty normal.

What is the reason for violence?

Dimova: Well, for me it has to do with the time of the transition in Bulgaria. These were the years after communism collapsed and democracy tried to become established. It was a very hard time and there was a lot of distress. Parents were busy with demonstrations, unemployment, poverty and emigration. Kids need a cocoon of love, tenderness and care in order to grow up healthily and they did not get that. Parents were too busy coping with life.

The novel shows seven kids and their relationship to their mothers. At the end they kill their favourite teacher.
Although in the novel the kids are the murderers, in reality the murderer is society. The mothers are a symbol of Bulgarian society and the collapse of values.
And the teacher who gets killed symbolises an angel.

Do you believe in angels?

Dimova: (hesitates) Yes. Everyone has a guardian angel. And literature actually is the connection between the earth and the heaven.

Your book has already received four awards and it is published in France. You are working on the dramatised version. What makes the novel so successful?

Dimova: It is the theme, the topic. And it is a universal topic. Everybody is caught by the child–parent relationship. We all are either guilty in front of the children or the parents.

Is there a difference between literature from Eastern and Western Europe?

Dimova: It depends. No, because human problems are universal. Yes, because the East European countries have a common past: first the decades of communism and then the transition period.

Your translator, Alexander Sitzmann, says there is a common sense of humour in East European countries and the sense of absurd situations is strong. Do you agree?

Dimova: Absolutely. The sense of absurdity comes also from the communist times, when in reality things and situations existed and happened that you cannot think of in normal times.

What do you think about the Great Award for Eastern European Literature, does it make sense to you?

Dimova: It is a recognition of the novel, of course, and also for Bulgaria and its becoming a member of the EU and also for the contemporary writers in the country.
Literature is one of the shortest ways to get to know each other. Now the focus is on Romania and Bulgaria because of their forthcoming EU membership. I hope my novel will justify the interest.

How do you feel about EU membership?

Dimova: In Bulgaria there is a wave of euphoria about it and I am also happy. It was and still is a long and painful process to finally becoming part of the EU. We belong there.

You will receive 7,500 euros in award money. What are you going to do with it?

Dimova: (laughs) I will spend it on the kids and their education. They are going to France to improve their French.

What do you think about coming to terms with the communist era?

Dimova: It is a painful topic and I don’t want to hear or read about it. Nobody does actually. There are hardly any plays or novels about those times. I think many years have still to pass before the process of coming to terms with the past will start.