The latest book of the author Martin Ralchevski “Don’t close your eyes” is already on the book market (© publisher “Edelweiss”, 2022; ISBN 978-619-7186-82- 6). The book is the antithesis of prayer and the Christian way of living in the modern day.
Martin Ralchevski was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, on March 4, 1974. He graduated from Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridsky” majoring in Theology and Geography. He started writing after his return from Mexico in 2003, where he had spent three months acting in the feature film Troy, as an extra. In this special and mystical place, in the town of Cabo San Lucas, California, he talked to the local people and listened to their numerous unique stories and experiences. “There, I felt that I wanted to write a book and tell these hitherto unrecorded mystical stories that I had heard from them”, he would say. And that’s how his first book “Endless Night” came to fruition. In all his books hope, faith and positivity are leading themes. Soon after, he got married and in the following years became a father of three. “Inevitably, since then, I’ve written ten more books”, he says. All were published by the major Bulgarian publishing houses and there was and continues to be a dedicated and loyal cult readership. Ralchevski commented on this himself: “That’s very likely the reason why, over the years, I’ve been encouraged by my publishers, readers and some directors to also write several screenplays for feature films based on my novels. I listened to these suggestions and to date, in addition to the books, I have also written five screenplays for feature films, which I hope will soon be realized.”
Martin Ralchevski’s published books to date are ‘Endless Night’, ‘Forest Spirit’, ‘Demigoddess’, ‘30 Pounds’, ‘Fraud’, ‘Emigrant’, ‘Antichrist’, ‘Soul’, ‘The Meaning of Life’, ‘Eternity’, and ‘Don’t Close Your Eyes’. His last book was extremely well-received by literary critics and readers. It received very positive reviews from various people involved in literature, as well as numerous awards and accolades. “This encouraged me to believe that this book would also be of interest to a U.S. readership. That’s why I decided to apply for this competition, to publish a Bulgarian book in the English language, precisely with this novel”, says Ralchevski.
Synopsis of the novel “Don’t Close Your Eyes” by Martin Ralchevski
A large part of the novel is based on the little-known legend of the Strandja mountain, which today is remembered only by the elderly residents of the area and by the older local population in the towns surrounding the black sea. Legend has it that in the early eighties of the last century, a young man named Peter from the city of Ahtopol experienced a terrible personal drama.
Peter is notorious in the small town for his intellectual disability. His parents, Ivan and Stanka, have to go to work in Burgas (a nearby big city) and leave their ten-year-old daughter, Ivana, in his care. Peter was then eighteen years old. It is autumn, but the weather was warm for that time of year, and Peter decides to take Ivana to the sea for a swim. They go to a remote rocky beach to avoid being seen by anybody. He falls asleep on the beach, and she goes into the sea. However, the weather suddenly deteriorates, large waves appear, and Ivana drowns.
When their parents return and learn about what happened, they are enraged with wrath. In his anger, Ivan (Peter’s father) chases him down to try and kill him. Peter runs to Strandja and gets lost. A national manhunt is announced, although nobody can find him. He is hidden by a local shepherd in the mountains, who briefly takes care of him. After some time, Peter ended up in the Bachkovo monastery. There, a year later, he accepted monkhood and lived a strict monastic life, hidden from the eyes of people, in the basement of the monastery, constantly repeating through tears: “God, please, do not count this sin against me.” This is his secret prayer; with which he repents for the death of his sister. His hiding is dictated by the real fear that if caught, he will be sent to prison. Thus, in weeping, self-reproach and fasting, with the assistance of the older monks, he spends another year in isolation and seclusion. Following an anonymous tip-off, a State Security team arrived at the Holy Monastery and began a search of all the premises in the monastery. Peter is forced to flee to avoid detection. He goes east. He runs at night and hides during the day. Thus, after a long and exhausting expedition, he reaches again the most remote and deserted part of Strandja Mountain. There he settles in a hollow tree and begins to lead an ascetic life, never ceasing to repeat his penitential prayer. In this way, he gradually transformed from an ordinary monk into a hermit-miracle-worker.
A new chapter follows, in which the action moves to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. In the foreground we have a young priest named Paul. He has a twin sister named Nikolina who is terminally ill with stomach cancer. Nikolina is lying at home, on life support. Since Pavel and Nikolina are twins, the relationship between them is extremely strong. Therefore, Pavel cannot accept that he will lose her. He prays almost around the clock, holding his sister’s hand as he repeats: “Don’t close your eyes! You will live. Don’t close your eyes!” But nevertheless, Nikolina’s chances of survival decrease with every passing day.
