On the Dissemination of Bulgarian Literature in Italy

Bulgaria-Italy Survey » CULTURE | June 1, 2011, Wednesday // 11:23
Bulgaria: On the Dissemination of Bulgarian Literature in Italy Yordan Radichkov, 1929-2004, one of the most prominent Bulgarian prose writers. Photo by Darik News

Article by Giuseppe Dell'Agata, University of Pisa, for the "International Survey: Bulgaria-Italy" of (Sofia News Agency)


Before the Second World War Italy was probably the country most opened towards and knowledgeable of the Bulgarian literature. The political sympathy towards the Bulgarian state in the period of fascism, the strong penetration of Italian capital, and finally the dynastic marriage of King Boris and Giovanna of Savoy have contributed to the mutual familiarization between the two languages and literatures.

In 1925 Enrico Damiani (1892-1953), the patriarch of Bulgaristics in Italy, published Bulgarian Poets – a double serial of the "Culture review", with translations of poetry of Hristo Botev, Pencho Slaveykov, Peyu Yavorov, Todor Trayanov, Nikolay Liliev, Dora Gabe, Dimcho Debelyanov and prose of Ivan Vazov, Petko Todorov, Elin Pelin and Nikolay Raynov, together with articles of Boyan Penev and Aleksandar Balabanov.1

In 1928 in the center of Sofia, in the presence of the Apostolic Nuncio Angelo Roncalli (future Pope John XXIII) was opened the splendid building of the Italian cultural and religious mission Opera Italiana pro Oriente, created by monsignor Francesco Galloni.

In 1929 a section of the Dante Alighieri Committee opened in Sofia, while in September 1930 an Italian secondary school, frequented by 235 students was opened in the building on Rakovski Street occupied earlier by the Ministry of Education. It was followed by the establishment of other Italian secondary schools in various Bulgarian cities.

On 13 April 1931 in Rome the Italian-Bulgarian Association was established, chaired by Damiani, having as an objective, in accordance with its Statute, 'to familiarize the Italians with Bulgaria and the Bulgarians with Italy'.

Giorgio Nurigiani, a publicist of Armenian origin from Livorno, a propagandist of the Italian cultural, economic and political influence (naturally, through a fascist perspective), founder of the journal Svetoglas and chairman of the organization of foreign journalists in Bulgaria, offered the Italian reader a remarkable compendium of information (some of which have to be taken cautiously) on Bulgarian history, politics and culture in his volume Ten Years of Life in Bulgaria 1920-1930.

Two chapters of the book – Italian-Bulgarian Relations and Bulgarian Literature, refer exactly to our topic. Numerous translations into Italian were made in the period between 1928 – the fiftieth anniversary of the Liberation of Bulgaria – and 1943.

Very significant, through its quality and originality, was the activity of Luigi Salvini (1911-1957), the most brilliant student of Damiani. Yet as a student, he published the small volume Popular Songs; short stories of Yordan Yovkov (Shibil) and the fine anthology Bulgarian Story-tellers appeared in the 30-ies under his editorship.

Worth noting is his contribution as a historian of literature, with a precise and impartial opinion, in the monograph Bulgarian Literature from the Liberation to the First World War (1936). Translations and articles about Bulgarian literature appeared in the Review of Slavic Literature (1926-1932), published by the editor Ettore Lo Gatto in Rome, in the Italian-Bulgarian Journal for Literature, History and Arts (1931-1936), published by Damiani in Sofia, and in Bulgaria (1939-1943), also edited by Damiani in Rome. Bulgaria, though paying a certain tribute to the imperatives of propaganda, is a well organized periodical, which can be a source of some useful information even today.

After the war the interest diminished and translations became rarer. The Italian-Bulgarian Association, founded by Damiani in 1931, was transformed into Association Italy-Bulgaria – with a different political and cultural orientation, supported by the Italian communist party and guided by functionaries, who often managed to achieve good results in the publishing and cultural activity.

In 1950 Damiani published in Naples, under the editorship of the Oriental Institute, a voluminous Anthology of Contemporary Bulgarian Poetry, with the original covers, which, though printed in the old orthography, is a genuine peak in his remarkable and dedicated translation activities.

In 1952 Salvini translated Emilian Stanev's short story A Tranquil Evening. In 1956, in the spirit of the local de-stalinization under the leadership of Todor Zhivkov, the Bulgarian consul in Milan Yordan Ivanov encouraged two bi-lingual translators (Italians, born in Bulgaria) Leonardo Pampuri and Walter Andreani to translate the poetry of Vaptsarov, as well as the well-known poem of Geo Milev September.

The Association Italy-Bulgaria assigned to Salvini a project of a series of translations of Bulgarian literature works. Salvini, at that time already gravely ill, spared no effort and managed, several days before his death, to organize the project for this series that bears his name. He put together translations made earlier, organized new ones, translated himself.

