Subscribe to Granta today

Best Untranslated Writers: Petar Delchev


The Best Untranslated Writers series – in which well-known writers select and showcase fellow writers from their own languages who are not yet widely translated – began with a trio of Brazilians and was followed by Valeria Luiselli on Sergio Pitol, Etgar Keret on Gadi Taub, Edwidge Danticat on Kettly Mars and Santiago Roncagliolo on Guadalupe Nettel. Today, Miroslav Penkov introduces Peter Delchev.

The Brave Words of Petar Delchev

I grew up in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, in a two-bedroom apartment instead of a shepherd’s hut, surrounded not by flocks of white sheep but by packs of buses and electric trains. And yet, I’m a peasant at heart. I’m drawn furiously to the Bulgarian mountain; in love with the Bulgarian village. And so, I’m drawn to the stories of Petar Delchev – collected in two slim volumes that I hope will one day find their way to the heart of the English-speaking reader.

Born in 1971, Petar Delchev (Петър Делчев) graduated from a technical school, then joined the Bulgarian army as a border guard. He tried his luck at university, but never completed his two attempted majors. A certified sailor, he spent time sailing the Black Sea. At one point, he owned a small carpentry factory, at another he installed billboards, constructed spectator stands for beach volleyball matches, organized kickboxing tournaments. Lately, he has been restoring ruined village houses, managing a tailoring factory... and, of course, writing fiction.

Mr Delchev published his debut collection – Trun Stories (Трънски разкази) – in 2006. Trun (Bulgarian for “thorn”) is an ancient town near the border with Serbia; the region is poor, its villages decaying, its people wild. Their tongue is peculiar – a dialect that sadly will be lost in translation. But Mr Delchev’s dialogue is strong and vivid, and I’m sure will burn with life in English, the way it burns in Bulgarian. The stories are translatable, because the characters, though uniquely Bulgarian, are also deeply human. Like the shepherd, who in hopes of turning his life around, accepts a fatal challenge – to kill a lone wolf, barehanded. Or the mother who, desperate to protect her honour, takes the life of her unborn children. A father descends into madness, his daughter with child from a dead man; a priest hangs himself beside the church bell, heartbroken by his flock’s godlessness . . . Yes, these are not light-hearted stories for the light of heart. And neither are the three long tales in Mr Delchev’s second book – Balkan Suite (Балканска сюита) – based on Bulgarian myth, legend, historical fact; they are a product of, as their author admits in an interview, meticulous research.

Meticulous research too lays the foundation of Mr Delchev’s third book – Casting for a Messiah (Кастинг за Месия) – his debut novel, published in Bulgaria last December (Ciela 2012). The year is 2054 and a small island in the South Pacific is hosting an unusual assembly – thousands of Christians, officials from all world denominations, have gathered in hopes of overcoming their age-old differences and creating one unified and all-powerful Church. An omniscient third person point of view; a cast ranging wildly from clergy to journalists to captains of the Russian navy and Chinese mobsters; a page count that goes well over five hundred; and the intention that this is only part one of two books make Mr Delchev’s novel a grand, daring, if flawed undertaking.

That the novel has flaws comes with the territory. It’s admirable that some of these flaws arise from Mr Delchev’s bravery and great ambition; it’s sad that others spawn from the fact that in Bulgaria today, there are no editors who work with the author, help him develop an idea, push him to write and then rewrite and then rewrite some more. But this is perhaps a subject of another conversation.

I’m talking now of Mr Delchev’s bravery; of his books rightly loved by a faithful following of Bulgarian readers; of his words, still untranslated, which one day, I hope, will ring out in many foreign tongues.

Images from Petar Delchev’s Facebook fan page.

Comments (38)

You need to create an account or log in to comment.

  1. Sinibaldi

    Tue Jul 02 15:28:14 BST 2013

    Danza y poesía.

    Como la rima
    de una hoja
    que brilla,
    como el sol
    que regresa
    en el llanto
    infinito de una
    noche encantada.

