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Reviews of Ludmila Filipova’s novel “The Parchment Maze”

April 22, 2009 by · 1 comment

Photo: procsilas

Ancient myths from both Bulgaria and the world, historical sources along with a lot fictionalized past, quoted manuscripts with lost ends, roads that cross, and characters in whose destinies events from more than a century and a half ago come together: these are only some of the ideas behind “The Parchment Maze”.

The intricate interplay of history, its interpretations and politics in the novel determines the characters’ personal stories, while the author takes us through a number of genres in her writing: thriller, philosophical and historical novel, non-fictional and matter-of-fact literature. And although this technique probably reminds us of the voices of some of the bestselling writers of the day such as Dan Brown and Elizabeth Kostova, and even the internationally acclaimed Umberto Eco, “The Parchment Maze” shows us that these voices are very well assimilated into the writing of its author, who, nevertheless, retains her own style, respects the readers and relies on their active interpretation of the text, while at the same time wanting her writing to be convertible.

“The Parchment Maze” by Ludmila Filipova is maybe one of the author’s best books so far. Following one of the most successful literary models – especially in terms of sales and appeal to a versatile readership – the novel is perched on the borderline between fiction and non-fiction.

Its full-blooded characters have their own personal stories and particular roles in the texture and plot of the novel, but they also come with specific ideas about the past. It is through them that Bulgarian and international myths are interpreted, the past is given a new meaning – layer over layer of interpretations get accumulated, unfinished stories are continued. The novel deals with politics, shaping of theories, demystifications and discoveries of new mysteries.

To recap in literary terms, “The Parchment Maze” is a typical post-modern novel, relying on quotability, the active role of the readers’ imagination in reading and interpreting the novel, and the readers’ readiness to experiment with genre-mixing (thriller, philosophical novel, journalistic narrative, etc).

It is a novel that thinks of the separation between fiction and non-fiction, between literature and non-literature, as surmountable and which believes in quotability’s role as a fundamental principle on which our contemporary culture is based. As a result, the novel’s aspiration is to overcome the regional confinements in terms of both the problems treated and the way of thinking implied.

Prof. Dr. of literature Amelia Licheva

* * *

A novel based on mysteries and riddles – where do we come from; where are we going? Where did knowledge originate from? And who are its guardians? The story of “The Parchment Maze” takes place in the familiar, unfamiliar Bulgarian scene and in some of the largest cultural centers such as Berlin, Moscow, Rome, Switzerland and Burma.

Putting on display some of the most controversial treasures of the Old World, the author takes us to the dusty backrooms of the museums where the ‘tricky’ artifacts are hidden.

The novel tells us the engaging story of a woman who has devoted her life to archaeology. Vera is a young scientist on the verge of a huge discovery that would completely alter our ideas about the past of our lands. At some point in the late prehistoric era there appeared a civilization that impacted greatly the development of Europe and the world.

In her attempt to unravel the mysteries surrounding the history of that civilization, the heroine of the novel comes across a secret society, who has succeeded in keeping its secrets and knowledge hidden from the rest of the world since 4000 B.C. Who is Orpheus and who are the people who professed Orphism? When did they appear and why did they disappear? Who are their heirs and what are the secrets they are still keeping?

Science, secrets, murders, love and wounds that have left their deep marks in the souls of the characters – they all come together to make “The Parchment Maze” a novel about the past, the present and the future.

The author skillfully combines fictional characters and actual archaeological discoveries, thus making the readers aware of some not-so-famous real discoveries and artifacts, most of which made in the territory of today’s Bulgaria.

Petranka Nedelcheva, Archaeologist, professor assistant

* * *

Ludmila Filipova is a young author with a few already published novels: Glass Butterflies, The Anatomy of Illusions and Scarlet Gold. But that’s not what is important. What is important is that Ludmila is not afraid to experiment, always searching for something new; she does not strictly follow literary models and is meticulously avoidant of clichés; it’s difficult to frame her work in literary terms.

“The Parchment Maze” is a wonderful experiment. The idea behind it is simple and very effective. The reader is involved in an investigation, a quest for knowledge about an ancient civilization that has disappeared. Very few traces are left behind – most of the traces have been painstakingly obliterated.

The reader becomes an archaeologist, a criminologist, and a discoverer. S/he is given access to a database of information consisting of documents, photos, artifacts, hints implying some directions that should lead him/her to the truth. And the truth is somewhere around us. We just need to see it.

The huge amount of documentary material found and collected speaks to the author’s credit. And so does the serious, thorough analysis of the facts. It is on those that the main hypothesis of the novel is based. The author has treated them really professionally including a lot of quotations, papers, photos and pictures on the pages of her novel.

In terms of genre, the book is situated somewhere between the classical historical novel, the gamebook and the fantasy type of literature.

The heroine is not a Lara Croft type. She is a thinking person, young and ambitious, bothered by one main question – is her theory about the civilization of the traceless an illusion or reality. In fact, it is the same question that captivates the reader’s mind and makes the reading of the book quick and pleasurable.

The clear, succinct style underlines the complexity of the main idea of the novel.

“The Parchment Maze” is actually the only Bulgarian example of a riddle novel. The worth of these novels stems from the fact that they easily engage readers of all ages and greatly facilitate their remembering of the information shared. On top of that, in this particular example, the action is fast, while the novel is full of suspense and is, therefore, likely to keep the readers absorbed.
The very structure of the book betrays experimentalism. It mirrors the structure of the ancient manuscript around which the intrigue in the story revolves. The book is supplied with superb illustrations and a lot of photographic material. All that leaves us with a definite feeling of the documentariness.

Overall, “The Parchment Maze” is an experiment that should be continued…

Maria Stankova, writer

* * *

This is not just a novel, but rather a cinematic story that will make you alter your ideas about the origins of human knowledge multiple times.

From the ever-engagingly changing ‘pictures’ you will learn why we, the people inhabiting the territories of the earliest civilization in the world, are responsible to unravel its mysteries and bring into the future its ancient knowledge about the meaning of the human life and the immortality of the human soul.

Stiliyan Ivanov, Director

Photo: procsilas

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