Nine volumes were published between 1957 and 1961, all elegantly printed, and some with the original illustrations of famous artists like Renato Guttuso and Ennio Calabria: Daughter-in-law by Alexander Hadjihristov (after Georgi Karaslavov's story Yurtalan's Daughter-in-law), The Farm by the Frontier by Yordan Yovkov, September by Geo Milev, Bulgarian Popular Songs, Lyrics and Selected Excerpts of Hristo Botev, Yurtalan's Daughter-in-law by Georgi Karaslavov, a two-volume Anthology of Bulgarian Lyrics and a collection of thirteen short stories by Yovkov, entitled Balkan.

With the active support of the Association Italy-Bulgaria the dissemination of the Italian translations of Bulgarian literary works went via the Catholic Paolini Publishers, well-known for its strong position and opportunities for large distribution.

In the period between 1960 and 1966 eight books were published: Mehmed Sinap and Cholera by Lyudmil Stoyanov, Coming by Ivan Vazov, Sun's Wedding by Petko Todorov, The Last Day by Stoyan Zagorchinov (which even got a reprint), The Happiness of the Poor Men and The Gherak Family by Elin Pelin, and the excellent story for children by Emilian Stanev Across Woods and Waters. Some of these titles, though wrongly indicated as 'translated from the original', have been in fact translated from French or Russian language.

In the following period of some ten years very few Bulgarian works have been translated into Italian – to recall only Avakum against Mr. X by Andrey Gulyashki, Mister No-one by Bogomil Raynov and the important, though much disputed book Manol and his Hundred Brothers (in the original Time of Violence) by Anton Donchev.

For more than a decade - from 1976 on, the vast majority of Bulgarian literary works translated into Italian appeared by merit of the Roman publisher Mario Bulzoni. Bulzoni received support from various Bulgarian institutions and worked in full synchrony with Lyubomir Levchev – a Bulgarian poet-communist with Mayakovski-type motifs that occupied first-rank positions in the Bulgarian state apparatus (heading the Ministry of Culture from 1975 to 1979, and from 1979 to 1989 chairing the Union of the Bulgarian Writers).

The Bulgarian Library published mainly Lvechev's poetry (The Stars are Mine, Greeting to the Fire and Night Patrol), Let it be Day by Hristo Smirnenski, Before the Autumn Comes by Damian Daniamov, Dock by Bozhidar Bozhilov, Poems and Thoughts by Atanas Dalchev (with a preface by the well-known Slav scholar Sante Graciotti) and The Legend of the Wanton Queen and other poems by Dimcho Debelyanov.

Unfortunately, only the last volume under the editorship of Daniela Di Sora appeared with a Bulgarian original on the cover – something I consider to be absolutely necessary for publication of poetry. The prose was represented by the famous Bai Ganyo by Aleko Konstantinov, translated by Lavinia Borriero, a new Antology of Elin Pelin's short stories, and the comedy of Stanislav Stratiev Beeeeehhh! (a comedy in two acts) with the original title Suede Jacket.

The 80's marked the beginning of a period where the selection of literary works to translate belonged fully to the Italian Slav scholars and Bulgarian scholars, and the publications did not receive support from Bulgarian institutions any more.

Fascinated by the extraordinary prose of Yordan Radichkov – probably the best representative of the Bulgarian prose of the XX century, I transmitted my enthusiasm to a very good student of the University of Pisa (who later became a highly appreciated scholar of Spanish) Danilo Manera. Manera translated a selection of Radichkov's short stories The Stories of Cherkazki, published by the pretentious and authoritarian Marietti Publishing House.

The short stories were selected from three books: Furious Mood, Aquarius and The Wind of Tranquility and represented a revolutionary phenomenon that completely changed the Bulgarian literature in the middle of the 60's. The publication was an outstanding success. Radichkov received the Grinzane award, over fifty reviews were published – nearly all enthusiastic, some by critics of international fame like Maria Corti and Lucio Magris.

The Marietti Publishing House published two more volumes of translation from the Bulgarian language, edited by Manera: The January Egg, again by Radichkov, and The Legend of Sibin, the Prince of Preslav by Emilian Stanev. The long line of Radichkov's successes stimulated Manera to re-publish his first collection, this time under the title The Verblyud and other Chronicles of Cherkazki.

Daniela Di Sora, a longtime professor of Bulgarian language in the University of Pisa, commissioned the publication for Biblioteca del Vascello of a long story by Nikolay Raynov (The Devil's Apprentice), satiric texts of Ivan Kulekov (This is not Irony) and a new collection of Radichkov's short stories (People and Magpies and Memories of Horses).

From the mid -90's the publishing house Voland of Daniela Di Sora has nearly monopolized the publication of Italian translations from the Bulgarian language. Voland published two splendid works of Emilian Stanev – The Thief of Peaches and Lazarus, Jesus and other stories, in an excellent translation and especially elegant edition (illustrated by the well-known graphic artist Alberto Lecaldano).

