By Milen Ruskov; translated from Bulgarian by Christopher Buxton
Translatorâ€™s note: Milen Ruskovâ€™s â€˜Heightâ€™ (Vazvisheniya) is set in 1872.Â Revolutionary committees have been set up throughout Bulgarian lands to prepare the people for revolution against their Turkish oppressors. It is a time of passionate self-education â€“ known in history as the Bulgarian Renaissance, Two lads, Gicho and Assen, armed with guns and books, set out from Kotel and Zherevna to join a band of brigand-revolutionaries in the mountains.Â Their characters reflect a mixture of down-to-earth ruthlessness and idealism. Their waves of extreme optimism and pessimism speak to an ambivalent contemporary Bulgarian consciousness â€“ resulting from still feeling exiled on the outskirts of Europe.
The narrative is written in a rich archaic dialect, which I have attempted to convey in my local rural English accent. Suffolk England, like Kotel Bulgaria, is an area that grew rich from the wool trade.
That eveninâ€™ weâ€™re travellinâ€™ all night through, with no stoppinâ€™, as weâ€™re takinâ€™ a roundabout path, goinâ€™ back on ourself, so we be pullinâ€™ wool over the eyes of anyone whoâ€™s supposedly followinâ€™ us, who could send word for the Turks to send out patrols to chase us. Theyâ€™ll be chasinâ€™ us in the direction we started out on and weâ€™ll be goinâ€™ contrary. If they had an ounce oâ€™ sense theyâ€™d send out patrols to look for us in all directions, but what Turk would do that for the sake of some unbelieversâ€™ wagon. Â Forget it. The most they do is send two constables up the road for two three days, so they can get a little exercise.Â And I doubt very much theyâ€™ll even do that.
Granddaddy Yovan, by the way, itâ€™s like heâ€™s realizinâ€™ that this is the time to put on a spurt â€“ if he not runninâ€™ smooth, he makinâ€™ an effort, the critchur. Next day in the town of K. we stoppinâ€™ in an inn to sleep.Â And thereâ€™s a Frenchie there, boys. Who can tell what wind have blown this Froggie here? The innkeeper makes out heâ€™s some kind of engineer.Â I give the Froggie the once over â€“ a well made bloke, with proper European clothes, a long coat to his knees, and a tie round his neck, striped gold and black, heâ€™s carryinâ€™ a bowler hat in â€˜is hand, his trousers be pin striped silver and grey, his shoes shininâ€™ like the sunâ€™s out. Â Mates!Â Itâ€™s well elegant stuff!Â Itâ€™ent â€˜alf fine beinâ€™ a European â€“ I tell you true.Â When Iâ€™m lookinâ€™ at him, like this so, My eyes is hanginâ€™ outâ€“ I say to myself, Iâ€™d like to be dressed like him, up to the nines, so Iâ€™d come out lookinâ€™ like a yuman beinâ€™ in front of other yuman beinâ€™s, not like some grubby oriental vassal, ruled by Abdul Aziz. Â A-ah I says to myself life â€˜ent fair.
I learnt Â â€“ or informed myself as they say in French lingo â€“ that this Froggie worked for the so-called Austrian Railways, findinâ€™ out where they could push out the line. In the Turkish lands everythinâ€™s been taken over by the Austrians â€“ Austrian post office, Austrian Railways and so on.Â Some day theyâ€™ll put up an Austrian Sultan â€“ you mark my words. Boys, Turkeyâ€™s collapsinâ€™. Down there in Anatolia the English, the proud Britishers hev gobbled up everythinâ€™ â€“ everythinâ€™ worth more than five pence I mean.Â Thatâ€™s why theyâ€™re so much for Turkey, because they care about whatâ€™s jinglin in their pockets.Â Well even though I enâ€™t got no sympathy, I can understand (je comprendre). I also care about my pocket even though Iâ€™m no Englishman. And them English and stuck up Europeans â€“ they be pursuinâ€™ a Higher Purpose of trade (mercantile); it leads â€˜em like a guidinâ€™ star up in the black savage Asian sky, and they do follow it with an unquenchable energy, and youthful spirit, suckinâ€™ the golden milk out of the teats of whomever wild folks they come across, â€“ all for the triumph of omnipotent European civilization, like with what there enâ€™t no comparison and to what we are heartily strivinâ€™ and sharpeninâ€™ up our spirits to become a part of..Â But weâ€™re no part of it at all, weâ€™re just stupid folk, whom they shit on because thatâ€™s what we deserve.
