Talev, Dimitér 1898 1966

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TALEV, Dimitér 1898 1966

PERSONAL: Born September 1, 1898, in Prilep, Ottoman Empire (now Macedonia); died of stomach cancer October 20, 1966, in Sofia, Bulgaria; son of Tale (a blacksmith) and Donka Petrov Palislamov. Education: Studied medicine at University of Zagreb, 1920; studied philosophy at University of Vienna, 1921; studied Slavic philology at University of Sofia after 1925.

CAREER: Writer, 1917-66. Makedonia (newspaper), Sofia, Bulgaria, proofreader, 1927-29, member of editorial board, 1929-30, editor-in-chief, 1930-31.

MEMBER: Union of Bulgarian Writers.

AWARDS, HONORS: Dimitrov Prize, 1959; named People's Cultural Worker of Bulgaria, government of Bulgaria, 1966.


Sélzite na mama (title means "Mama's Tears: Short Stories and Fairy Tales for Children"), Knizharnitsa "Apolon," Pechatnitsa "Séglasie" (Sofia, Bulgaria) 1925.

Usilni godini (title means "Hard Years"), Book I: V drezgavinata na utroto (title means "In the Twilight of the Morning"), Knizharnitsa "Apolon," Pechatnitsa "Séglasie" (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1928, Book II: Podem (title means "Uplift"), Izdanie na avtora (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1929, Book III: Ilinden (title means "Saint Elija's Day"), Izdanie na avtora (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1930.

Zdravets i Iglika. Sértseto tsvete (title means "Crane's Bill and Primrose: The Flower Heart"), Knizharnitsa Georgi T. Kréstev, Pechatnitsa "Sredets" (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1930.

Proletta e magyosnitsa (title means "Spring Is a Magician"), Knizharnitsa Georgi T. Kréstev, Pechatnitsa P. Ovcharov (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1931.

Pod mrachno nebe (title means "Under a Gloomy Sky"), Séyuz na Makedonskite Kulturno-prosvetni Organizatsii v Bélgariya, Pechatnitsa Ovcharov (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1932.

Zlatniyat klyuch (short stories; title means "The Gold Key"), Pechatnitsa P. Ovcharov (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1935.

Velikiyat tsar (title means "The Great Tsar"), Kazanléshka Dolina (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1937.

Starata késhta (title means "The Old House"), Khemus (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1938.

Igra (title means "A Game"), Séyuz na bélgarskite pisateli, Pechatnitsa "ABV" (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1939. Na zavoy (title means "At a Turn"), Biblioteka "Zaveti," Pechatnitsa Poligrafiya (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1940.

Gotse Delchev, Biblioteka "Brannik," Pechatnitsa "Izgrev" (Sofia, Bulgaria) 1942.

Grad Prilep. Borbi za rod i svoboda (title means "The Town of Prilep: Struggles for Kin and Freedom"), Ministerstvo na Narodnoto Prosveshtenie (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1943.

Zavréshtane (title means "Return"), Perun (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1943.

Zhelezniyat svetilnik, Bélgarski pisatel (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1952, translated by Marguerite Alexevia as The Iron Candlestick, Foreign Languages Press (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1964.

Ilinden (title means "Saint Elija's Day"), Bélgarski Pisatel (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1953, translated by Nadya Kolin as Ilinden: A Novel of the Macedonian Rebellion of 1903, Foreign Languages Press (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1966.

Kiprovets véstana (title means "Kiprovets Revolted"), Narodna kultura (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1953.

Prespanskite kambani, Bélgarski Pisatel (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1954, translated by Mihail Todorov as The Bells of Prespa, Foreign Languages Press (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1966.

Ilindentsi, Narodna Mladezh (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1955.

Samuil, Narodna Kultura (Sofia, Bulgaria), Book I: Shtitove kamenni (title means "Shields of Stone"), 1958, Book II: Pepelyashka i tsarskiyat sin (title means "Cinderella and the Prince") 1959, Book III: Pogibel (title means "Destruction") 1960, revised edition published as Samuil. Roman-letopis za kraya na Pérvata bélgarska durzhava, 3 volumes, Narodna kultura (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1965.

