New York Book Festival Interview
Todor Bombov’s science fiction short story Of Rats and Men was an honorable mention at the 2016 New York Book Festival. The festival caught up with the Bulgarian writer to catch up on the scene in his native country and discover his inspirations.
NYBF: What sparked your writing interest?
TODOR BOMBOV: I’ve never thought to be a writer. I’ve just ever loved the books. Still, in my early childish age, I loved the reading, maybe because I was very curious boy. In this, my childish age, I wrote my first verses. And when I began my studies in Varna’s Higher Institute for National Economy, I made my first literary attempts in the poetry genre. I just felt the necessity to put on the white sheet all my thrills and agitations in my mind. But to write the “Rats” story, it was spontaneous and unexpected.
NYBF: As noted, your novella talks about an attack by rats. Why that creature? Did you study them in order to paint a vivid picture of their attack?
TB: In 1990, I read an article in a magazine that said the Moscow subway’s basements were conquered by enormous fierce rats. It gave me a shock. I was deeply impressed with this idea and it made me begin to ponder human existence. And then I began to study the rats. Indeed, I began to read all about rats. As it turned out, a fact slightly known, rats are the most intelligent creatures after man – before dogs and monkeys! Finally, I arrived at the conclusion that the human race as a dominant species on earth is not guaranteed an infinite span, but might be changed. In this connection, I’d like to turn to all people and governments, to all corporations all over the world – don’t make the air foul, don’t pollute the water, the ground, the mountains and the oceans! Let the time of cleanness come – in the minds and deeds! Otherwise, the Rats come! I’m serious. This menace is real!
NYBF: Tell us about being a writer in your country. Is there a large community of them?
TB: Until 1990, there was a large community of writers in my country, Bulgaria, and they were united in a trade union, or rather something like a craft subordinated to the official totalitarian authority. They were court lackeys that glorified the ex-regime and the top nit in it. After 1990 until now, a quarter century later, the writers are not a large community – they are already neither large, nor a community! Being a writer in my country now – it is a hard occupation. To be a writer today in Bulgaria is a vocation! But maybe this is the eternal fate of the writer – no matter where and when.
NYBF: You mentioned that you are expanding the Rats story and working on something full-length. Tell us about that.
TB: Yes, I have an idea to expand the Rats story to a novel and I even created an outline for that. But now I’m so busy with the printing of my second book, The Socialism. and at the same time the preparation of the third my book, HOMO COSMICUS. Because of that, I have no spare time to begin expanding the Rats story. Perhaps after 1.5 or 2 years, I could.
NYBF: Is science fiction going to be your main focus? Or do you have ambitions in other genres? TB: In 1981, when I began my studies in Varna’s Higher Institute for National Economy I doubted the socialist system in which I lived. Until the end of my studies in 1985, I had already begun writing the main work of my life, The Socialism, which is a philosophical, economical and political work and which will be published in a couple of weeks in the United States. So, writing sci-fi is not my underlying style and main focus. But I love so much of this genre. My science fiction is more science and less fiction. In this connection, as I mentioned above, after the forthcoming The Socialism, I prepare my next book – the novel HOMO COSMICUS, which is science fiction again, and will be published next year, I hope.
NYBF: Who are some writers you admire and why do you admire them? Any of their styles bleed into your work?
TB: My favorite author in general is Marx – Charlemagne of the modern philosophy and social sciences! I admire him because of his profundity of thought, analytic mind and stigmatizing satire on the contemporary capitalistic world. Of course, here I must add Engels, the alter Ego of Marx, because they both are, in fact, one spirit in two bodies.
In belles lettres – the French writers of the Enlightenment – Molière and Voltaire, because of their wit, subtle irony and inimitable sense of humor; Jack London – because of his adventurous and spirit of freedom of America’s pioneers who dared to blaze the trails in a wild, wild world; Dostoevsky and Bulgakov – because of their philisophical fiction.
In science fiction – Ray Bradbury, Stanislaw Lem, Arthur Clarke, Isaac Asimov- because their science fiction is a speculative fiction, in contrast to the great mass of modern decadent fables. Their sci-fi works wrestle with complex questions and give some true image of the future world. All these great writers irrigated my mind and spirit. But the one who left the deepest imprint on my writer’s style is certainly Marx.