Bulgaria: Convert or Die

Sometimes I would like to travel back in time to the setting of the book I’m reading. Not this time. Anton Donchev’s Time of Parting takes the reader back to the Elindenya valley in Bulgaria in 1668. The valley is home to Christian peasants, and their peace is disturbed by invading Turkish Muslims. It was a brutal time to be alive.

Sometimes I read a book, and when I look at its cover afterwards I smile, and wish the book would never have ended. Other times I feel a strong connection to something, for example one of the characters, or some strong feeling towards one way or the other regarding how the book ended, or what happened in the book. In some cases when I’m done with a book I forget it immediately. This time I got a strange cold feeling about us humans.

The book is filled with violence and death. It pretty much tells the story of what is going on, and has been going on, on our planet, but this is the first time I’ve read about violence and death set in Bulgaria. I guess almost every corner of our planet has gone through this. Some parts have experienced it more than once. People lead comfortable, albeit poor, perhaps repetitive lives in isolation. Then some outsiders want to take over. They want to own the place, rule the people, and of course change the way of the people. Who hasn’t heard of this? Some might even have experienced it, and someone else might be experiencing it right now.

The Bulgarians are given a choice, a choice of converting to Islam and staying alive, or remaining Christian and facing a violent death. Many are willing to sacrifice their lives, and they do indeed face death, a gruesome death. Some deaths are described in detail, and these brutal killings stay with you.

Even though death is all over, and it fills the pages of this book, the story is about a lot more than religion and death. It’s about love, loss, brotherhood, and family. The book is written from two points of views; a Bulgarian man of the cloth, and a soldier with a turban. The most interesting character is however herdsman Manol, who is the leader of the Bulgarian resistance. All three are strong people in their own ways, willing to fight for what they believe in.

My strange and cold feelings towards humankind hasn’t change while writing this post. What makes me sad is that this book is about the 17th century, and yet these things happen even as we speak. Apparently we do not, as a race, learn from history.

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