Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Physics of Randomness

By chance I learned about this bestselling Bulgarian novel. The Physics of Sorrow was written by Georgi Gospodinov and just translated into English by the very talented Angela Rodel (she also translated 18% Gray by Zachary Karabashliev). The novel, in its rather unconventional format, is the story of a character inhabiting the mind of his own grandfather in real time. Shared memories. Take this sentence as an example: "A part of me shifted into someone else's body, someone else's story". And this one: "My grandfather in me cannot decide.”

It's hard to say what The Physics of Sorrow (Open Letter, English translation, April 14, 2015) is about. It's about everything and it's about nothing. And there is absolutely no connection between its random parts. Yet, the talented author does the impossible. He connects random subjects and interweaves them into a compelling, logical connectivity that captivates the reader. Or turns the reader away. This book will not appeal to everyone.

Here is a list of some of the subjects covered in the book:

* minotaurs
* oysters
* Jimmy Carter
* first kisses
* Alain Delon
* clouds on clouds 

Okay, that was easy. But then, it gets a little weirder.

* the end of January
* virtual tourism
* Vampire worms
* vegetarian man-eaters
* Encyclopedia Britannica
* cuckolded husbands
* Salman Rushdie
* Sengalese drums 

And stranger still, but this time with a definite connection to Bulgaria.

* time capsules
* gas masks
* what was on Bulgarian National Television on November 18, 1973
* Hristo Botev
* history of Socialism
* banitsa

And most importantly, in greater detail:

* the strange behavior of colonies of bees in a remote North American town
* how to prevent cruel animal slaughtering

This is not a novel about Bulgaria. It is a novel about the randomness of everything, and how it all fits together.

Take for example the wild chapter titles, which won't make sense to you now, but will when you read the book: "TWO MEN BET ABOUT WHOSE WIFE IS MORE FAITHFUL". "BUFFALO SHIT, OR THE SUBLMIE IS EVERYWHERE". "A SHORT CATALOGUE OF ABANDONMENTS". "THE EAR OF THE LABYRINTH". And, my favorite: "FIRST AID KIT FOR AFTER THE END OF THE WORLD".

You get the idea. No, nobody can get the idea before diving into all this randomness.

If you're completely confused, that is fine. So was I. The story and plot are not linear because they go in many directions all at once. That is because the narrator protagonist is many characters all at once.

If you enjoy seeing randomness connected in a creative, innovative way and making confusing but totally logical sense, you will enjoy reading The Physics of Sorrow.

No, you will enjoy the book no matter what. If you think my review is crazy, read the book!

Buy The Physics of Sorrow and read it now!

Originally published on The Oslo Times.


  1. Sounds intriguing - who could resist time capsules and Sengalese drums? :-)

    I bought another book on your recommendation, it was probably the most depressing book by Shelley Oria about love/relationships I'd ever read, Haha! I was on the Shetland bus ready for my '6 hours shopping trip for beetroot and tampons' and I seriously considered adding razor blades to my list...but hey, I won't hold it against you. :-) The first story was anguishly magnificent though.

    1. So sorry about that! (As far as I remember, I didn't give that book the most positive review).