Iliya Troyanov was born in Sofia in 1965. Aged six, he and his family fled to Germany where they were granted political asylum. Their journey was the start of a life in many different places: with the family in Kenya, back in Munich for studies, in Mumbai or Cape Town, and repeatedly back in Vienna, where Iliya Troyanov currently lives.
In 1996, he made his debut as a literary writer with Die Welt ist groß und Rettung lauert überall. In this book, amidst magical scenes and reality, he describes a child’s flight from Bulgaria with his parents –and we can assume that there are also autobiographical excerpts. This impressive book with its equally charming as well as sophisticated narrative lays the foundation for two main aspects of Iliya Troyanov’s work.
First of all, he repeatedly engages with the homeland of his childhood, namely Bulgaria. The 1999 travelogue Hundezeiten, subtitled “Heimkehr in ein fremdes Land” is dedicated to this country and its circumstances as well as the memorable and impressive magnum opus Macht und Widerstand published in 2016.
Secondly, in a series of books he embraces the entire world to capture both its cultural richness and economic hardship. They include the novel released in 2006 The Collector of Worlds (translated by William Hobson) and The Lamentations of Zeno (the 2016 English translation by Philip Boehm of Eistau, 2011) and multiple reportages about the “entfesselter Globus” – another title in which Troyanov doesn’t even stop at Oberammergau.
Inevitably, there are gaps in this record. The list of his activities also includes his work as a translator and editor of the book series Weltlese as well as his work as a campaigner in Angriff auf die Freiheit (co-authored with Juli Zeh, 2009) or in the aforementioned Kampfabsage, which is available in a new, extended edition.
All of these aspects are compiled in the philosophical-aphoristic essay Nach der Flucht released in 2017. In 99 paragraphs Iliya Troyanov lists the distressing scenes accompanying migrants during and after the journey. And he gives an account in 99 paragraphs of the ‘rescues’ associated with such journeys despite all the tragedies. For example, the alertness of the senses, cultural richness and the occasional liberating feeling of alienation. With an agile, dialectical pirouette, Iliya Troyanov succeeds in giving a positive account of the subject of escape – an experience that intensifies one’s gaze and makes one acutely sensitive to listening. This change of fortunes culminates in a quotation that is typical for Iliya Troyanov’s work:
“The danger is not that we water down our culture, but that we cannot get enough of what is foreign.”
Iliya Troyanov will be honoured for his work with the award of the 2018 “Austrian Book Trade Honorary Award for Tolerance in Thought and Action”. The prize will be presented to Iliya Troyanov on 25 November 2018 at the European Literature Days.
By Beat Mazenauer
Translated by Suzanne Kirkbright