    Francesco Sinibaldi

  2. Arthur Mustache

    Mon Feb 17 23:46:20 GMT 2014

    "A peasant at heart" is one of the greatest lines that I've ever seen. I've felt that about myself a thousand times, but never thought to put it quite like that. Typically, "I was born in the wrong era" is the other version of what this quote kind of means to me. A little less drastic maybe, though.

  3. travis.mccmis

    Mon Dec 16 11:01:43 GMT 2013

    I know what you mean, I read some of his books!

  4. rudi haryano

    Sat Mar 22 04:01:22 GMT 2014

    SpongeBob SquarePants

  5. rudi haryano

    Sat Mar 22 03:59:50 GMT 2014

    vitamin burung |

    pakan burung |

    obat burung |

    Raih Mimpimu Bersama Komunitas Blogger Lampung |

    Thank for your article. I wish will mother more about it. Say thanks to you very much. Wealthy persona greatday. Was that wrong? I gotta plead ignorance on this one...

  6. Tommy Hunter

    Mon Apr 21 16:32:29 BST 2014

    We all dream; we do not understand our dreams, yet we act as if nothing strange goes on in our sleep minds, strange at least by comparison with the logical, purposeful doings of our minds when we are awake.

  7. karismas

    Thu Mar 20 13:26:03 GMT 2014

    I have 2 BH palettes, but I'm not sure how interested you'd be in swapping them, I could check through my stash to see if I have anything you'd like to swap if you're not interested in them, they're the 120 colour 1st edition and 28 colour smokey eye. Both only swatched a bit, I decided I wasn't too crazy on bright colours.

  8. bidadari

    Sat Jan 04 23:35:26 GMT 2014

    às vezes não nos damos conta que significava muito para nós, mas pelo menos nós apreciamos o trabalho dos outros, muito obrigado, o seu artigo é muito inspirador para mim. Muito obrigado
    se ele também cai nessa categoria? sim parece que é verdade o que você diz sobre isso. obrigado antecipadamente, naquela manhã lá, minha querida, você sempre Mobil Sedan Corolla

  9. Creepers

    Wed Apr 09 13:23:31 BST 2014

    I grew up a Motley Crue and Ramones fan. Metal, Punk, anything to rebel. Even NWA. I had long hair and eventually shaved it to a mohawk. I have six ear piercings. Today, I'm a 40 year old punk rock biker with a ponytail halfway down my back and a pretty decent beard going on. ALL my friends have tattoos. Now, I'M more of a rebel because I never got one. Neener. lol

  10. Marvin Cuomo

    Fri Apr 04 18:41:40 BST 2014

    since travel is, in a sense, about the conspiracy of perception and imagination, the two great travel writers, for me, to whom I constantly return are Emerson and Thoreau (the one who famously advised that “traveling is a fool’s paradise,” and the other who “traveled a good deal in Concord”).

  11. belly

    Wed Apr 09 11:31:31 BST 2014

    Incredible! I had no idea that this can be so interesting – thanks to this article enus factor review ,apple cider vinegar weight loss at

  12. rudi haryano

    Wed Apr 23 13:10:21 BST 2014
    Thanks, very useful article, I will come back again to this website, to see the next article, success always, warm regards from me

  13. Jeff

    Sun Jan 19 09:45:48 GMT 2014

    Hi excellent post, a friend of mine referred to this page when searching similar info, great stuff.

  14. rickey

    Tue Apr 22 12:15:51 BST 2014

    Very interesting and also informative. Thanks for sharing this article. oogle sniper, what is google sniper, google sniper 2.0 review, google sniper 2, google sniper scam at

  15. Marvin Cuomo

    Thu Mar 27 01:35:52 GMT 2014

    This was very compelling. I thoroughly enjoyed your fine work and look forward to more in the future. Keep it up!

  16. Levi

    Fri Feb 07 04:19:09 GMT 2014

    Very good source of information, thank you!