Picture of author.

Georgi Gospodinov

Author of Time Shelter

24+ Works 844 Members 34 Reviews

About the Author

Georgi Gospodinov (1968-) is a researcher at the Institute of Literature at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences
Image credit: Georgi Gospodinov, 2005 By Mrs Robinson at Bulgarian Wikipedia - Transferred from bg.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7047173

Works by Georgi Gospodinov

Associated Works

Best European Fiction 2010 (2009) — Contributor — 164 copies
McSweeney's Issue 48 (McSweeney's Quarterly Concern) (2014) — Contributor — 62 copies


Common Knowledge



Screw you, your incohesive drivel and your stupid minotaur, buddy.
polusvijet | 7 other reviews | Nov 8, 2023 |
It says something about a book when the thing you like most is the cover (mine being the 2022 Weidenfeld and Nicolson paperback, a lovely bit of design).
    As for the novel itself, the idea was promising enough: a psychiatrist—lifelong Beatles fan and enthusiast of the 1960s in general—decks out his Viennese office in the style of that decade. From local flea-markets and junk shops he collects original photos and posters for its walls, a genuine ̕60s record-player, vintage cigarette packs, stacks of magazines, and even takes to wearing a 60s-style turtleneck with his white coat. A specialist in geriatric psychiatry, he soon notices that some of his patients, particularly those in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, sort of linger in his office and become noticeably more relaxed and communicative. A new kind of therapy takes shape: “If it’s 1965 in your head, the year when you were twenty…then let the outside world, at least in the confines of a single room, be 1965 too…they’ll start telling stories, remembering things, even though some of them haven’t said a word in months.”
    In Zurich a “clinic of the past” is fitted out, each floor a throwback (wallpaper, furniture, ornaments, everything) to a different decade—1940s on the ground floor, then up through the ̕50s, ̕60s, ̕70s, ̕80s and ̕90s at the top—to help patients of various ages and degrees of memory-loss. Things go well at first too, but then rapidly get out of hand: the idea spreads to the general population, to people everywhere who want to swap the present day for their own particular idea of the best time to have been alive; all over Europe the past begins to encroach on the present. The theme is this obsession with history—with traditions, nostalgia, commemoration, nationalism, all that wretched flag-waving and marching about—and the wish to turn the clock back even to times and places which in reality were unpleasant, ghastly, in some cases inhuman.
    Such a promising idea (and timely, given what’s happening in Ukraine, Russia, the Middle East) but I was left feeling the author could have done so much more with it than he did.
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justlurking | 17 other reviews | Nov 1, 2023 |
I'm frequently baffled by the kinds of things that are thought to be award calibre. Time Shelter won the International Booker this year, and I have to presume because it's the kind of gimmicky book that flatters many readers into thinking that they're engaging with something profound.

I won't bother summarising the plot or scenario here—neither of them matter much beyond providing a rationale for Georgi Gospodinov to muse about nostalgia, memory, history, and the past in a simplistic and flattened way. True, what Gospodinov is aiming for here is mostly satire, but it's such a clumsy attempt at satire: the way that he's got people with actual Alzheimer's, people who've supposedly got Alzheimer's but whose symptoms don't match up with actual dementia, mentions of a (metaphorical?) "memory disease" sweeping Europe, reactionary socio-political movements dependent on mass forgetting ditto, and the narrator's own deteriorating mental state all jumbled together seems less effectively ironical than incompetent.

Over and over again, Gospodinov writes sentences that I'm sure are intended to seem lyrical and profound, but they clunk. There are issues on a stylistic level:

"It was the sharp scent of asphalt, of tar melted by the sun, the greasy, yes, greasy smell of petroleum. Brooklyn offered me this scent, perhaps because of the heat, perhaps they were fixing the road somewhere nearby, perhaps because of the big trucks that crisscrossed the neighborhood. Or perhaps because of all of that taken together.”

The sheer self-consciousness of the attempt at a distinctive voice! It's so disingenuous. (Repetition isn't the same as depth, but I also can't tell you how much that "greasy, yes, greasy" pissed me off.)

But there are also just sentences and passages that I'm sure are meant to dazzle us with their insights into people and the past, but they either fall apart as soon as you think about them even a little bit ("The homeless have no history, they are how shall I put it, extra-historical") or just don't ring true as being said by a human being ("I have never liked endings, I don't remember the ending of a single book or a single film"; "I was just starting to write a novel about the discreet monster of the past, its deceptive innocence, and so on, and what would happen if we began bringing back the past with a therapeutic aim.")

There's this bit of stupidity:

"The remarkable thing is that we don't even have names for smells. God or Adam didn't quite finish the job. It's not like colors, for example, where you've got names like red, blue, yellow, violet... We are not meant to name scents directly. Rather, it's always through comparison, always descriptive. It smells like violets, like toast, like seaweed, like rain, like a dead cat ... But violets, toast, seaweed, rain, and a dead cat are not the names of scents."

Now perhaps I'm being too harsh here. This was originally written in Bulgarian, a language I neither speak nor read. Perhaps it is true that Bulgarian has within it no words that are the equivalents of vanilla or loamy or musky or astringent or citrusy or fishy.

But I'd be surprised to learn that that was the case.

There's a fundamental narcissism, too, to Gospodinov's framing of how Europe might want to escape into its own past. Occasionally he briefly gestures to the fact that a woman might not be keen about having to "live" once more in the 1950s, and once he mentions that young people would resist giving up their smartphones. But there's nothing about what LGBTQ people would do or think in response to this series of pushes to live in the past, or Jews or Muslims, or anyone of recent immigrant origin. I'm sure that Gospodinov's defenders would say that this isn't intended to be a realist work, but I don't think that Gospodinov is capable of stepping outside of his own particular perspective. And there's nothing wrong with a novel powerfully grounded in the writer's own POV, but there should be some awareness of that.

And all of this in service of what? Pointing out that reactionary political movements often peddle in nostalgias for ersatz Golden Ages that never truly existed? Profound. Revolutionary. Ground-breaking.
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siriaeve | 17 other reviews | Oct 7, 2023 |



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Associated Authors

Angela Rodel Translator
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Magdalena Levy Translator
Marie Vrinat Translator


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