It arrived one summer day in a nondescript, brown paper package reinforced with bubble wrap. We were on our way to the pool, I in my flip flops, she in her hat.
“Keith,” I squealed (because squealing is still a thing that happens when joy doesn’t quite fit inside our hearts, the way it normally does), “Come quick.”
Ava gave a little leap in response to my outburst, catching my energy in the way that kids do. Keith ran to us, his face a mix of fear – was something wrong? Was Ava hurt?
But he read between the lines, between my big eyes and gaping mouth. He saw my laugh. This was good. This was very good.
There, in my hands, was the Bulgarian edition of Life from Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness. Many books never make a second printing, let alone a foreign translation. My toes began, very much on their own, to wiggle in gratitude.
Lost in Translation
The Bulgarian edition was put together by the lovely folks at Egmont Bulgaria, and features equally lovely Cyrillic script.
Keith, Ava, and I took out my old copy (the tattered one that’s been to every book signing and book club from coast to coast) and compared the English copy to the Cyrillic.
I couldn’t read a thing. Not even my name.
Or at least, I thought I couldn’t read a thing.
As I flipped pages, trying to find a side-by-side comparison, I found I could read a few words. French words to be precise – “croque monsieur,” as written in the lovely vignette featuring my sister’s visit to Paris.
For context, here’s a photo from my sister’s visit to Paris. We are likely about to eat the croque monsieur (or, surely, recently ate it). What a gift her visit was, to me.
And, since we’re going down memory lane, here we are when I was little, in Jamaica Plain.
Reading my name
A short while later, a reader saw me post on Instagram about my inability to read my own name. He took the time to email me and explained in simple terms how to unpack the letters. This is what he said:
I studied Russian when I was a kid in NZ so can read Cyrillic script, which is used by the Bulgarians too. C is pronounced S, and W is pronounced SH. An A is pronounced the way we do. So “Cawa” is “Sasha”. MA are as we pronounce them, P is an R, T is as stands, and the funny-looking backwards N is pronounced EE. The ordinary N is as usual. So – there you are: “Sasha Marteen”!
Thank you so much, Jonathan K., for helping me figure that out. Your sweet note is yet another reminder why I adore our community of families, cooks, and readers, always so generous and kind.
Several people have asked me why there’s a Bulgarian edition of Life from Scratch. I can’t help but smile. Remember Nick, the door-to-door salesman who rang the doorbell at the very moment I was looking up recipes for our Bulgarian Global Table? How I drug him into the house to help me? He spent about 30 minutes sitting at the dining table with me, narrowing down recipes and figure out exactly what to make. The menu we decided on included five dishes, among them chilled cucumber soup and a cheese pastry called banitsa.
Nick’s perfectly-timed appearance is one of the most beautiful moments of serendipity from my time cooking the world. It turns out the story fascinates Bulgarians as well. I recently did an interview with bTV, the largest news station in Bulgaria. The journalist told me Bulgarians have fallen in love.
I grabbed Nick’s photo that day. Granted, it was before I knew how to take photos… and he was quite shy… but, in any case, here’s Nick.
Thanks, Nick! Thanks, Bulgaria!