Nemchev, Vergil

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Biography

Vergil Nemchev

Born in 1970, Vergil Nemchev belongs to the generation that came of age as the Iron Curtain tumbled across Europe and the Transition Period kicked off in Bulgaria. Over the turbulent years that followed, Nemchev changed a series of jobs, including a short career in the casino business and a year of service in the army until in the late 1990s, when he was out of the barracks and in for some serious writing. His first book – a collection of short stories called The Big Pampering (Janet 45, 2002) came out in 2002. An abridged English-language version of the book was released by the Dublin-based publisher Scotus (The Big Pampering, 2006). In 2003, Nemchev was awarded the Rashko Sugarev literary prize for his short story “Lily.” Nemchev’s first novel Radio – a Novel was released in 2007 (Janet 45, 2007). Vergil Nemchev’s latest collection of short stories, The Superfluous Part, was published in May 2012 by Janet 45.

Among a number of other books, Nemchev has translated for the Bulgarian reader several important titles such as Mockingbird Wish Me Luck by Charles Bukowski (in collaboration with Yavor Nemchev, Softpress, 2000), Jack Harte’s Birds and Selected Stories (Orpheus, 2001), Reflections in a Tar Barrel (Altera, 2007) and In the Wake of the Bagger (Altera, 2010), Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Prozorets, 2008), And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks by Jack Kerouac and William S. Burrows (Prozorets, 2011), Juliet Naked by Nick Hornby (Altera), Jack Kerouac’s Lonesome Traveler (Prozorets) and others.

Vergil Nemchev lives and works in Sofia.

Synopses

Synopsis of the novel Radio by Vergil Nemchev

The book is set in the period September 1996 – April 1997, the so-called Videnov Winter in Bulgaria, when inflation soared to unprecedented levels, reducing people’s income to mere cents. In the autumn of 1996, four young people get involved in a gaming scam at a Sofia casino, run by English managers. Two of the four – the men – named Kosyo (the boss) and Dinko (Dizzy) are former classmates from a prestigious school in a provincial city. The female characters, Maria (Mimmy) and Victoria (Vicky) are two girls from Sofia. All four are employed at the casino with Kosyo holding the highest position – pit-boss – Dizzy and Maria being inspectors and Vicky – a cashier. The scam, masterminded by Kosyo, involves interaction between the four and a fifth participant – the customer, who needs to be a regular, inconspicuous casino player. The role is entrusted to an elderly Lebanese businessman and an immigrant of sorts, named Abu Naji, aka “Djibouti.” The conspirators eventually perform a series of more or less elaborate gaming scams intended to “redirect” substantial amounts of money from the casino.

In a troubled, miserable and impoverished time for the people in Bulgaria, the scamsters feel no moral restraint in “stealing from the rich” in order to support themselves and their families and tend to regard their dealings as an adventure rather than as a serious crime. The easy money soon produces its inebriating effect on the young people and they all succumb in their own ways to it. After a successful and enthusiastic start, the deal gradually falls apart. Eventually the management finds out about the deal but is only aware of Kosyo, Maria and Abu Naji as part of it and the three are respectively thrashed, sacked, banned from the casino or all of the above.

Meanwhile, Kosyo undergoes a painful ending to his relationship with Katya – a student and young radio journalist. He shows his jealousy and sees his love fading away in indifference and contempt. Soon the deal, too, is destroyed, taking away yet another prop from under his confidence, he is left without his well-paid, responsible and respected job and without his secret organization and source of income. Later we see Kosyo stalking his ex-girlfriend, whom he’s still obsessed with, outside the National Radio where she works. He sees Katya get into her boss’s car (the man who had previously provoked Kosyo’s jealousy), drives after them, hits their car and escapes. Hours later he crashes his own car in a mountain road accident and suffers serious injuries. In one of the several “quartet” chapters in the book that see all four characters from different aspects, the reader sees Kosyo on New Year’s eve at his parents’ home in the country, and it becomes clear that his relationship with his parents has been shattered, too. In the final “quartet” chapter we see an embittered Kosyo break with his friends and former scam-mates Maria, Dizzy and Vicky. Discouraged by a fast series of failures, seized by remorse, facing a pending summons to join the army for 18 months, Kosyo lapses into drinking and drugs. The last chapter (32) sees him completely alone, down at heart, nursing vaguely suicidal ideas. He has just come down the mountain from a “brave” venture outside his home for a well forgotten passion – hiking – when he hears Katyas’s voice over the radio in some cafeteria and the encounter proves sufficient for a major breakdown with a possibly fatal outcome.

Dizzy and Vicky hang on to their jobs. However, the deal is dead and the plot follows the separate paths of the former conspirators, eventually revealing Abu Naji’s unexpected and violent death. The old Arab has, for most of the deal, been making plans to return to his home in Lebanon. However, he has some unsettled debts in Bulgaria he needs to take care of first. His dream of going back to his father’s home in Beirut, which has been ruined in the war and where his young wife died, remains only a dream, and one night, on his return from the casino he is attacked just inside his block of flats. The attempted mugging goes wrong and the old gambler is killed and never returns to his native country.

The concluding chapters see Maria going to Italy with her boyfriend – an Italian businessman named Carlo, while Dizzy is set for Ireland, where he intends to continue his education. Maria, who is represented as the most practical of the young four, has invested all her savings in a country house near Sofia, but in the end feels compelled to leave the bleak atmosphere of her native country for a presumably sunnier and easier life in Italy.

Vicky stays on in Bulgaria and in the casino, pregnant and reconciled with her boyfriend – a heavy drinking mechanic. Vicky has been the subject of Dinko’s unspoken affection.

In clear contrast to his friend and boss, Dizzy is seen as a man whose doubts and moral restraints prevent him from instantly taking what he wants. At different times the reader sees Dizzy frustrated at his last futile effort to restore his student’s rights and resume studies, haunted by his mother’s reproachful words; the character often undertakes conscious, detailed introspections, seeking to unravel certain social, ethical and everyday issues. However, the end of book sees him on a plane flying away from Bulgaria, but focused on Bulgarian political and social issues, clearly without a trace of non-return bitterness. Dinko’s inner conflict lies in the fact that he doesn’t mind being part of a criminal operation such as a casino swindle, but he still feels opposed to the ethics of the “hit and run” mentality. He seems more concerned with the general state of affairs in society that directly matter to his closer relations (his sick father and his worried mother) and to the people in general, than with his own welfare and the dubious advantages of being a “player.”

The book features a number of minor characters from inside and outside casino life, as well as some separate stories, characteristic of the realities and the time of the plot, that are told as seen through the eyes of the main characters.

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