Bratyata ot Struga (title means "The Brothers from Struga"), Bélgarski pisatel (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1962.

Hilendarskiyat monah (title means "The Monk of Hilendar"), Narodna Mladezh (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1962.

Glasovete vi chuvam (title means "Your Voices I Hear"), Bélgarski Pisatel (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1966.

collected works

Razkazi i povesti. 1927-1960 (title means "Short Stories and Novellas, 1927-1960"), Bélgarski Pisatel (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1962.

Séchineniya, 11 volumes, edited by Stoyan Karolev and others, Bégarski Pisatel (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1972-1978.

Contributor to periodicals, including Rodina ("Fatherland"), Rabotnicheski vestnik ("Workers' Newspaper"), Rabotnichesko edinstvo ("Workers' Unity"), Léch ("A Ray"), Nov pét ("New Way"), Makedonska tribuna ("Macedonian Tribune"), Vardar, Svoboda ili smért ("Freedom or Death"), and Zora ("Dawn").

SIDELIGHTS: For Dimitér Talev, the contentious history between the Macedonia of his birth and the Bulgaria where he lived would fuel a wealth of literary interpretations. The career of this deeply patriotic Macedonian writer spanned some of the most politically shattering events in the Balkan region, and his first-hand experiences enriched his fiction. Talev was incarcerated for several months when Soviet-style communism took over Bulgaria in 1944. Laboring in mining camps under inhumane conditions weakened his health, and though he was known as a leading Macedonian writer in Bulgaria, he died of cancer in 1966. Talev's numerous historical novels and short stories explored how ethnic prejudices caused regional tensions over generations.

Talev was born in the city of Prilep, when Macedonia had yet to exist as a nation but was instead an ethnic group spread across Bulgaria, Greece and what would later become Yugoslavia. Talev's mother was from Prilep, but had married a newcomer to the town, a peasant who was a blacksmith by trade. When Talev was around five, Macedonians attempted to rid themselves of Ottoman Turk control on "Ilinden," or Saint Elija's Day, 1903. Talev based several fictional works on these events.

Two of Talev's older brothers were politically active in the VMRO, the nationalist Macedonian group at the forefront of the Ilinden uprising, which was quashed. Through them, Talev became involved in the underground resistance movement as a teen, a period he would later portray vividly in some of his stories. When war in the Balkans broke out in 1912, Talev was fourteen, and he was forced to relocate often to finish his education. That war would spiral in just two years, which prolonged his studies.

Talev's first short story was published in a newspaper in Skopje, the Macedonian capital, in 1917. After one final college switch, to Bulgaria's University of Sofia, he graduated with a degree in Slavic philology. He stayed in the capital city the rest of his life. Talev wrote many short stories and essays during this period, and published his first book, Sélzite na mama. Most of the publications in which he was published were leftist in ideology, and by 1927 he was working for the newspaper Makedonia. He rose from proofreader to editorial board member to editor-in-chief in a few years.

In 1928, part I of Talev's first novel for adults, Usilni godini, appeared. This first installment, V drezgavinata na utroto, begins with the end of the resolution of Russo-Turkish War in the Balkans in 1878. The next two parts, Podem and Ilinden, carry the story through the next crucial three decades. Usilni godini won critical acclaim for Talev. According to Ivan Ruskov in Dictionary of Literary Biography, it "marks the beginning of the basic issue in his work—the fate of Macedonia identified as a geographic and ethnocultural area, whose status and frontiers are determined by complicated political and ideological factors and are based on various multinational confrontations and the contradictory interests of local Balkan and European entities."

