Time Shelter: A Novel (Hardcover)
New Yorker • Best Books of 2022
An award-winning international sensation—with a second-act dystopian twist—Time Shelter is a tour de force set in a world clamoring for the past before it forgets.
“At one point they tried to calculate when time began, when exactly the earth had been created,” begins Time Shelter’s enigmatic narrator, who will go unnamed. “In the mid–seventeenth century, the Irish bishop Ussher calculated not only the exact year, but also a starting date: October 22, 4,004 years before Christ.” But for our narrator, time as he knows it begins when he meets Gaustine, a “vagrant in time” who has distanced his life from contemporary reality by reading old news, wearing tattered old clothes, and haunting the lost avenues of the twentieth century.
In an apricot-colored building in Zurich, surrounded by curiously planted forget-me-nots, Gaustine has opened the first “clinic for the past,” an institution that offers an inspired treatment for Alzheimer’s sufferers: each floor reproduces a past decade in minute detail, allowing patients to transport themselves back in time to unlock what is left of their fading memories. Serving as Gaustine’s assistant, the narrator is tasked with collecting the flotsam and jetsam of the past, from 1960s furniture and 1940s shirt buttons to nostalgic scents and even wisps of afternoon light. But as the charade becomes more convincing, an increasing number of healthy people seek out the clinic to escape from the dead-end of their daily lives—a development that results in an unexpected conundrum when the past begins to invade the present. Through sharply satirical, labyrinth-like vignettes reminiscent of Italo Calvino and Franz Kafka, the narrator recounts in breathtaking prose just how he became entrenched in a plot to stop time itself.
“A trickster at heart, and often very funny” (Garth Greenwell, The New Yorker), prolific Bulgarian author Georgi Gospodinov masterfully stalks the tragedies of the last century, including our own, in what becomes a haunting and eerily prescient novel teeming with ideas. Exquisitely translated by Angela Rodel, Time Shelter is a truly unforgettable classic from “one of Europe’s most fascinating and irreplaceable novelists” (Dave Eggers).
Angela Rodel, recipient of a PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant and NEA Literature Translation Fellowship, is a prolific translator of Bulgarian literature.
— New Yorker, "Best Books of 2022"
The morality of artificially returning people to the past, and the broader question of whether this truly brings solace — whether indulgence in nostalgia is curative or pernicious — is the central question of Georgi Gospodinov’s newly translated novel… Adroit execution of such wordplay is a testament to the talent of the novel’s translator, Angela Rodel. [Gospodinov] is sympathetic to the poignancy of things from before — obsolete objects, old brands of coffee, the skipping of antique records — but rebuffs the scapegoats of globalism, immigration and modernization that supposedly killed them off; we are all complicit in the destruction of history, and going backward can only mean intolerance and the exaltation of traditionalist kitsch. It’s impossible, when reading all this, not to think of the reactionary sentiments behind Brexit and MAGA and even Putin’s Greater Russia irredentism, but Gospodinov is too delicate to resort to crude political satire.… Touching and intelligent.
— Adrian Nathan West - New York Times Book Review
Mr. Gospodinov, one of Bulgaria’s most popular contemporary writers, is a nostalgia artist. In the manner of Orhan Pamuk and Andreï Makine, his books are preoccupied with memory, its ambiguous pleasures and its wistful, melancholy attraction....This difficult but rewarding novel concludes with an image of Europe brought to the brink of renewed conflict—an abstraction that recent events have imbued with the terrible force of reality.
— Sam Sacks - Wall Street Journal
A chronicle of time itself: this is the ambitious task undertaken by Georgi Gospodinov, Bulgaria’s greatest living writer and annalist of an entire nation’s endless complaints and missed chances, in his Strega Prize–winning novel Time Shelter.... Finished in Berlin just as COVID was on the verge of sweeping through Europe, the novel is at times unnervingly prescient as it issues warnings against the perils of infection — physical, political, even metaphysical.... A poet at heart, Gospodinov can also write a novel in a single sentence: ‘The past is my home country….’ He uses the absurdities of the very specific universe of Bulgarian pain, of Bulgarian provincial poverty, to unveil deep wounds…. Angela Rodel, the most prolific and accomplished translator of Bulgarian literature into English, carries over Gospodinov’s grand, flowing Bulgarian sentences… into vivid English…. Rodel is part of a grouping of extraordinary women translators working to preserve linguistic diversity.... who are today producing and exporting some of the most compelling and interesting contemporary literature from Bulgaria.
— Isadora Angel - Astra
[An] antic fantasy of European politics.... 'History is still news,' Gospodinov writes, cunningly drawing attention to the violence that the past wreaks on the present.
— The New Yorker
Gospodinov’s digressive, philosophical novel is less a work of realist literature than an allegory about the perils of looking backward and attempting to make Switzerland (or Sweden or Germany...) great again . . . translator Rodel keeps the narrator’s wry voice consistent . . . And in its brisker latter chapters, the story achieves a pleasurably Borges-ian strangeness while sending a warning signal about how memory can be glitch-y and dangerous . . . An ambitious, quirky, time-folding yarn.
— Kirkus Reviews
A radical new therapy tests the power of nostalgia in the electric and fantastical latest from Gospodinov (The Physics of Sorrow).The clever prose sells the zany premise and imbues it with poignant longing: 'Everything happens years after it has happened.... Most likely 1939 did not exist in 1939, there were just mornings when you woke up with a headache, uncertain and afraid.' Thought-provoking and laced with potent satire, this deserves a spot next to Kafka.
— Publishers Weekly
The elegant translation and the short, lyrical chapters in this dystopian tale offer a poignant ode to the dual tragedies of personal and universal memory loss.
— Lucy Lockley - Booklist