Yovkov, Yordan 1880-1937
YOVKOV, Yordan 1880-1937
PERSONAL: Born November 9, 1880, in Zheravna, Bulgaria; died October 15, 1937, in Plovdiv, Bulgaria; son of Stefan Yovkov (a sheep farmer) and Pena Boychova; married Despina Koleva, 1918; children: Elka. Education: University of Sofia, law degree program, unfinished.
CAREER: Teacher in Dobrudzha, Bulgaria; Bulgarian Legation, Bucharest, Hungary, translator and press attaché, 1920-27; La Bulgarie, Sofia, Bulgaria, editorial board, 1927-29; Sofia press department, 1936-37; Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sofia, Bulgaria.
AWARDS, HONORS: Kiril and Metodiy Prize for literature (upon recommendation by the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences), 1929.
Razkazi (Title means "Short Stories"), 2 volumes, Kniga (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1917.
Zhetvaryat Povest (Title means "The Harvester"), Obrazovanie (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1920, revised edition, Khemus (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1930.
Posledna radost Razkazi (Title means "Last Joy"), Khemus (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1926, republished as Pesenta na koleletata, Khemus (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1933.
Staroplaninski legendi (Title means "Legends of Stara Planina"), Khemus (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1927.
Vecheri v Antimovskiya khan (Title means "Evenings at the Antomovo Inn") Zh. Marinov (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1928.
Razkazi (Title means "Short Stories"), 3 volumes, Khemus (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1928, 1929, 1932.
Albena Drama, Khemus (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1930.
Milionerut Komediya (Title means "The Millionaire"), Khemus (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1930.
Boryana Drama, Khemus (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1932.
Chiflikut kray granitsata Roman (Title means "The Farmland at the Frontier"), Khemus (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1934.
Zhensko surtse Razkazi, (Title means "A Woman's Heart") Khemus (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1935.
Ako mozhekha da govoryat Razkazi (Title means "If They Could Speak"), Khemus (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1936.
Obiknoven chovek Drama, (Title means "An Ordinary Man"), Khemus (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1936.
Priklyucheniyata na Gorolomov Roman (Title means "Gorolomov's Adventures") Khemus (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1938.
Subrani suchineniya, 7 volumes, edited by Angel Karaliychev and others, Bulgarski pisatel (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1956.
Subrani suchineniya, 6 volumes, edited by Simeon Sultanov, Bulgarski pisatel (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1970-1973.
EDITIONS IN ENGLISH
The White Swallow and Other Short Stories, translated by Milla Cholakova and Marko Minkov, Ministry of Information and Arts (Sofia, Bulgaria), 1947.
Short Stories, edited by Mercia MacDermott, translated by Minkov and Marguerite Alexieva, Vanous (New York, NY), 1965.
The Inn at Antimovo, and, Legends of Stara Planina, translated by John Burnip, Slavica (Columbus, OH), 1990.
SIDELIGHTS: Yordan Yovkov, an early twentieth-century Bulgarian writer, is known, along with Elin Pelin, as the most important interwar prose writer in Bulgaria. Yovkov rose to the country's literary elite through his stories about the Balkan Wars (1912-13). Over a career that spanned twenty years, Yovkov published seventeen volumes, three posthumously. Charles A. Moser, in the Encyclopedia of World Literature, wrote, "In a literature that has always been strongest in the shorter genres, [Yovkov] stands as the supreme master of the short story."
Yovkov, raised in Bulgaria's Sliven district, was the fifth child in his family. He finished high school in Sofia in 1900, and then started teaching in Dolen Izvor, but was drafted and then attended a school for reserve officers in Knyazhevo. In these two years, 1902 to 1904, Yovkov began writing poetry. He was first published in the journal Suznanie, in which his 1902 poem "Pod tezhkiya krust" (Under the Heavy Cross), appeared. After leaving the military, he started a degree study in law at the University of Sofia, but financial hardship forced his withdrawal.
Yovkov resumed teaching in 1904, working for a school in village near Dobruja, where he published some short stories. Only one of these, "Ovcharova zhalba" (A Shepherd's Grief) appeared in a later collection of his work, entitled Staroplaninski legendi.
