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Adi Landau's Pearls
Print Edition
ISBN
978-619-150-778-8
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978-619-150-779-5
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Paperback
Size
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Weight
250 gr.
Pages
248
Published
14 March 2016

Adi Landau's Pearls

This is the story of a pair of pearl earrings, narrated by several generations. Story that starts from the Jewish ghetto in Vienna, passes through magnificent Ringstrasse palaces, a small mountain village in the Alps, the war-torn Europe, the concentration camp called "Kaylaka" and the rural town of Ferdinand. History of women and men, Jewish merchants and Austrian nobility, soldiers of the German Reich and Bulgarian partisans, a Viennese boy and a Sofia girl. The beginning is in the distant past, and the end - in the near future.

This is a story of the relentless vortex of time that imperceptibly turns people into heroes or victims, and often in both heroes and victims. Reflection on the choice and freedom. This is the way of people who hope and fear, who run away and get together - and everything is so accidental, and actually never is... accidental.

About the Author
Sonya  Todorova

Sonya Todorova was born in 1979 in Sofia, Bulgaria. She studied in a German language school and graduated from the University of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy in Sofia. After five years of academic research at the Vienna University of Technology, she was awarded a doctoral degree in Advanced Geodesy.

All along, Sonya Todorova enjoyed writing short stories. Since 2010, she has been working as a freelance translator and is a contributing writer for the Bulgarian magazine “Jenata Dnes” (“The Woman of Today”). Her first book, “A Concise and Practical Guide to Survival for Families with Small Children and Others in Sofia” (Colibri, 2015), is a humorous, yet sharp social study of present-day life in her hometown and was nominated for the Outstanding Cultural Achievement Award of Sofia Municipality. Her debut novel, “Adi Landau’s Pearls”, was published in March, 2016. It was nominated for the 2016 “Helikon” Book Award for New Bulgarian Prose and shortlisted for the 2016 “Peroto” Award for Contribution to the Bulgarian Literary Context.

Sonya lives in Vienna with her family and is currently working on a collection of short stories.

Excerpt

Sonya Todorova - Adi Landau's Pearls

Sofia, December 2014

On Christmas Day, for a number of reasons (sunny weather, wide-spread disgust with jingling bells and reindeer, the approximate anniversary of the death of Margie’s maternal grandmother and paternal grandfather, the kids needing a walk, a shared fondness for the spot, etc.), the entire family met up in front of the Sofia Central Cemetery church, which was drenched in bright December sunshine. There was no snow yet, the weather was almost warm, and the few visitors walking the lanes, each for their own personal reasons, quietly wished one another a Merry Christmas as they passed by. Margie’s parents quickly showed the group the three family graves, which were all close to the church. The children dragged big sticks and ran around, laughing. Margie’s father mentioned that he had recently found his maternal grandparents’ grave. Since, in addition to free time, they also had a full thermos of tea and (homemade!) shortbread cookies at their disposal, they all decided to go on an expedition to the Jewish part of the cemetery.

As they walked down Resurrection Lane, trying to keep their younger child from diving headfirst into the ditch that ran alongside it, Margie and Finn occasionally stopped to examine some of the tombstones. They pointed out interesting or familiar names and studied some of the stranger-looking monuments. At one point, to their surprise, they both realized that many of the deceased whose graves had caught their eye were in fact their age, or just slightly older. Of course, it was normal for young people’s gravestones to be more elaborate and impressive, as a reflection of the families’ shock. And yet, as she watched her parents up ahead calling out to her children to be careful while running with their sticks on uneven ground, Margie suddenly felt that she and Finn had, without being aware of it, crossed some invisible line on this sunny morning. A thin, inconspicuous border, one that appears gently and calmly, kindly, yet without mercy—the line that quietly marks the middle of the road. Margie smiled at her own familial Christmas schmaltz. And so what? The middle of the road was a perfectly adequate place to be. We stand up straight, round up the kids once again, and we continue on.

Meanwhile, they’d reached the perpendicular lane that divided the Bulgarian from the Jewish part of the cemetery, and the landscape changed in an unusual way. At first, Margie couldn’t figure out what was different exactly. Apart from the fact that names like Georgiev and Dimanova had given way to Arié or Niño. One of the things that made all the Jewish graveyards she’d seen stand out were the names, which were always the same everywhere. They were names that brought about a feeling of community and difference, of ancient knowledge and a meticulously guarded secret. But also of a thin, fading line that ran through Europe and connected different parts of the continent that at first seemed worlds apart. From the lavish Gothic graveyard looking out on the Mediterranean, inhabited by Barcelona’s countless unfriendly cats, through the straight, tidy lanes stretching out beneath the Munich drizzle, to the frightening, crooked gravestones one could catch a glimpse of through the elevated stone fence if one was unwilling to pay the Prague Municipality a fee for entering the city’s Old Jewish Cemetery. Strange names popped up here and there among the surnames that were usual for each place; they stood out from the rest in their foreignness—Pinkas, Alevi, Behor, Delareya … And yes, the names here were different too, but there was also something else. The Jewish part of the Sofia Central Cemetery lacked the eternal tranquility, which the other part, dank and overgrown with ivy and bushes, emitted. The living, with their sporadic sloppiness, had left no trace here, no dried-up flowers, no plastic plates with leftover food, no burned-down candles or cigarette butts poking out of the soil. The Jewish part looked bizarrely open and unprotected, simultaneously twisting and still, somehow frozen in the warm sun, as if its dead were more dead than the rest. The gravestones were tightly packed and the writing on them was diverse: mostly Bulgarian, often written in the old script, but also Hebrew, and German, and a strange kind of Spanish (Ladino, as Margie discovered it was called when she Googled it later that evening). And the headstones, the monuments, the graves, even the lanes running between them, were so crooked, tilted at every possible angle, some bulging out of the earth, others sinking into it, that the whole area resembled a shrapnel-riddled battlefield.

