The novel, ‘Dobry’, presented in Bulgarian for the first time on 1 June 2021 at NDK’s Peroto Literature Club in the presence of Vice President Iliana Yotova and U.S. Ambassador HE Herro Mustafa, is ready to sally forth to its readers abroad.
The US bestseller reached its Bulgarian readers thanks to the ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’ National Endowment Fund, which bought the rights from Penguin Publishing House, assigned its translation to Maria Doneva, and found a specific typeface designed to facilitate reading for dyslexia sufferers. And now, the Fund is expecting emails from Bulgarian schools abroad to order the book on email@example.com.
Why does the novel ‘Dobry’ have all the opportunities to become the favourite reading of fellow Bulgarian kids abroad? Well, because it is a bearer of the permanent human values such as love of learning, goodness and respect, healthy family ties, warmth and the urge for beauty. For those same reasons, the book has been reprinted twelve times in the US after its first publication in 1934, and has become a classic.
How did the story of a Bulgarian peasant boy at the beginning of the 20th century captivate American kids and adolescents? With luck, and with its treatment of eternal values. The artist and sculptor Atanas Katchamakoff was not only the creator of the illustrations, but also the main character in the tale.
He was born in 1898 in Lyaskovets. From an early age, the youngster demonstrated a talent for drawing. He graduated from the Faculty of Law at the Sofia University before studying at the Academy of Arts in Sofia, where he was admitted to Prof. Ivan Lazarov’s sculpture class. In 1924, he departed for Paris, and then, together with his wife Alexandra, to the US. They settled in New York, where Katchamakoff participated in several major exhibitions and won awards: his bronze statue of President Lincoln is part of the collection of the Lincoln Financial Foundation. In the 1930s, the family moved to Los Angeles and Katchamakoff began working as a sculptor for major film productions (Paramount’s ‘Song of Songs’, 1933, starring Marlene Dietrich, and ‘Ben-Hur’, ‘The King of Kings’, ‘Helen of Troy’, and ‘Noah’s Ark’).
‘Dobry’ came to life spontaneously. In the evenings, friends used to gather at the sculptor’s house, each having to share their own story. When the host began to unravel memories of his childhood and youth, writer and journalist Monica Shannon insisted on taking notes. The Canadian-born author collected the stories in a book, which was published in New York in November 1934.
In June of the following year, the second edition of ‘Dobry’ won the Medal awarded in the name of John Newbery (1713–1767) for ‘the Most Distinguished Contribution to American Literature for Children in 1934’. A jury chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of the then-incumbent president, presented the prize.
Even then, Konstantin Popatanasov, the Bulgarian consul in the US, announced the success of the book in a letter to the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, but no one translated it into Bulgarian. Until, almost 80 years later, NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’ undertook its publication.
The plot is straightforward, and precisely because of that, enthralling. Dobry lives in a small village with his widowed mother and his grandfather. They work in the fields and the boy helps them. He spends his rare moments of rest with his best friend, Neda, the daughter of the local shoemaker.
Although working selflessly, Dobry feels that field work is not for him. He is in love with the arts, revealing his enormous talent from an early age. In order to buy art supplies, he takes on the job of a cow herder, and is endlessly creating. His mother (called Roda in the novel) is worried that he shows no affinity for agricultural work. However, his grandfather manages to convince her that a gift like Dobry’s should not be wasted. When the boy creates a captivating snow sculpture at Christmas and the whole village admires him, Roda realises her son’s talent.
On New Year’s Eve, she gives him all her savings so that he can continue his studies. Dobry leaves, promising however to return to his childhood friend, Neda. Gradually, their friendship turns into a romantic love and the artist swears that he will marry her after he has graduated.
American sources point to Atanas Katchamakoff as the creator of the illustrations in the book, but few mention that he was in fact the ‘lyrical hero’.
In the early 1980s, on his return to Bulgaria, the artist held an extensive exhibition at the National Art Gallery. His works (30 drawings and 2 sculptures, donated by the artist) are kept by the NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’.
In the US, the Katchamakoff artistic family founded their own art school in Palm Springs. In the 1980s, the sculptor bequeathed his estate to La Sierra University in Los Angeles and to California State University at Northridge. Even today, La Sierra University awards a scholarship in the name of Alexandra and Atanas Katchamakoff to ‘students who perform artistically on a realistic basis’.
If you are intrigued by ‘Dobry’ and believe the novel will enrich your school library, and offer a new look at our predecessors’ past, do not hesitate to contact NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’.