Bulgarian ethnologist compares the novel ‘Dobry’ to ‘Harry Potter’

Text: Magdalena Gigova

The American bestseller about a Bulgarian village boy, ‘Dobry’, has already been translated and will soon be published in Bulgaria, thanks to NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’, which bought the copyright to print it from Penguin Publishing Group. ‘In the United States in the 1930s, this children’s book was almost as popular among children as Harry Potter is nowadays,’ stated ethnologist Simeon Milyov. In America, the novel was reprinted 12 times, but in Bulgaria readers will encounter it for the first time.


The plot is simple, recounting the daily joys, sorrows and first love thrills of the boy Dobry, while revealing details of the Bulgarian way of life at the beginning of the last century. How did so Balkan a plot reach the USA and become so popular that it was awarded by a jury chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of the president at the time? The artist Atanas Katchamakoff, who emigrated across the ocean and established a good career there, spoke about his childhood in his homeland at evening gatherings with friends.


Journalist Monica Shannon asked if she could take notes, and so ‘Dobry’, illustrated by Katchamakoff, was born and received the Newbury Medal for the ‘Most Distinguished Contribution to American Literature for Children in 1934’. The artist was then invited to give a series of lectures at the History Department of the California State Library on ‘Analysis of the Novel, Dobry’.


This was what ethnologist Simeon Milyov, former director of the Regional Museum of History in Pernik, discovered in his research.


Quite by chance, he came across an official letter from the Bulgarian consul in the USA at the time, Konstantin Popatanasov, informing BAS of the great success of the Bulgarian book.


‘I was looking for the diploma work of Alexander Radovanov, who wrote a thesis on the dialectal speech of the village of Banishte, highly appreciated by linguists. There was a note that his work was bought by the Academy of Sciences, and thus I laid my hands on the folder from the 1930s. Collection 16, folklore materials 35, in the scientific archive of BAS, with the letter of the diplomat, a close friend of Atanas Katchamakoff’s. He described in great detail the activity of the artist in Los Angeles and I was very impressed,’ said ethnologist Simeon Milyov, specially for the website of NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’. He quoted part of what he read in the archive:

‘Dobry’s ideas are as pure and noble as his beloved mountains… This book enables older boys and girls to understand the significance of the land and the people who inhabit it and the power of an idea that guides a boy’s life… ; it invites everyone to see what the ‘story of bread’ is, for everyone to want to stop and taste warm Bulgarian bread and to say with all their hearts, ‘God, bless this house (Bulgaria) and give it its daily bread. Bless the people who live in it, bless the wheat fields with twice as many sheaves and thicker ears!’


Milyov also revealed that, ‘in order to lift the spirits of the English youth’, ‘Dobry: the Story of the Bulgarian Peasant Boy’ was published in London in 1936.


Link to Nayo Titzin’s documentary, ‘The Dobry Adventure’:


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