Yovkov was drafted for the first Balkan War in 1912, serving as an officer in Eastern Thrace and Macedonia. His stories about the Balkan wars, particularly "Balkan," earned Yovkov national recognition. In 1915, he was again called to duty, for World War I, serving until July of the following year, when he received an appointment to the editorial staff of Voenni izvestiya (Military News) in Sofia. In the capital, he joined a group of young writers that included Konstantin Konstantinov, Nikolay Liliev, and Georgi Raychev. He stayed on the front lines, but only as an observer, and wrote war stories. Lyubomira Parpulova-Gribble, writing in Dictionary of Literary Biography, said these war stories "exhibit most of the main features of Yovkov's literary work. One is the tendency to view the individual works as parts of thematically and emotionally bound units or, as Bulgarian scholars call them, the first cycles of stories." She added, "This early work also has the typical Yovkovian structure of the plot that is not organized around a single main episode but unfolds as a series of relatively minor events." Other stories with this cyclical structure include "Beli rozi" (White Roses), "Kray Mesta" (Near the River Mesta), and "Zemlyatsi" (Countrymen). These tales appeared in Voenni izvestiya as well as several other periodicals, including Demokraticheski pregled (Democratic Review), Narod i armiya (People and Army), Otechestvo (Fatherland), Suvremenna misul (Contemporary Thought), Zlatorog (Golden Horn), and Zora (Dawn).
Parpulova-Gribble noted that "Balkan" contains "several of the major themes and ideological concerns of his writings, including the themes of Dobruja, the border, and the unity between humanity and nature." The Romanian takeover of Dobruja after the second Balkan war deeply affected Yovkov. Consequently, "Balkan" contains nationalistic elements, but, Parpulova-Gribble wrote, it also "explores the psychological impact of ethnic and political frontiers by juxtaposing the animal world and the world of people." Yovkov continued to examine animal psychology in his short story collection entitled Ako mozhekha da govoryat.
In 1918, Yovkov married Despina Koleva, a University of Sofia student. That year, Yovkov decided to limit his life to literature and his wife and daughter, Elka. He continued to work, however, serving as a translator and press attaché to the Bulgarian Legation in Bucharest beginning in 1920. After seven years there, he joined the editorial board at La Bulgarie, a Sofia newspaper, where he stayed until 1929. In 1936, he worked for a year in the Sofia press department.
While Yovkov gained popularity writing about the wars, he also wrote much about the world and myths surrounding Bulgarian peasant life. He chronicles these village activities not only in Staroplaninski legendi, but also in his other major short story collections, Vecheri v Antimovskiya khan and Zhensko surtse. In his novelette Zhetvaryat: Povest, Yovkov depicted the life of the village Lyulyakovo during peacetime. Parpulova-Gribble found that the "main idea of the work is that the attitude of the peasants toward their land and work is the foundation of their moral and spiritual values." Moser wrote that Yovkov "is never blind to the cruelties of life, but he is always persuaded that even its apparent catastrophes in the end work for the good. Among his most characteristic protagonists is the good-hearted dreamer entranced by beauty who does not quite fit into a world not made by dreamers."
In Staroplaninski legendi, Yovkov writes about nineteenth-century Balkan life in ten stories. Parpulova-Gribble asserted that these stories concern "extraordinary love, bravery, treachery, and suffering. Each piece has an epigram taken from a folk song, legend, or chronicle that sets the stage for the main conflict." These tales, she argued, do not embellish or simulate past writing styles. She maintained that "Yovkov is independent in both style of the narrative and the development of the plot. The texts unfold in a manner that seems natural and effortless . . . masterfully painted landscapes and portraits lend depth to the events." In "Shibil," the title character, a fugitive gypsy, falls in love with Rada, the beautiful daughter of the richest man of the town Zheruna. In "Prez chumavoto," the most powerful man of Zheruna plans a wedding for his daughter amid rumors of a plague.
Chilikut kray granitsata is the first and most important of his novels. Set in 1923, it investigates the violence and politics surrounding a domestic insurrection, and describes the progressive dissolution of the antiquated patriarchy and rural estate system. In the 1930s, Yovkov was already enjoying his status. In 1927, he received the Kiril and Metodiy Prize for literature, and was contributing to the esteemed periodicals Zlatorog and Bulgarska misul (Bulgarian Thought). Then, he turned his attention to theater and penned his first play, Albena. In this dramatic piece, taken from a short story by that name that appeared in Vecheri v Antomovskiya khan, Yovkov tells of the beautiful Albena who falls in love with another man and together they kill her husband. Moser wrote that in this work, "he described the destructive potential of that very beauty and harmony which he himself had consistently been devoted." Yovkov died in 1937, from a malignant tumor that stemmed from ongoing stomach ailments.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 147: SouthSlavic Writers Before World War II, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1995.
Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Third edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Mozejko, Edward, Yordan Yovkov, Slavica (Columbus, OH), 1983.*