We start our tour in Bulgaria, with the first of Scott’s selection, 18% Gray.
“This is by – bear with me – Zachary Kara… hmm. Karabashliev? Karabashliev.”
Voted as one of the greatest Bulgarian novels of all time, this novel follows the narrator after his wife leaves him, for reasons unknown. Zach, distraught, drives down to the Mexican border, parks his car, crosses the border on foot and gets – Scott beams as he describes it – ‘absolutely wasted’. Zach, later that evening, comes across a man being beaten senseless over a seemingly ordinary van. After stepping in to help, Zach and the man take the vehicle and drive back across the border to where Zach’s car is parked. As he is about to leave, Zach happens to look in the back of the van to find a massive – Scott spreads his hands wide to demonstrate – stash of marijuana.
Zach decides to take a roadtrip through America, with the weed and his Nikon camera at hand, in the hope of changing his life for the better.
“It’s an unusual choice,” Scott notes, “as although it’s written by a Bulgarian, it’s almost completely set in America.”
18% Gray paints an outsider’s view of the USA that is funny and quite dark; really refreshing and a really interesting read.
It would be the perfect gift for someone who’s wary about reading something in translation. If someone told you that this was an exciting new American author, you’d completely believe them. As someone who can’t speak Bulgarian, I judge a translation by how well it reads in English, and it reads brilliantly.