Home » Bulgaria » Svetoslav Minkov and Konstantin Konstantinov » Сърцето в картонената кутия [The Heart in the Cardboard Box]

Svetoslav Minkov and Konstantin Konstantinov: Сърцето в картонената кутия [The Heart in the Cardboard Box]

I am always somewhat suspicious of books written by more than one author but two pre-war Bulgarian authors who wrote a fairly light-hearted, absurdist novel is tempting. I have no way of knowing who contributed what so I shall just consider them as a conjoined couple.

They open the book somewhat in the manner of one of those interviews you find in a magazine where the interviewer arrives at the house of the interviewee and gives a description of the house before interviewing.We see our hwero/interviewee get up but we also see a description of the room – his desk with a pen and inkwell, a photo of a young woman who we later learn was the only woman he ever loved but who married someone else and a sheet of paper on which is written The Golden Arrow and his name, which is Valerian Plamenov. They are impressed by his first name, apparently not very common. At this point they tell us they will hand over to the author and the book is now told in conventional third person narrative style. His name, we soon learn, is not Valerian Plamenov, which is his pen name. His real name is Zafir Sâbev. This will have some importance later on.

Valerian has indeed written the title of his next poem but can get no further. He has writer’s block. A spider, himself something of a poet, whispers suggestions in his ear but to no avail, not least because our poet hates spiders.

A while ago Valerian had spent three months in hospital with a punctured lung. He now wonders if the other lung has been punctured.

He goes off to have an X-ray – our pair give a frightening description of the whole procedure. He is told that his lung is fine but that he has no heart . This is not a metaphorical judgement but a medical one, i.e. he has no physical heart. He is given some pills and, after taking the pills and having a rest, he feels better. He bumps into an old university friend, Damian, whom he hasn’t seen for some time and they go off to dine together with other friends. Damian tells him tat he is wasting his time on poetry and offers him a real job, one that will pay and allow him to enjoy the luxuries of life. Damian will even find him a nice wife. He is tempted.

However, on the way home he sees an announcement of his poem The Golden Arrow in a bookshop and announcing him as a new literary celebrity. He writes to the Minister of the Interior about his lost, perhaps stolen heart but, not surprisingly, gets nowhere though our authors have fun mocking the government and civil servants.

He is considering suicide suicide when a man bursts into his room. He is Tommy Black, a US detective and a doctor of alchemy, astrology telepathy chiromancy, necromancy, graphology, phrenology and various other disciplines. Black is happy to help free of charge because there is a general view in the US that it is impossible to solve a crime committed in the Balkans and, if he can solve one, his name will be made. Black asks him some strange questions (Do you read Nietzsche? Are you a vegetarian? ) and then, later, sends him off to Paris (at Black’s expense). In Paris our couple, who enjoy mocking, mock the tourists, particularly the German and American ones. But no Black. He is sent first to Venice and then back to Sofia but still no Black.

Back in Sofia we visit the Madagascar literary café where the literati are firmly mocked as is a recent book by two writers – Svetoslav Minkov and Konstantin Konstantinov. The speakers comment that the two do not actually like one another and they agree that it is not worth wasting time reading a book written by more than one person when there are so many other good books to read. Much of the rest of the discussion is old guard vs avant-garde. We learn that, apparently, Valerian Plamenov is a real writer currently making a film in the US. More mockery ensues.

Meanwhile, back to our story Damian has found Valerian a wife, a charming young lady who likes his poetry with a very rich father who does not like the name Valerian Plamenov but does like the name Zafir Sâbev. But where is Tommy Black and where is our hero’s heart? In a cardboard box, as the title tells us?
As you can see this is light-hearted and frivolous but great fun, giving our authors the opportunity to mock all and sundry, particularly their fellow writers but also themselves. Sadly it is not available in English but, if you read French, it offers an interesting glimpse of the pre-war Bulgarian avant-garde.

Publishing history

Published in 1933 by Galaxy Library
No English translation
First published in French in 1998 as Le coeur dans la boîte en carton by L’Esprit des Peninsules
Translated by Kracimir Valdjiev and Eric Naulleau