an experimental novel exploring not things as they are, but things as they are not

Welcome to opposite day.

When ending a relationship, one does not think of what was, but what was not—the things that were lacking, the things that were not there, that never existed or disappeared or couldn’t even be imagined. These are the reasons a relationship ends.

The act of living in a place is also a relationship. Visiting or experiencing a country, even briefly, forms a kind of bond. What if we think of leaving a country as the end of a relationship, and instead of thinking about what was, the good things that happened there, think about what was not? Then, when you think about what something isn’t, it then opens up a world of possibilities about what it could be. It could be Albania, but what’s to say it isn’t Albany?

Europe explores the ways in which what was not tells us what is.

We find that after years of struggle that
we do not take a trip;
a trip takes us

John Steinbeck

List of Countries:

The list of countries was drawn from Wikipedia’s “List of sovereign states and dependent territories in Europe” (at the time of writing). Generally, countries were excluded if some of their geographical area falls outside the boundaries of the European region. Exceptions were made for countries that culturally associate with Europe.


Within the Travel section of the New York Times website, each country name was entered as a search term. The resulting articles were searched for negating terms, as outlined below.

Search terms:

"no "
"not "

Resulting phrases that used these search terms became the building blocks for the poems contained in the book. No additional words were added to create poems. As the author is Bulgarian, it makes sense to excerpt the corresponding poem as a taste of the work. Find PDF download at the end.


It’s not the mountain
It’s not the snow
There was no light-up trail map
After all, there was nothing to ski on
Hip-deep powder, not mere dust

Not even from these cliffs does the Black Sea look black
This fertile land is limited and usually not very appetizing
If you haven’t savored grilled kebapcheta kebabs

We had not heard a note of Bulgarian music
“Traditional Bulgarian folk music” is a threat, not a sales pitch
I learned not to pack my most conservative clothing
Nodding one’s head to say no

No Communist holiday was ever marked so intensely
The government had done nothing
Not to mention Lenin
Sprawling but not unsightly government complex
As though no one was in charge

There were no raw, concrete apartment blocks
Nothing to indicate what they might once have been
No particular reason for them to be where they were
There was no money for repairs
Though no one could say why

Sofia is no more a city of whispers

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