A Conversation with Zachary Karabashliev

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Published by Open Letter Books, Bulgarian author Zachary Karabashliev’s debut novel 18% Gray was our Critical Era book club selection back in April.  We loved this at times horrific, yet often quite hilarious tale of one man’s journey across the United States, stating in our review that “[...] the beauty of this particular tale lies in the author’s supreme skill at weaving together autobiographical nuggets with invented exaggerations and half-truths in order to create a spellbinding, slightly skewed, meta-fictional version of reality where every experience, no matter how minor, carries heightened significance, and the absurd becomes the expected norm.”

We finally had a chance to catch up with Mr. Karabashliev and what follows below is a mostly spoiler-free discussion about photography, translation, and adaptation.

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Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal

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Whenever there’s a loss, there’s bound to be a gain somewhere else

A debut novel by Laura Lane McNeal, Dollbaby introduces readers to some of the most sparkling, eccentric, and entertaining literary voices that contemporary southern fiction has to offer.  The story takes place in New Orleans in the 1960s and follows Liberty “Ibby” Bell as she begins a new life in the South with her grandmother, Miss Fannie Bell.  Before her father died, 12 year-old Ibby had barely heard of her southern grandmother, but just a few days after his funeral, Ibby’s neglectful mother leaves her young daughter in Fannie’s care indefinitely.

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Crystal Eaters by Shane Jones

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…if this life is constantly ending, then it’s constantly beginning

From the author of Daniel Fights a Hurricane and Light Boxes, Crystal Eaters is another dark and deeply metaphorical tale that explores death, fear, obsession, and the consequences of modernity.  In an unnamed village on the outskirts of a metropolis, the inhabitants believe that life is be measured by the number of “crystals” one possesses.  Born with 100, crystals diminish over time through aging, illness, and injury.  Obsessed with a finding a way to increase their crystal count and extend life, the villagers consume crystal rocks that are locally mined.

They come in all different colors, shapes, and sizes – and some are crystals believed to be more valuable than others.  Red and yellow are most common, but some believe in the existence of black crystals – the most rare and powerful crystal of all, which may contain the ability to raise one’s internal crystal count.  At the center of this curious backdrop is Remy, a young girl with a very sick mother, a depressed father, and an incarcerated older brother.

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