Bulgarian writer Elitza Georgieva enjoys popularity among French readers with “The Cosmonauts are just Passing By”


A story of a girl going to a school by the name of a cosmonaut and dreaming of becoming a cosmonaut herself. The girl is growing in a time of transition between different eras – she is caught between the collapse of communism and the early years of democracy. As historical periods are changing tumultuously, childhood is also ending. Meanwhile, street holes are getting bigger, car brands – ever more diverse, finance pyramids are crumbling down and banks are collapsing one after another...

This story, told through the eyes of a child and showing the way the collapse of a totalitarian system and subsequent democratic changes directly affects people’s values and overturns their lives, was published two years ago by big French publishing house Gallimard and keeps winning nominations and awards to this day. Author Elitza Georgieva was born in 1982 and she is a witness of the years of personal and social transformation.

Elitza Georgieva has been living in France since she was eighteen. She graduated from cinema studies in Lyon and worked as an author of documentaries and staged literary performances. She wrote her novel "The Cosmonauts are just Passing by" in French and turned it into a thesis work during her specialization in creative literary writing in Paris. She believes that sad humor and self-irony in the book are what has won the readers’ attention, even though they do not know details about the events that took place in Bulgaria at that time. The novel has also reached some French schools.

“It was the result of a high school award I won in France and thanks to it I went to present it to many schools,” Elitza Georgieva says. “To a large extent, the novel is my life and the life of most Bulgarians in that period. When I first came to France, I was a high school student and when I met with other students I realized that my peers here had never lived in such a stimulating environment – difficult but still interesting and rich in opportunities. We grew up much faster than others and that huge change has marked us all.”

“In order for high school students who read the book to make sense of it, I first meet with teachers in literature, history and geography,” Elitza Georgieva adds. “In this way, the teachers explain in class not only the story in the novel, but also the historical backdrop related to the collapse of the Berlin Wall.”

In Bulgaria society is still debating on the ways communism should be studied at school, but in France the topic is already in the program of the last high school year as part of modern history. What is the approach to understanding this regime there?

“I think that art, literature, and cinema are good ways of studying history, so that it does not remain based purely on abstract facts,” Elitza says. Through a personal story teenagers who have not lived in such an environment can understand the story much better. For example they may be interested in different brands of shoes and the back cover of the book reads ‘Your grandfather was a communist, a real one, not like your Nike shoes’. This is how important facts are compared to details of the everyday life of each high school student, no matter the country they live in.”

Currently, Elitza Georgieva is working on her new film, which is about a Belarusian girl whose father disappears mysteriously. She has also been preparing for her participation in the collection "Girls from the East" including texts by writers from Eastern Europe. “The Cosmonauts are Just Passing by” was selected for the Folio Prize for pocket book series of Gallimard in competition with a total of 130 books with only six of them selected.

English: Alexander Markov

Photos: private library

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