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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Консорциум Alternus

Léa Cohen

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Title: Консорциум Alternus
Author: Léa Cohen
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005
Length: 336 pages
Original in: Bulgarian
Availability: Das Calderon Imperium - Deutschland
  • Консорциум Alternus has not yet been traslated into English

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Our Assessment:

B : fairly enjoyable, with a good hook

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Die Welt . 20/3/2010 Ruth Klüger

  From the Reviews:
  • "Das Calderon Imperium einfach einen Spionageroman zu nennen, wäre zu kurz gegriffen. Es ist ein Roman über das Leben im Schatten von staatlichen Geheimdiensten, über den Einfluss des Gewaltmonopols auf die Intimsphäre der ausgelieferten Bürger im 20. Jahrhundert (.....) Die Jagd nach dem großen Geld ist nur das Skelett, an dem das ausschlaggebende Thema des Buchs hängt, nämlich die Enttäuschung und wie man damit fertig wird" - Ruth Klüger, Die Welt

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Консорциум Alternus is a clever novel of Bulgaria over the past six or seven decades. It is presented in four parts, each focussed on a different individual. The first three are characters who knew one another when they were young girls in Bulgaria, around World War II and then the time of the Communist take-over; their parents were friends, but fate led to them in very different directions.
       When it opens, the novel quickly jumps to the near present day, with one of the women, Eva, visiting New York. Her mission here is only slowly revealed, but it has to do with the mysterious 'consortium Alternus', a complicated business-arrangement that one of the families had set up when their valuable industrial holdings were to be expropriated -- not by the Communist regime, but by the government of Nazi-friendly Tsar Boris III in the early 1940s. Inside of a week, Jacques Calderon managed to transfer all his holdings out of Bulgaria, and when the state swooped in there was nothing left for them to take. Calderon committed suicide, too, and his remaining family was also (apparently) left with nothing.
       As its name suggests, Alternus was an adaptable, shape-shifting entity that no one could (ever) really get a grasp of. It's primary function was to keep what Calderon had built up out of the hands of successive Bulgarian governments, imperial and then Communist, but its secret nature was so obscure that even those the money was meant for -- the four families that had known each other in Sofia -- had little or no knowledge of its workings (or, for much of the time, even its existence). It continued to grow, too (Cohen is a bit vague on how exactly the company functioned, even leaving aside the question of who its rightful owners were), and was worth a true fortune in the post-Communist world.
       Eva eventually set out to New York as the representative of the three women, to try to see whether she can find out the truth behind Alternus (and get at the cash); there she also runs into a lover she had presumed to be long-dead, a man she knew as Victor, who has also long been embroiled in aspects of the Alternus mystery.
       Cohen spins a fairly interesting tale out of this, concentrating first and primarily on the lives of these girls and women over the years, specifically the years of hardship in Bulgaria, and of trying to get by. The housing difficulties, in particular, are nicely conveyed -- as expansive residences are subdivided into ever smaller domiciles. One of the girls, a talented pianist, managed to escape (or so she thought ...) to the West, another to Israel, while Eva somehow managed in Communist Bulgaria. With the fall of the Berlin Wall the world became smaller and they seek each other out again; the long-standing mystery, however, is harder to crack.
       A clever twist in the novel is that the authorities never gave up their hunt for what they believed was rightfully the state's -- even after the collapse of the Bulgarian Soviet puppet-state --, and that they went to great lengths to try to get their hands on it. Victor, in particular, played a prominent role in this: 'Often integrity and decency are the price of small liberties in a time of when there is little freedom', and Victor sold his soul in opting for comfort and small liberties; as Cohen shows, however, often the alternatives barely left any other choice.
       A nice mix of personal stories in a changing world -- Bulgaria as it changes under the Tsar, the Communists, and the capitalists --, and a decent global-business-thriller, Консорциум Alternus is a solid novel. Cohen tries too hard with some local color and detail -- and doesn't get all of, say, New York right (21st Street is not in Soho ...) --, but it's perfectly fine entertainment, a breezy read with some clever twists that shines an interesting light on twentieth-century Bulgarian history and conditions.

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 April 2010

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Консорциум Alternus: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Bulgarian author Léa Cohen (Леа Коен) is also a diplomat.

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© 2010-2022 the complete review

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