Today Granta Bulgaria launches with issue one: The Future. To celebrate granta.com publishes the translated introduction here, in which the editor, Ilija Troyanow, writes about how he first encountered Granta.
My first Granta was a gift of circumstance. I was changing flights somewhere on my way to visiting my parents in Kenya, stuck in the corridor waiting for a small overweight man to come to terms with his innumerable pieces of hand luggage (these were the old days of lenience), when my attention was caught by a book sticking out of the back compartment of a seat. Always eager to rescue abandoned books I swiftly picked it up. Several ‘thank you for flying . . . ’ announcements later, held up at the ugliest space on the planet, the luggage delivery hall, I took a closer look at my find. The cover showed two men with hugely extended lips, probably Indians, and the title proclaimed ‘In Trouble Again’, followed by ‘A Special Issue of Travel Writing’. So Granta must be a magazine, I reasoned astutely, and then I checked the contents. Amazonas, Nanjing, Cuba, Bradford, Chichicastenango, Angola, Afghanistan – what an array of destinations you want someone else to travel to. There were no signs of the luggage arriving, so I started reading.
The first piece was by a man named Redmond O’Hanlon, who turned out to be the John Cleese of travel writing. Going to the rain forest as a modern urban white man is the most hilarious exercise imaginable. I was standing under a gloomy artificial light following Redmond and his croupier friend Simon down the Rio Pasimani, chuckling from time to time and once bursting out in laughter, thus frightening two identically dressed girls passing by. O’Hanlon, I later found out, is always riotously funny, whether he happens to be in Borneo, Amazonas or Congo. Still no luggage in sight, so I read the story of a Polish journalist in Luanda in the turbulent days of change, the Portuguese having left in a destructive hurry, the different independence factions still fighting it out and as a witness a perceptive man who evidently preferred the cataclysms of Africa to his Communist home. This is how I discovered Ryszard Kapuscinksi, an author whose works I was decades later to edit in German. His Angola memoir Another Day of Life is to me still his most endearing book. Time and again I have wondered how Granta has managed to discover or rediscover authors that would establish themselves as important contemporary voices (my first issue also included texts by Rushdie, Qureshi and Ghosh!). Leafing through old issues is like marvelling at the showroom of a renowned jeweller.
It was only then, wondering whether to move on to Martha Gellhorn’s Cuba or Norman Lewis’ Guatemala, that I realized that I was waiting the wrong wait, my luggage was of course checked through to the final destination, I was a transit passenger. I had four hours to kill and a Granta in my hands; all I needed was a seat and a glass of water. I moved on.
In the many years that have since gone by, I have been at times a subscriber, at times I have lost sight of ‘The magazine of new writing’, then again I have bought issues on topics that fascinated me – I prepared for my first journey to India with the seminal anniversary issue of Granta that introduced me to so many of the Indian authors that would accompany me in the years to come. The last eight copies were – once again a gift of circumstance, having met the current editor John Freeman in Sozopol – sent to me in a huge package that I had to pick up at my next-door kiosk. ‘Granta’, the gruff Viennese lady running the store muttered, ‘what is that? Could be the name of a cigarette brand, no? A good name it would be.’ ‘Yes’, I answered, grabbing my precious package, ‘who wouldn’t want to smoke a Granta!’.
Photograph by Tinta da China