16 people set on to conquer the unconquerable – nature and themselves.
16 people with 16 different personalities converging to one and common WE.
16 people turning into one powerful force against the avalanche.
One mountain peak that is going to become their success and their demise.
Blaga Dimitrova’s Avalanche is one of those novels you can’t describe but you have to feel. I have no plausible explanation as to why I am discovering this great Bulgarian writer just now but once I started I couldn’t tear myself away from the pages. At first it was difficult to get accustomed to the writing style: short sentences alternate with fragments. The action quickly jumps from present to past and back, from one character to another, from one point-of-view to the other. However, once I got into the mood of it, it all started to make perfect sense. Certainly one of the best and most enjoyable things I have read in a long time.
16 different people, coming from diverse backgrounds, age, social status, gather together to conquer a mountain peak in one of the worst possible conditions. It’s winter and the chance of an avalanche is great. They have been warned not to start their journey but this has been futile – it is like warning them not to live. All of them are looking to break the conventions and chains of the ordinary life. To challenge themselves in the face of fear. To get to know their limits and to overcome them. To challenge nature and death in a dubious battle.
Dara – a young woman who had a bright future in academia in the capital but instead chose to work in a mountain station. One day, as she met Asen, she fell in love with mountaineering. Or with Asen. I guess it’s one and the same thing. She is just like one of the boys in the group – strong and opinionated. Her fragile personality is hidden behind her desire to be seen as invincible and conquering that mountain peak is what she needs to prove to herself she is in fact capable of everything.
Branko – the boy who just turned 21 and can’t wait to show he is a grown and independent man. His whole life Branko has been his mother’s boy. The mountain offers a chance to be free – from his mother’s obsessive care, from his girlfriend’s fear, from society’s judgement. He is born and dies on the same day.
The Superstitious One – he sees signs and portents everywhere. The one that felt that something might be going wrong but didn’t even think to come back. Because he is there to challenge his superstitions exactly – to conquer them even with the possibility of a tragic end.
The love triangle. Zorka who loved the arrogant Andro but sought happiness and comfort in Gorazd, who truly loved her. Andro, realizing what he has lost, now living through the happiness of the couple. Seeing through their eyes and feeling through their hearts.
The leader, Nayden. The one who bore the burden to prevent the disaster but failed. Was it because of his pride to ask for advice or because of his desire to prove he was better than the former he leader?
The former leader, Nikifor. Bitter because of his status to follow rather than to lead, his arrogance overwhelmed his better judgement. If only he had spoken, he might have made a difference. Or not.
And the 17th climber – their teacher and role model Deyan who is only present in their minds. He warned about the danger of climbing that day but failed to take any action – he let them go. And yet he stayed behind. His guilt over the tragic end of his students and friends will haunt him – the living will be damned and the dead will be honored.
As the avalanche envelopes and swirls around these 16 lost souls, the novel explores their lives until now and their last thoughts before death. What prompted them to break social conventions and to seek for freedom in nature? How they felt the world down there was corrupted, dishonest, afraid. People in the lowlands live like mice – carefully considering every action and never taking risks. Cautious not to die but actually barely living. The 16 climbers have lived more than anyone down there – exploring their biggest fears, conquering their weaknesses, standing against themselves and nature. In their last minutes each and everyone reconsiders his life so far – the regret of missing opportunities and of hurting the ones we love the most. The almost painful desire to have just one more breath to do the things we couldn’t do, to say the “I love you” we feared so much, to show who we really were. In the face of death we are the most alive.
Avalanche is a novel about everything. Blaga Dimitrova manages to encompass life’s wisdom into a simple narrative of a great tragedy in the mountains. Nearly every other sentence is a simple yet powerful truth – truths we all know but somehow manage to forget. Being busy fighting our stupid little battles down there. Being busy hating and hurting other people. Being busy dreaming about a better future instead of living in the only available now. Hiding behind our ordinary and orderly lives, refusing to take that one step towards facing our inner demons, confronting our fears, winning over our imperfections.
I wanted to rewrite the entire novel. I wanted to tattoo it on my skin, to scribble it on my soul, to make sure I never ever forget it. In its simplicity lies its power. In the inevitability of death grows the strong will to live. In the escape from society lies the strength in front of yourself. You are alone and yet all of you are together.
Some of my most favorite quotes below (in Bulgarian):
Всеки сам си създава лавината, която ще го погълне.
Исках да те нямам завинаги, а не да те имам за кратко!
Любовта най-често се пропуща в любене!
Човекът може всичко да загуби по пътя: младост, здраве, сила, вяра, памет, име. Запази ли смеха си, той остава човек.
Колкото по-чувствителна и по-наранима кожа – толкова по-богат регистър на човешката душа.
Големите болки мога да преодолея, но как да надмогна малките лоши настроения? Те ме държат в своята власт и се превръщат в мои лоши навици. Лошите навици се превръщат в мой характер. Борейки се с навиците си, аз воювам с най-силния си противник – с характера си. А щом нямам мир и сговор със себе си, аз съм скаран с цялата вселена и спокойствието е далече от мене на светлинни години.