#RivetingReviews: West Camel reviews APOSTOLOFF by Sibylle Lewitscharoff

It would be easy to describe Apostoloff as a ‘road’ novel – the book is structured around a journey across Bulgaria taken by two German-Bulgarian sisters, escorted by a family friend, the eponymous and slightly obscure Rumen Apostoloff. But that would be to simplify what is a complex, nuanced and very subtle study of heritage, parentage, religion and grief.

The first sign that we are not on a typical journey is that the novel begins part-way through what turns out to be a sidetrack to the main trip the sisters have taken. Before the book opens, they have been part of a bizarre convoy travelling across Europe from Stuttgart to Sofia, carrying the disinterred remains of a group of Bulgarian immigrants back to their home country.

After the remains are reinterred in an elaborate ceremony, Apostoloff takes the sisters on a tour of the various notable sights of Bulgaria – its national monuments and tourist attractions – and it is this, not the trans-Europe trip, that forms the novel’s backbone.

We do learn the reasons for the surprising project: a surviving Bulgarian-German, the Svengali-like Tabakoff, has a vision of his group of friends being resurrected from a grand mausoleum in Sofia: ‘his rusty voice informed us of how he pictured the resurrection – in one flying whoosh. Delicate clouds in the sky. God would wait in a pink tunic’.

It is, however, on the side trip the sisters take that we discover the main thrust of the book. The sisters’ father is one of the reinterred immigrants, and it is his presence that dominates the novel, the mind of its narrator, and also the mind of her older sister, which our narrator assures us she is able to read. It transpires that he had in fact taken his own life when the sisters were young. Now middle aged, it is clear his action has dominated their lives and how they see themselves. Throughout the trip, he appears to the narrator as a figure in the sky – a Christ-like presence – his name was, in fact, Kristo. But even when he was alive, he was no benign character. At the very beginning of the book the narrator reflects: ‘A father who puts an end to it all before he wears down the whole family deserves more praise than damnation.’

Religion features heavily in the book: Bulgaria, it seems, never truly discarded its Orthodoxy – and despite their secular German upbringing, the sisters retain an uneasy relationship with it, as they do with their dead father. Visiting a convent, they view some icons:

‘icons are only in possession of their rights when they gleam out of a consecrated space, but only briefly, then they ask to be restored to the darkness, disappearing as secretly as they came’.

This, of course, refers to the mystery at the centre of Christianity, but it reflects the mystery at the centre of this book: why Kristo killed himself, and what this really means for our narrator. For she explores these very serious, very complex themes in a wry, often caustic, and irresistibly funny voice – translated into hilarious English by the great Katy Derbyshire. The humour is surely covering great pain. And by the end of the book, our narrator is admitting as much:

‘It’s not love that keeps the dead in check, I think, only good-naturedly indulged hate.’

Reviewed by West Camel

APOSTOLOFF

Written by Sibylle Lewitscharoff

Translated by Katy Derbyshire

Published by Seagull Books (2013)

Read The German Riveter in its entirety here.

Find the books from The German Riveter on the Goethe-Institut page.


West Camel is a writer, reviewer and editor. He edited Dalkey Archive’s Best European Fiction 2015, and is currently working for new press Orenda Books. His debut novel, Attend, is out now. www.westcamel.net.

Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of ABERRANT by Marek Šindelka

Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of THE HEART OF A STRANGER. AN ANTHOLOGY OF EXILE LITERATURE edited by André Naffis-Sahely

Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of THE TRANSLATOR’S BRIDE by João Reis

Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of CROSSING by Pajtim Statovci

Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of CODEX 1962 by Sjón

Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of THE LAST DAY by Jaroslavas Melnikas

Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of THE DEAD by Christian Kracht

Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of THE PRINCESSE DE CLÈVES by Madame de Lafayette

Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of THE BOOK OF RIGA edited by Becca Parkinson & Eva Eglaja-Kristsone 

Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of THE DEATH OF THE PERFECT SENTENCES by Rein Raud

Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of THE BEAUTIES – ESSENTIAL STORIES by Anton Chekhov

Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of THE DARK BLUE WINTER OVERCOAT & OTHER STORIES FROM THE NORTH edited by Sjón and Ted Hodgkinson

Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of THE HISTORY OF BEES by Maja Lunde

Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of TWELVE WINNING AUTHORS 2017. EUROPEAN UNION PRIZE FOR LITERATURE

Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of OCTOBER: THE STORY OF THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION by China Miéville

Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of SOUNDS FAMILAR or THE BEAST OF ARTEK by Zinovy Zinik

Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of SEEING PEOPLE OFF by Jana Beňová

Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of STONE UPON STONE by Wiesław Myśliwski

Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of A TREATISE ON SHELLING BEANS by Wiesław Myśliwski

Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of THE PENGUIN BOOK OF DUTCH SHORT STORIES edited by Joost Zwagerman

Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of THE YOUNG BRIDE by Alessandro Baricco

Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of VILLA TRISTE by Patrick Modiano

Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of THE BROTHER by Rein Raud

Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME: SWANN’S WAY – A GRAPHIC NOVEL by Marcel Proust

Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of ISTANBUL ISTANBUL by Burhan Sönmez

Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of CRÉ NA CILLE by Máirtin Ó Cadhain

Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of BEST EUROPEAN FICTION 2016 and TRAFIKA EUROPE ESSENTIAL NEW EUROPEAN LITERATURE, vol I.

Category: November 2019 - The German RiveterReviewsThe Riveter

Tags:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

X