Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Bai Ganyo

Bai Ganyo: Incredible Tales of a Modern Bulgarian, by Aleko Konstantinov

Everybody's doing 2017 halfway posts!  And that sounds like a really fun thing to do, but I'm going out of town for a few days, and rushing around getting ready, so perhaps I'll manage one when I get back.  Meanwhile, imagine me on a beach, and enjoy the single post I'm able to write before I go.

Aleko Konstantinov was a Bulgarian political journalist, and he wrote this comic novel around 1895 (two years before he was assassinated).  As far as I can tell, Bai Ganyo became an instant popular classic and has been a favorite ever since.  It's a collection of stories about Ganyo Balkanski, a seller of rose-oil.

Bai Ganyo is everybody's embarrassing uncle.  He blusters and barges in where he isn't wanted.  He is a master at mooching off anyone and everyone.  He pinches respectable shopgirls and propositions honorable matrons.  He needs to bathe more often, and he's vocal about his suspicions of people who want to steal his rose-oil, but he's kind of lovable -- in an awful way -- anyhow.  The first half of the novel consists of people telling about their run-ins with Bai Ganyo in the capitals of Europe.

The second half, after Bai Ganyo returns home to Bulgaria, takes a darker turn as he gets involved in politics and journalism, rigging elections and bribing people with aplomb.  Konstantinov uses his creation to satirize the thoroughly corrupt Bulgarian political process (Bulgaria was still quite a young country at this time, having previously been part of the Ottoman Empire; Russia helped it gain independence.  So there's a lot about those two powers).

It's an interesting read, with lots about Bulgarians' ideas about themselves and their national character.  I can see how Bai Ganyo became such a popular 'scrappy little guy' character -- a bit like Svejk with the Czechs, I guess.  In fact, in 2003 Konstantinov was put on the 100-lev note, with his masterpiece on the opposite side.
Bai Ganyo has been translated into plenty of European languages, but apparently this is the first time it's appeared in English (to my surprise).  A team of four Slavic translators worked on it together. 

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