In the early 1930s Talev quit the staff of Makedonia to live in Paris. There, he wrote his 1932 drama, Pod mrachno nebe, about ethnic tensions between Serbs and Bulgarians. He returned to Sofia to be managing editor of Makedonia, but Tsar Boris III established a Bulgarian dictatorship in 1934, and authorities shut the paper down. Talev continued to write and found acceptance in other pro-Macedonian publications such as Makedonska tribuna ("Macedonian Tribune") and Zora ("Dawn"), which published many of his stories.

Some of those stories were collected in five volumes published in Sofia between 1935 and 1943. These collections included Zlatniyat klyuch, Velikiyat tsar, Starata késhta, Igra, and Zavréshtane. The works center on life in the countryside and the recent epoch of Macedonian-Bulgarian relations. Y. V. Karageorge, in Encyclopedia of World Literature in the Twentieth Century, said that Zlatniyat klyuch, Starata késhta and Zavréshtane "draw a vivid panorama of the Macedonian ethos, with its patriarchal structures, and celebrate the enduring spirit of the people of greater Bulgaria."

Talev's second novel, Na zavoy, is set in Bulgaria during a bleak 1920s era of human-rights abuses. Its hero, Krum Kosherov, begins adult life as a communist, but events steer him to political apathy; his marriage to a well-off young woman establishes his mindset firmly in the middle class. "In his book Talev suggests a way out of the conflicts by showing what turns an individual must make to save himself, his family, and his country," Ruskov said.

In the early 1940s Bulgaria had joined an alliance with Nazi Germany, Boris III died mysteriously after a visit with German chancellor Adolf Hitler in Berlin, and Soviet troops occupied Bulgaria and established a one-party communist state. Talev's literary career continued apace, however, and he wrote two important nonfiction works: a biography of a martyred VMRO leader, Gotse Delchev, and an account of Macedonian nationalism as centered in his hometown with the essay Grad Prilep. Borbi za rod i svoboda. During this time he also wrote more short stories and two psychological novellas: "Posledno pétuvane," in which an elderly woman is abandoned by her thoughtless sons, and "Dva miliona," the tale of a well-to-do pharmacist on his death bed and his family's eager anticipation of the inheritance.

World War II had ended for Bulgaria in September 1944 when Soviet troops entered, and Talev's life changed dramatically. His youthful VMRO work, his editorship of Makedonia, and his fictional themes, especially in Na zavoy, all contributed to Bulgarian Communist authorities viewing him suspiciously. That October, he was jailed for six months, though not charged with any crime, and then released to a labor camp in Bulgaria's mining region for four months.

Another crackdown on those considered potential dissidents occurred in 1947, and Talev was sentenced to forced labor at another mine with equally atrocious living conditions. Five days before Christmas, a coal avalanche completely buried him, and his fellow inmates were lucky to find him. In Sofia, colleagues and longtime friends of Talev's petitioned the government for his freedom. He was released in February, 1948, but later that year his entire family was exiled to Lukovit.

In early 1951, the newspaper Pirinsko delo ("Pirin Cause") published an unusual statement from Talev that denounced both the VMRO and some Yugoslavian leaders. (The borders of the recently created Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, Greek Macedonia, and the Macedonian section of Bulgaria would remain a source of political drama well into the 1990s.) "The amateurish language and the redundancy of vulgar ideological clichés indicate that this squib, typical of the Cold War, was dictated by someone other than Talev," Ruskov said. Yet Talev and his family were allowed to return to Sofia, and Zhelezniyat svetilnik, what critics consider his most significant work, was published.

Talev had finished Zhelezniyat svetilnik in 1946, and its 1952 publication marked a return to a quieter period for him as well as to his status as a leading Macedonian writer. The work, translated into English and published as The Iron Candlestick, belongs to a quartet of novels during this period that critics deem the apotheosis of his literary gifts—Prespanskite kambani, Ilinden and Glasovete vi chuvam. All four novels strive to re-create the saga of contemporary Macedonian history through the ambitions and tragedies in one family, the Glaushevs. "This novel marked the beginning of Talev's recognition and his remarkable writer's career," Ruskov said. "Along with that, however, one notices the growing influence of ideological prescriptions imposed during the 1950s and 1960s."

