My rating: 2 stars
The beginning and the ending of The Physics of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov have at least one thing in common – they are both exceedingly bewildering. While reading, I kept wondering what could possibly be the purpose of this book. Unfortunately, I still haven’t come up with an answer for that question, and I’m not sure I ever will. It compiles snippets of moments from the narrator’s past, the life of his family and Bulgarian history. These short expositions are supposed to be in some way connected with the myth of the Minotaur, but that association is not always straightforward.
While the prologue suggests that there may be various narrators, there is in fact only one. When he was younger he could go inside the minds of people from his family and, thus, see and relive what happened in the past. This is conveyed in a confusing way, which left me many times unsure about what was happening. Once he went inside his grandfather’s mind and saw him in a tent learning about the myth of the Minotaur, a creature who has the head of a bull and the body of a human.
The narrator was really inquisitive as a boy, which could have been a problem, since he grew up under the communist regime in a poor household. He was particularly interested in the myth of the Minotaur. Although there is even a defence of this mythological creature mid-way through the book, from the narrator’s explanations I couldn’t fully understand the intricacies of the myth. He associates it with abandoned children.
“Later the myth will transform the child into a monster, so as to justify the sin of his abandonment, the sin against all children, whom we will abandon in the future.”
This is a very fragmented book. None of the characters mentioned are well developed. The narrator is the only one whose life events are present throughout, but only in an incredibly limited way. When it comes to feelings and not the number of pages, his childhood is the most explored part of his life. Sometimes the book even feels like a real memoir. Nevertheless, particularly in the last third, it is more a collection of thoughts on various topics, which are not noteworthy and don’t seem to serve a purpose. The considerations made about humanity’s present feel completely disconnected from the story of the narrator’s life.
The most engrossing segments of the book delve into his grandfather’s relationship with a woman he met while fighting in Hungary during the Second World War and the life under communism. There is a thought-provoking consideration about people not being able to think for themselves, nor speak about themes that were out of the norm.
“That was the greatest trick of the whole conspiracy – being like the others.”
Although some of the thoughts conveyed in The Physics of Sorrow (which I can’t categorise as a novel) are interesting, overall it reads like a far from enthralling disjointed presentation on a variety of themes.