The action moves back to Ahtopol. There, in the yard of the house, are Peter’s elderly parents—Ivan and Stanka. For many years, Ivan regrets that he sent his son away and cannot stop tormenting himself. A young man suddenly arrives to them, who tells them that hunters have seen their son Peter deep in the Strandja mountain. His parents are amazed. They immediately leave by car for the mountain. Stanka becomes nauseous from anticipation. The car stops and Ivan continues alone. Ivan reaches the area where Peter was spotted and starts shouting: “Son…Peter. Show yourself… Please.” And Peter appears. The meeting between father and son is poignant. Ivan is a decrepit old man, he is 83 years old, and Peter is gray and tired from his difficult lifestyle. He is 60 years old. Peter tells his father, “You didn’t give up after all, and you finally found me. But I… can’t bring Ivana back from the dead.” Peter is devastated. He lies down on the ground, crosses his arms and mutters to his father: “Forgive me! For everything. Here I am! Kill me.” The old Ivan knelt before him and repented. “It’s my fault. You must forgive me, son,” he wails. Peter rises. The scene is sublime. They hug and say goodbye.
The action returns to Sofia again. The painful feeling of impending death is already hovering around the sick Nikolina. Father Pavel cries and prays incessantly. One evening, a close friend of Pavel confides in him about the mysterious hermit monk who lives somewhere in Strandja Mountain. Pavel thinks that this is a legend, but nevertheless decides to try to find this hermit anyway. During this period, his sister Nikolina rests. Then, in his despair, Pavel entrusts her lifeless body to their mother and leaves for Strandja Mountain. At this moment the mother reproachfully calls after him that he has said this prayer for his sister for so long, “Please don’t close your eyes,” and yet now she is dead, and now what will he say? How will he continue to pray? Then Paul stops, cries, and replies that there is no power to stop him and that he will continue to believe that there is hope for her to live. The mother thinks her son has lost his mind and begins to mourn him. Then Paul thinks on what his mother told him and begins to pray like this: “No, I will not give up. You will live. Please, open your eyes!” From that moment Paul began to repeat incessantly instead of the prayer “Do not close your eyes” its opposite, namely: “Open your eyes! Please, open your eyes!”
With this new prayer at the tip of his tongue, and after considerable difficulties, he manages to find the hermit in the mountain. The meeting between the two is shocking. Paul notices Peter first and silently approaches him. The holy man is kneeling with his hands raised to heaven and through tears repeats: “God, please count this sin against me…” Paul immediately understands that this is not a proper prayer. Because no normal person would pray to have his sin imputed to him, but on the contrary, to be forgiven. It is implied to the reader that this replacement was brought about because of the hermit’s mental deficiency and ignorance. Thus, his original prayer: “God, please do not count this sin against me” gradually, over the years, turned into “God, count this sin against me.” Pavel does not know that the hermit is illiterate and that he has almost gone wild in this desolate and inhospitable place. But when the two meet eye to eye, Paul realizes that he is facing a saint. Ignorant, uneducated, mentally slow, and yet a saint! The wrong prayer shows Paul that God does not look at our face, but at our heart. Pavel cries in front of Peter and tells him that his sister Nikolina had died earlier that day and that he had come all the way from Sofia to ask for his prayers. Then, to Paul’s horror, Peter says that there is no point in praying because God will not hear his petitions. However, Paul does not give in, but continues to beg him, in spite of everything, to pray for his deceased sister that she will come to life. But Peter remains adamant. Finally, in his anguish and helplessness, Paul swears to him like this: “If you had a sister who loved as I love my sister and could bring her back from the other world, you would understand me and help me!” These words shake Peter. He remembers the death of his little sister Ivana and understands that God, through this encounter, after so many years of repentance, is finally trying to exonerate him. Then Peter falls to his knees and cries out to God to perform a miracle and bring back the soul of Paul’s sister to the world of the living. This happens around four-thirty in the afternoon. Pavel thanks him and leaves the Strandja Mountain.
On the way to Sofia, Father Pavel could not contact his mother because the battery of his phone had died, and he, in his haste, forgot to take a charger with him. He arrives in Sofia in the early hours of the next day. When he comes home to Sofia, he is quiet, but he is also so exhausted that he collapses in the corridor and has no will to enter his sister’s room. Finally, he gets scared, goes in and finds Nikolina’s bed empty. Then he starts crying. Soon after, the door opens and his mother walks in and joins him in the room. He is surprised because he thought he was alone in the apartment. “After your sister died and you left,” his mother tells him, trembling, “I called 911. A doctor came and determined the death and wrote the death certificate. However, I did not leave her and continued to hold her hand as if she were still alive. She wasn’t breathing and I knew what I was doing was crazy, but I stood by her side. I was telling her that I love her and that you love her too. It was a little after four-thirty when it felt as if someone was telling me to pick her up. I obeyed and lifted her slightly, and she…she…opened her eyes! do you understand? She had died, the doctor had confirmed it, but she came back to life!”
Pavel can’t believe it. He asks where Nikolina is. His mother tells him that she is in the kitchen. Pavel storms into the kitchen, and sees Nikolina sitting in front of the table drinking tea.