Zhelezniyat svetilnik begins in the 1830s in Prespa—the literary name for Prilep, the town of Talev's birth—after the end of a devastating plague. The area is under harsh Turkish rule. A young woman, Sultana, belongs to one of the town's oldest families; she shocks many when she marries Stojan Glaushev, a newcomer peasant. Talev based much of the Sultana character's independence and will upon his own mother. She first endures accusations of immoral behavior for her decision to marry the outsider peasant, but helps him rise to affluence through his blacksmith business. Their son, Lazar, grows up to lead a local insurgency movement. But a daughter, Katerina, is involved in a tragic love story with Rafe Klintche, a woodcarver from another region. Talev also had a sister who died in 1935, and "the description of the psychological drama of Sultana, who, torn between maternal love and moral norms, causes the death of her daughter, Katerina, is among the masterpieces of Bulgarian literature," Ruskov said.

In Zhelezniyat svetilnik and its sequels, several different plot lines for each main character enhance Talev's credible individuals. Their conflicts even affect their sons' and daughters' lives. Prespanskite kambani, which succeeded Zhelezniyat svetilnik, was translated into English in 1966 as "The Bells of Prespa," and takes up where the first book ended, at Lazar's marriage. It chronicles the Glaushev family from the 1860s to the 1880s, and in particular concentrates on Lazar's beleaguered wife, Niya, who endures Sultana's disapproval until she finally produces a grandchild.

The Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 is important to the novel as well: Macedonia comes under Turkish rule, and Macedonian rebels led by Lazar and a local teacher foment an uprising in Prespa. Like nearly every fictional portrayal of actual demonstrations of Macedonian nationalism, this, too, concludes tragically. The teacher is executed and Lazar jailed for three years. Prespanskite kambani ends with the death of Lazar's parents, Stojan and Sultana.

Ilinden, the third novel in Talev's collected opus, was actually published before Prespanskite kambani, in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the 1903 uprising of that name. Ilinden, a reworking of Book III of Usilni Godini, chronicles the events leading to this fateful day, and portrays how Macedonia became a battleground for differing ethnic groups and their ambitions—the Bulgarians, Serbs, and Greeks—regardless of the Macedonians themselves. Lazar and Niya's now-grown son, Boris, leads the uprising, which is brutally suppressed.

In the fourth novel of this cycle, Glasovete vi chuvam, Talev, through protagonist Boris, sketches the nine years of strife between the Ilinden uprising and the Balkan War onset. A Greek girl's love for Boris symbolizes hopelessness; since any union between the two nationalities is impossible, she commits suicide. Talev exposes the double-edged sword of patriotism through one character's query: "Isn't the love of your people a hatred of the other one?" The doomed Angelika continues a long line of female heroines in Talev's cycle, and in his other works as well, created as "female Christ-like figures who transform the lives of embittered, hurt, or lost men," Karageorge said.

In between the four novels of his Glaushev family saga, Talev wrote many other shorter works. These included Ilindentsi, a children's version of the events in Ilinden. Another significant politically themed work for younger readers came in a trio of books with the collective title Samuil. Its three parts are Shtitove kamenni, Pepelyashka i tsarskiyat sin and Pogibel. Samuil was an eleventh-century Bulgarian tsar who battled with a Byzantine empire to predictably tragic results. The more powerful emperor ordered Samuil's 15,000 soldiers to be blinded for their part in the uprising, and when Samuil saw their return, he broke down and died shortly thereafter.

Collections of Talev's fiction were published in Razkazi i povesti. 1927-1960, and the eleven-volume Séchineniya. Ruskov termed him "one of the most significant Bulgarian novelists in the years after World War II," and "a writer who provided a profound and many-sided portrait of the Macedonian people by evoking their complex and tragic history, their way of life, and their moral and spiritual values."



Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 181: South Slavic Writers since World War II, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1997.

Encyclopedia of World Literature in the Twentieth Century, third edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999, p. 289.*