The rest of the group gave up looking for the mysterious family grave fairly quickly and sat down for a cup of tea and some homemade cookies on the simple, yet comfortable benches along the Jewish area’s border, while Margie walked down the narrow lanes, enjoying the sun, the silence, and the temporary absence of her children; she observed the odd names on the tombstones in amazement (one name in particular caused her to pause and made her sad—the grave was unusually new compared to the rest, and the person in it quite young; she had known him, they had been friends, though she had forgotten about him over the past fifteen years… ) As she walked on, she imagined different lives and stories, and tried, to no avail, to make sense of the bareness, the frozen, grotesque crookedness of this part of the cemetery. Cohen, Aaron, Jehuda, “to my dear wife,” “professor,” “née Barouh,” “barrister,” …

Without realizing, Margie had walked much further than she’d originally intended, and she could no longer see the benches where the little late-morning picnic was probably drawing to a close. She was about to start nagging at herself that it was high time she went back, when she heard the sound of footsteps behind her. The sun was far too bright for her to envision a ghostly rabbi shrouded in an ancient, decomposing caftan, or a horrifying, mud-covered golem with a blank stare staggering along the lanes of the graveyard. Still, the lively man at her heels, who seemed like a middle-aged tramp, scared her all the same. She took a deep breath, turned onto the closest lane leading back to the benches, and prepared to run if need be. The tramp soon caught up with her and, without stopping, politely asked for a cigarette. He expressed himself in a kind of strange, old-fashioned way. Margie apologized and said she’d given up smoking, then forced herself to smile. “Never mind,” the tramp replied crisply. He wished Margie a Merry Christmas and continued resolutely on his way. Simultaneously ashamed and relieved (after all, she’d almost had a heart attack), Margie hurried back to where her folks were sitting.

That evening, as Margie watered the miniature fir tree—this year’s sorry excuse for Christmas decorations at home—it all suddenly came together in her head. The other part of the cemetery, although it could hardly be defined as well maintained, neat, or clean, was, in fact, alive. People came and went, tripping over the weeds and broken fences, fixing things up a little, leaving flowers, lighting candles. Later, others came and took the flowers away, probably even the candles. And most of the graves were periodically opened up to take in yet another family member; then they were filled back up with dirt and leveled out again. But the Jewish part of the cemetery, as interesting as it was, seemed truly dead. Nobody tread on its soil, and its ground rose up and caved in on a whim. All the graves in it were old, the year of death rarely later than 1945 (the year 5705, according to their calendar.) And this was not because people from those families were not dying. They were simply dying elsewhere.

Sonya Todorova - Adi Landau's Pearls

Sofia, December 2014

On Christmas Day, for a number of reasons (sunny weather, wide-spread disgust with jingling bells and reindeer, the approximate anniversary of the death of Margie’s maternal grandmother and paternal grandfather, the kids needing a walk, a shared fondness for the spot, etc.), the entire family met up in front of the Sofia Central Cemetery church, which was drenched in bright December sunshine. There was no snow yet, the weather was almost warm, and the few visitors walking the lanes, each for their own personal reasons, quietly wished one another a Merry Christmas as they passed by. Margie’s parents quickly showed the group the three family graves, which were all close to the church. The children dragged big sticks and ran around, laughing. Margie’s father mentioned that he had recently found his maternal grandparents’ grave. Since, in addition to free time, they also had a full thermos of tea and (homemade!) shortbread cookies at their disposal, they all decided to go on an expedition to the Jewish part of the cemetery.

As they walked down Resurrection Lane, trying to keep their younger child from diving headfirst into the ditch that ran alongside it, Margie and Finn occasionally stopped to examine some of the tombstones. They pointed out interesting or familiar names and studied some of the stranger-looking monuments. At one point, to their surprise, they both realized that many of the deceased whose graves had caught their eye were in fact their age, or just slightly older. Of course, it was normal for young people’s gravestones to be more elaborate and impressive, as a reflection of the families’ shock. And yet, as she watched her parents up ahead calling out to her children to be careful while running with their sticks on uneven ground, Margie suddenly felt that she and Finn had, without being aware of it, crossed some invisible line on this sunny morning. A thin, inconspicuous border, one that appears gently and calmly, kindly, yet without mercy—the line that quietly marks the middle of the road. Margie smiled at her own familial Christmas schmaltz. And so what? The middle of the road was a perfectly adequate place to be. We stand up straight, round up the kids once again, and we continue on.

