So wrote Michel Krielaars in his five-star review of Time Shelter in NRC (Dutch translation published by Ambo Anthos as ‘Schuilplaats for andere tijden’ by Hellen Kooijman).
The premise of the Bulgarian Gospodinov’s novel could have been an episode in the award-winning Netflix series Black Mirror: the protagonist Gaustin is a psychiatrist-slash-gerontologist who treats Alzheimer’s patients by transporting them back into their own pasts. In the rooms of his treatment centre, he reconstructs their younger years in minute detail, including period-correct furniture, cigarette brands and gramophone records.
Each floor represents a decade of the 20th century. The patients can live out the rest of their days in the shelter of their longed-for yesteryear. The treatment is such a success, in fact, that healthy people are increasingly interested in a taste of this ‘protected time’. They gradually take over Gaustin’s haven, and shut themselves off from the present and the future. The consequences are disastrous: the masses seeking treatment continue to grow, and eventually entire countries try to return to the past - or rather, the part of the past they consider to be the most glorious. The parallel with Putin is quickly drawn, and Gospodinov expertly draws on his own experience as a former citizen of a Communist regime to perceive the moment when the people’s false romanticism of a past that never existed begins to take the upper hand.
On 5 October, Gospodinov will tell all about the siren’s call of a totalitarian regime, the treachery of nostalgia and the paradox of freedom.
Author Laura van der Haar will introduce the event by reading the paean she has written for Georgi Gospodinov.