Party Headquarters by Georgi Tenev, translated by Angela Rodel (Open Letter, 124 pages, February 9)
Party Headquarters is the latest in a string of post-Soviet-Union literature that has passed through my hands lately, revealing yet another piece of the puzzle that is life in modern Eastern Europe.
This particular novel, set in Bulgaria and Germany, explores the legacy of deceit and greed that has continued even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. While reading this, I found myself thinking about how it connects to my own life (having been born just a few years before the Chernobyl disaster). When, for instance, the unnamed narrator of PH wonders how politicians could have kept the news of Chernobyl secret from people across the region, allowing them to unwittingly poison themselves, all to guard the top party leaders from censure, I think about what one of my Ukrainian friends told me once. She said she was told not to ever stay in the sun too long, even while wearing sunscreen, because the radiation from Chernobyl vastly increased her risk for skin cancer. She and her family had left Ukraine just a few years after the disaster.
Moments like that pulled me into this novel, but so did the narrator's seeming desperation for answers, for something solid and reliable, for the ever-elusive "Truth." The very style of the novel- fragmented, shifting- suggests that the narrator is casting about for a way to move past the corruption, intrigue, carelessness, and cruelty of the Soviet Union's history.
His relationship with the daughter of a top Bulgarian communist, the suitcase full of money that said communist squirreled away as the system collapsed, the irony of his death from cancer after allowing others to fall ill because of the nuclear disaster- these are the main themes around which the narrator roams, reminiscing at crucial points about how he wanted to be a cosmonaut when he was young.
Party Headquarters is also marked by unexpected moments of intensely beautiful meditations. If any of this has piqued your interest, check it out.