Monday, 26 June 2017

Wolf Hunt by Ivailo Petrov

Wolf Hunt by Ivailo Petrov
First published in Bulgarian by Profizdat as Hayka za valtsi in 1986. English language translation by Angela Rodel published in America on the 16th May 2017 by Archipelago Books.

Featured in Cover Characteristics: Windows

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How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Published in 1986, three years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Wolf Hunt was the first novel to portray the human cost of Communist policies on Bulgarian villagers, forced by the government to abandon their land and traditional way of life. Darkly comic and tragic, the novel centers on an ill-fated winter hunting expedition of six neighbors whose history together is long and interwoven. The ensuing story takes the reader on a voyage of shifting perspectives that places the calamitous history of twentieth-century Bulgaria into a human context of helplessness and desperation.

A long novel by my usual reading standards, Wolf Hunt is told in six stories each centred around one of a half dozen men who unexpectedly go out on a night-time wolf hunt in a blizzard. We see their lives briefly on this night and then jump back to mostly see how they lived in the mid-1940s onwards when the introduction of communism to their village changed every aspect of their existence in a very short space of time. Petrov's portrayal was most poignant in the 1960s scenes as I realised that the vibrancy of the village just twenty years previously had been completely destroyed and now just a dwindling elderly population remained. I particularly appreciated his vivid and thoughtful descriptions of pastoral life that seemed essentially unchanged for centuries. This contrasts sharply with the rushed switch to co-operative farming and social communism and one character even states that the first failed co-operative farm might have been successful had the people been allowed to come to the idea in their own time. Instead the peasant farmers are left substantially worse off than when they tended their own micro farms.

Petrov's viewpoint is overwhelmingly male and we only see the village through the eyes of his six hunters, some of which have remarkably similar voices so I did often lose track of whose story was being told, especially when events overlap. Women are relegated to secondary roles and often presented in a very romanticised way which I found irritating. It would have been more interesting for me to have had a balanced portrayal with less emphasis on macho power struggles, grudges and vindictive behaviour. However Wolf Hunt is still a fascinating read and unusual in its subject matter so I was glad to have stumbled across this new English translation. Rodel does a good job of retaining the flavour of village life and traditional Bulgarian culture without her translation becoming clumsy or too bogged down in explanation.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Ivailo Petrov / Historical fiction / Books from Bulgaria

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