Two short stories by Radichkov appeared in 2000 – the well-known and translated into many languages We the Sparrows and Water Snakes, the latter proposed and edited by the writer of these lines. These books charmed the well-known actor and writer Mauro Corona and two young producers from Bologna - Fabio Del Zozzo and Bruna Gambardelli, who created on their basis two vanguard pantomimic performances put on stage in Italy, and then in Bulgaria – in Sofia and Plovdiv.2

In 2001 the publishing house Voland offered a new satiric collection with amusing drawings and reflections of Ivan Kulekov on the difficult transition to market economy – No time, No Order, No Direction. In 2002, under the edition of Giuseppe Dell'Agata, another fascinating booklet by Radichkov was published – The Duck, where action takes place in a somewhat Roma environment, pierced by slightly melancholic and humoristic political contemplations on the forthcoming difficult accession of Bulgaria into the European Union.

The newer and significant offers by Voland, after the epochal changes of 1989, were related to prose writers distinguished for their great success in their country and abroad, being translated into dozens of languages.

In 2005 appeared, in Italian language, Natural Story by Georgi Gospodinov (b. 1968) – a cult post-modernist story, though in a moderated post-modernist style, brimming with lyrical inspiration and sweet memories of childhood, translated by Daniela Di Sora herself, and Irina Stoilova. In 2006 appeared the collection of short stories ...and other stories, translated and edited by Giuseppe Dell'Agata.

Again in 2008 Voland published Mission London by Alek Popov (b. 1966) – yet another literary work with an exceptional success in Bulgaria, translated into fourteen languages. Mission London is at the peak of grand satire, rather auto-critical, in the spirit of the tradition of the well-known Bai Ganyo by Aleko Konstantinov; the work concentrates on the ambiguous activities and absurdities in the diplomatic management of the Bulgarian embassy in London (the author has worked there as a trainee in the Cultural Sector), amid a theft of royal ducks, failed actors, Russian mafia, Scotland Yard, college students – erotic dances, South-American revolutionaries and fraudulent English agencies offering to organize close meetings with false VIPs (including late Lady Diana). A movie has been made after the book that tops the ratings for the past twenty years.

Giuseppe Dell'Agata has selected in cooperation with the author, and edited, a collection of Alek Popov's short stories, Mythology of Transition, published in 2010 by the sophisticated publishing house: Colon from Palermo.

These are short stories that contain an element of political-philosophical reasoning on the relations between the East and Western Europe that touch on the delicate topic of the 'Transition', but express also the surprising strength of the author's inventiveness.

From among the translations from Bulgarian of other publishers we could note the collection Poems of Pencho Slaveykov (New Press, Como 1990), with the original text in Bulgarian given in parallel, published under the editorship of Leonardo Pampuri, Signals (Selected Poems 1937-1999), with the original text printed in parallel, edited by Valeria Salvini and an introduction by Julia Krusteva (Foundation Piazzola Roma, 2000) and The Strange Knight of the Sacred Book by Anton Donchev in translation by Augusto Fonseca (Besa, Nardo 2001).

The Association Bulgaria-Italy (, under the intelligent and dedicated presidency of Paolo Modesti, published two ample Bulgarian anthologies – one of poems (with the original texts given in parallel), by distinct merit of Leonardo Pampuri, Petals of Thorny Roses from the Balkans, Padova 2004, 358 pp., with a preface by Moni Ovadia, and an essay presenting the editor, written by Dell'Agata, and the other – of short stories, under the editorship of Dell'Agata, Anthology of the Bulgarian Short Story, Padova 2006, 376 pp. Both anthologies enjoy success among the public, and are nearly out of print.

Lately, the publishing house Baldini Castoldi Dalai published an important trilogy of the Bulgarian writer of Jewish origin Angel Wagenstein, an active figure of the anti-fascist resistance – Farewell, Shanghai (Milan, 2008), translated by Roberto Adinolfi, The Pentateuch of Isaac Blumenfeld (Milan, 2009) with a preface by Moni Ovadia and translation by Sibylle Kirchbach, and only under the sign of the Dalai publishing house – Abraham the Drunkard (Milan, 2011), again translated by Kirchbach.

1 In view of the limited space, reference is made towards bibliography contained in the Anthology of the Bulgarian Short story, Padova 2006, under my edition, in which the original Bulgarian titles are indicated (pp. 31-35). The Bulgarian reader could consult my introduction to the Anthology of the Bulgarian Short Story, translated by Neva Mitcheva: Джузепе Дел'Агата, Исторически бележки относно приема и разпространението на българската литература в Италия, in Sledva, a review of the New Bulgarian University, 22/2010, pp. 24-40.

2 For additional information about the activity and art of Yoprdan Radichkov, v. Giuseppe Dell'Agata, My meetings with Yordan Radichkov, in "eSamizdat" 2005 (3), pp.211-215, and for the Bulgarian reader – Europe, the Cyrilic and Yordan Radichkov, in "Списание на Българската Академия на Науките" ("Review of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences") 4/2005, pp.5-8.,

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