But forget about Anatolia, just look this side of the fuckinâ€™ Bosporus where the Austrians have grabbed up everythinâ€™ in their paws.Â â€œBy the Bosporus, clamour rises, a flash of sword and shield. Hey itâ€™s Simeon the Great, calling his chieftains to the battlefield.â€ Yeah he might just as well hev called on his brother-in-lawâ€™s auntie.Â Look Austrians and, letâ€™s face it, Europeans in general hev got their claws into everythinâ€™, finger in every pie.Â And this fine afore-mentioned Frenchie hev devoted himself to the Austrian nation against monthly payment for the bringinâ€™ about or the realization(another French word) of the aforementioned Higher Purpose.Â Fuck me if I know what he do at night, but by day heâ€™s goinâ€™ round all the surroundinâ€™ districts, findinâ€™ out the lie of the land, for the long awaited railway lineÂ I hev never seen such a thing in my life.Â And donâ€™t even ask about Assen.Â Heâ€™ll bombard me with stupid questions and Iâ€™ll waste valuable revolutionary time.Â Fuck it. Just think about it.
Bulgaria, Bulgariaâ€¦.How did I end up with you.Â This was the biggest mistake of my life. (Mal chance in Frenchie lingo) Pig ignorant, boy!Â And if that werenâ€™t enough, ruled by wild Anatolian Ottomans â€“ jumped out of some black Asian forest, in the full moon, like werewolves or moon-sprites.Â Theyâ€™re not your refined intelligent Messieurs and Mesdames they be wild Asian riff-raff.Â Some frenchie if he see â€˜em would just faint from their stink.Â And we live with this trash in one kingdom.Â But let it go, that do serve us right, because we be the ultimate scumbags, I tell you true.
â€œWhy?â€ Assen wonders.
â€œLook boy!â€ I shout, â€œI want action not a debate.Â Iâ€™ll explain later.â€
â€œBut why, mate?â€
So Iâ€™m forced to spell it out.Â He goes downstairs, while I think about the Frenchie.Â Look where fate has cast him up.Â Pushinâ€™ through the railway. The man be an engineer.Â Thatâ€™s not simple stuff.Â I may not hev seen a railway but I know what it is. Railway mate, iron horse progress.Â Blow me fuckinâ€™ right.Â This is some man â€“ ridinâ€™ the iron horse.Â Ridinâ€™ and liftinâ€™ his hat to folk.
And Iâ€™m just cogitatinâ€™ this when Assen who rides our horse do come back and say â€œReady mate.â€Â I step down the corridor and listen in front of the doors â€“ to hear any movement inside, to see if there be people there, but I donâ€™t hear nothinâ€™. A little longer in front of the Froggieâ€™s door and then I do hear somethinâ€™, some sort of movement, maybe closinâ€™ a cupboard door â€“ or somethinâ€™ like it.
Then I came back, picked up my trusty Colt pistol and other stuff and alongside Assen we stepped into the Frenchieâ€™s room. You can imagine, he be pretty surprised.Â He standinâ€™ in the middle of the room and lookinâ€™ amazed.Â I step up and grab his elbow, friendly-like.
â€œHand over that jacket, mate,â€ I say, â€œand some hat if you got it.â€
And he pulls back and says somethinâ€™ you canâ€™t understand.Â Itâ€™s Frenchie lingo.Â Somethinâ€™ like â€œjuju muju, jwa, mwa; on bon.Â But there was one word I got: â€œterrible, terribleâ€Â I donâ€™t get what he sayinâ€™Â Iâ€™ll hev to look in Bogorovâ€™s dictionary later.Â But what I mean to say is this European bloke canâ€™t make hisself understood.Â I pulled out my purse and took out a golden coin while I explained to him as far as I could, that we couldnâ€™t give him any more because the money was needed for the revolution.Â And as I said this I gave him the coin and set to pullinâ€™ off his jacket. And heâ€™s goin: â€œOn bonâ€¦somethinâ€™..Jwa mwa.â€ And heâ€™s pokinâ€™ at the purse, wantinâ€™ more gold coins.
â€œOh no!â€ Â I say. â€œSorry but I canâ€™t give you any more.Â This is for our revolution.â€Â And I stand up straight to him and bring my face up close to his so heâ€™ll understand and I shout â€œRevolution, Revolution.â€ And heâ€™s sayinâ€™ â€terrible, terrible,â€ over anâ€™ over again.
â€œAny fool know revolution is a Frenchie word and you donâ€™t even understand that?â€ I spread out my arms.Â â€œIâ€™m â€˜stonished by you, boy!â€