Meanwhile, they’d reached the perpendicular lane that divided the Bulgarian from the Jewish part of the cemetery, and the landscape changed in an unusual way. At first, Margie couldn’t figure out what was different exactly. Apart from the fact that names like Georgiev and Dimanova had given way to Arié or Niño. One of the things that made all the Jewish graveyards she’d seen stand out were the names, which were always the same everywhere. They were names that brought about a feeling of community and difference, of ancient knowledge and a meticulously guarded secret. But also of a thin, fading line that ran through Europe and connected different parts of the continent that at first seemed worlds apart. From the lavish Gothic graveyard looking out on the Mediterranean, inhabited by Barcelona’s countless unfriendly cats, through the straight, tidy lanes stretching out beneath the Munich drizzle, to the frightening, crooked gravestones one could catch a glimpse of through the elevated stone fence if one was unwilling to pay the Prague Municipality a fee for entering the city’s Old Jewish Cemetery. Strange names popped up here and there among the surnames that were usual for each place; they stood out from the rest in their foreignness—Pinkas, Alevi, Behor, Delareya … And yes, the names here were different too, but there was also something else. The Jewish part of the Sofia Central Cemetery lacked the eternal tranquility, which the other part, dank and overgrown with ivy and bushes, emitted. The living, with their sporadic sloppiness, had left no trace here, no dried-up flowers, no plastic plates with leftover food, no burned-down candles or cigarette butts poking out of the soil. The Jewish part looked bizarrely open and unprotected, simultaneously twisting and still, somehow frozen in the warm sun, as if its dead were more dead than the rest. The gravestones were tightly packed and the writing on them was diverse: mostly Bulgarian, often written in the old script, but also Hebrew, and German, and a strange kind of Spanish (Ladino, as Margie discovered it was called when she Googled it later that evening). And the headstones, the monuments, the graves, even the lanes running between them, were so crooked, tilted at every possible angle, some bulging out of the earth, others sinking into it, that the whole area resembled a shrapnel-riddled battlefield.

The rest of the group gave up looking for the mysterious family grave fairly quickly and sat down for a cup of tea and some homemade cookies on the simple, yet comfortable benches along the Jewish area’s border, while Margie walked down the narrow lanes, enjoying the sun, the silence, and the temporary absence of her children; she observed the odd names on the tombstones in amazement (one name in particular caused her to pause and made her sad—the grave was unusually new compared to the rest, and the person in it quite young; she had known him, they had been friends, though she had forgotten about him over the past fifteen years… ) As she walked on, she imagined different lives and stories, and tried, to no avail, to make sense of the bareness, the frozen, grotesque crookedness of this part of the cemetery. Cohen, Aaron, Jehuda, “to my dear wife,” “professor,” “née Barouh,” “barrister,” …

Without realizing, Margie had walked much further than she’d originally intended, and she could no longer see the benches where the little late-morning picnic was probably drawing to a close. She was about to start nagging at herself that it was high time she went back, when she heard the sound of footsteps behind her. The sun was far too bright for her to envision a ghostly rabbi shrouded in an ancient, decomposing caftan, or a horrifying, mud-covered golem with a blank stare staggering along the lanes of the graveyard. Still, the lively man at her heels, who seemed like a middle-aged tramp, scared her all the same. She took a deep breath, turned onto the closest lane leading back to the benches, and prepared to run if need be. The tramp soon caught up with her and, without stopping, politely asked for a cigarette. He expressed himself in a kind of strange, old-fashioned way. Margie apologized and said she’d given up smoking, then forced herself to smile. “Never mind,” the tramp replied crisply. He wished Margie a Merry Christmas and continued resolutely on his way. Simultaneously ashamed and relieved (after all, she’d almost had a heart attack), Margie hurried back to where her folks were sitting.

That evening, as Margie watered the miniature fir tree—this year’s sorry excuse for Christmas decorations at home—it all suddenly came together in her head. The other part of the cemetery, although it could hardly be defined as well maintained, neat, or clean, was, in fact, alive. People came and went, tripping over the weeds and broken fences, fixing things up a little, leaving flowers, lighting candles. Later, others came and took the flowers away, probably even the candles. And most of the graves were periodically opened up to take in yet another family member; then they were filled back up with dirt and leveled out again. But the Jewish part of the cemetery, as interesting as it was, seemed truly dead. Nobody tread on its soil, and its ground rose up and caved in on a whim. All the graves in it were old, the year of death rarely later than 1945 (the year 5705, according to their calendar.) And this was not because people from those families were not dying. They were simply dying elsewhere.

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