SBR: One one hand there are the books like Doctor Zhivago or Half of a Yellow Sun. While reading them, I almost lived the lives of the protagonists through some historical moments. For me those moments will never again be what history books or wikipedia articles dryly tell me they are. They are now defined by the individual, human experiences the books me experience.
On the other hand there is a book like The Orphan Master’s Son. While reading it I was constantly frustrated by the feeling that it is an outsider imagining the story and I am not hearing the genuine voice of the characters, much less live their lives.
The experience of reading the first part of Solo falls somewhere in between. It feels real enough, not artificial. But it gives only a bird’s eye view of the protagonist’s erratic life as well as Bulgaria’s chequered history. You don’t really feel the moments. It is not a shortcoming of the book though. Because the story is in the form of reminiscences of an almost centenarian man (who has lived in Bulgaria through the upheavals of 20th century). When you are recalling people and events from long back, you do tend to remember things as blocks of time, not individual moments. It happens to our own memory too. We often have an overall feeling about our stay at a certain place, or the years spent in a particular school, and an overall story to go with it, which started with situation A and ended with situation B with xyz feeling in between. That’s what those reminiscences read like. I think it is captured very well in the book.
The second part of the book is what makes it strange, as even Salman Rushdie’s blurb call it. It starts off like a different story, and then inexplicable parallels with the first story start surfacing. Ultimately the parallels are explained well enough. But the story of the second part doesn’t feel right after that explanation.
To read or not to read: It might not leave you awed, but it is a good experimental read.