Deyan Enev’s Circus Bulgaria promises exactly what its title suggests. A beautiful marionettist hangs up her puppets and dons the costume of the cabaret while a drunken lion-tamer trades in his lion for a handful of bills, an ex-boxer turned hit man gives his life for his brother, and a boy with wax wings made from the feathers of pigeons jumps from his window in an attempt to fly away. Haphazard characters living in a post-communist Europe fill the pages of Enev’s fifty short stories, all contributing to a collective understanding that freedom does not guarantee happiness.
Circus Bulgaria is seamlessly translated by Kapka Kassabova from its native Bulgarian into English, expressing the satirical darkness of the original work with perfect eloquence. Every short story in the collection is different in content, but similar in tone. For instance, “The Marionette” tells a tale of a young girl with a degree as a marionettist and no job. She searches for a place to showcase her talents, and finally finds a shady man who is willing to put her and her puppets into his club. She is happy until her first show bores the crowd and the owner of the club tells her that she would be better off dropping the act and presenting herself instead. In every story Enev finds a unique way of telling a tale of hopelessness and forgotten dreams, often with surreal and open endings. All of the stories clearly carry on past the last lines, but what happens next is not shared with us as readers. All that we are left with is a sense of abandonment and compassion for the sad circus of figures that linger on the pages. None of the characters find happiness in the pages, and it is through this that they all relate to each other in Enev’s grim flash fiction.
When I first started reading, I tried hard to find a relationship between every story. Upon finishing, I realized that the connection stemmed from this sense of hopelessness in the desolate world that every character was destined to live in. The stories don’t offer a lesson to the reader, but instead offer a truth. Sometimes, things just aren’t going to get better. Sometimes, there is a darkness in the corners of a country that even a promise of freedom cannot illuminate.