Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov, translated by Angela Rodel “When you have no future, you vote for the past.” (International Booker Prize 2023 longlist)

Gaustine, officially named Augustine-Garibaldi, is an imagined psychotherapist, a specialist in memory disorders, who was “ one of the first to introduce clinics of the past.” We meet him through the unnamed narrator, who uses extraordinary irony, and memory, to grab my attention and pause my reading…

The time is coming when more and more people will want to hide in the cave of the past, to turn back. And not for happy reasons, by the way. We need to be ready with the bomb shelter of the past. Call it the time shelter, if you will.

p. 44

Georgi Gospodinov, and his translator, Angela Rodel, take us through a glorious recall of the decades; the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s come alive once again to me, as I relive the scents, the scenes, and even the products that were around in my youth. (I, too, drove an Opel Rekord when I lived in West Germany in the ‘80s.)

And while they do this, there are sentences, paragraphs even, which pierce me to the quick:

There is one monster that stalks every one of us. Death, you’ll say, yes, of course, death is his brother, but old age is the monster.

p. 58


…the past is full of side streets, ground-floor rooms, chalked-up patterns, and corridors. And notes in the margins about things that seemed unimportant to us – only later do we suddenly realize that the goose of the past has made her nest and laid her eggs exactly there, in the unimportant.

p. 168

The second half of the novel focuses on Bulgaria in particular and Europe in general. There is a demonstration which is a historical re-enactment of one that took place during socialism, complete with accurate details such as the crackling loudspeakers and an appearance from Dimitrov.

The May twilight was delicately trying to conceal the remnants of the rebellious afternoon, the scraps of flag on the chestnuts in Boris’s Garden, empty bottles, newspapers, wrappers…I don’t know who cleans up after every revolution.

p. 186

It seems that no reference is left out of this book; from Biblical stories, to political events, from childhood memories to those of a man remembering his marriage, I was caught up in Gospodinov’s revelations on every page. Consider this view of Lot and his wife, fleeing Sodom and Gomorrah:

Angelus Novus by Paul Klee

Could the Angel of History (drawn by Klee as Angelus Novus) actually be Lot’s wife?

Why does she stop and look back?

Because it is human to do so.

What did she leave there?

A past.

Why salt, exactly?

Because salt has no memory. Nothing grows on salt.

p. 278

What are we without our memories? And, what about the important dates which we must not forget, such as September 1, 1939, when Hitler began WWII? Time Shelter both begins, and ends, with that date, for with it “came the end of human time.”

Loved this book.

5 thoughts on “Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov, translated by Angela Rodel “When you have no future, you vote for the past.” (International Booker Prize 2023 longlist)”

    1. Our library had it, too. Isn’t it funny what the libraries have ordered, and what they are not? Four of the longlisted books were at ours, and I was pleasantly surprised. Let me know if you like this…


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