Jordan Anderson at The Quarterly Review:
By the standard of an author’s handling of complex thematic ideas, Georgi Gospodinov’s The Physics of Sorrow, beautifully translated by Angela Rodel,is an excellent book. Gospodinov takes the conceptual framework within his novel as the ability of literature to overcome the restrictions of memory. Taking major cues about this subject from both Borges and Sebald (see Gospodinov’s extensive use of diagrams and photographs throughout the text), the author explores memory through a tightly woven set of fantastic experiences among the ever-changing society of Bulgaria in the 20th and early 21st centuries, and does so profoundly.
The novel centers on a narrator who describes himself as an “empath,” that is, someone who is able to access the entire set of memories of those close to him, but whose power fades as they grow older. “I remember being born as a rose bush, a partridge, as ginkgo biloba, a snail, a cloud in June (that memory is brief), a purple autumnal crocus near Halensee, an early blooming cherry frozen by a late April snow, as snow freezing a hoodwinked cherry tree . . .” the narrator says, suggesting that he has a form of memory that is not subject to the limitations most human beings face. Later, the narrator notes that, “The aging of an empath is a strange and painful process. The corridors toward others and their stories, which once were open, now turn out to be walled up. House arrest in your own body.” Gospodinov is creating a literary game akin to Borges’s infinite library, in that he is calling into question the reliability of memory and the creative spirit through an illustration of its limitations.