The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize is my favourite book award and so I’m very pleased that it lived up to my expectations and provided me with another wonderful book that I wouldn’t have discovered without it.
Solo is set in Bulgaria and as I love science I was very excited to see that the central character is a chemist. Now a blind, old man, he reflects upon how much has changed over the course of his life and explains the difficult situations he faced over the years.
I knew very little about the history of Bulgaria before reading this book and it was nice to find out so much about this country’s difficult past. The combination of both European and Asian ancestry, and the struggle against communism makes me wonder why I haven’t read more fiction set in this fascinating country before.
The book was very well written and successfully managed to combine science with literature – a feat few authors can manage without patronising readers with a scientific background or going over the heads of those that don’t.
I loved the first half of this book which followed the chemist’s life in a fairly linear fashion. He was such an endearing, slightly grumpy character, but packed with the wisdom of a long and complicated life.
I found the second half much less enjoyable. It consisted of “daydreams” which could otherwise be described as a collection of short stories. The writing quality remained high, but I lost that emotional attachment to the chemist, so it felt a bit disconnected.
Overall this is a wonderful book. I recommend it to all lovers of literary fiction, if only so you learn a bit about Bulgarian history.