Encore une fois, Atlas of Prejudice 2, in French

Atlas-des-prejuges-2-de-Yanko-Tsvetkov With 35,000 sold copies in less than five months, the first volume of the French edition of the Atlas of Prejudice (Atlas des préjugés) exceeded my wildest expectations. Added to the numbers from the other editions and volumes, the Atlas of Prejudice series reached 70,000 copies sold worldwide!

This leaves me incredibly confused because, being finally super famous, I have difficulties to determine if I should start snorting cocaine immediately or wait until the counter passes 100k?

The French edition climbed to number 6 in the official Top 10 bestseller books list of Amazon France! And this is for all the books available on the site, not a mere genre-dependent subcategory. It was featured on one of the most popular French TV shows, Le Grand Journal, and the way it was welcomed by the French public completely destroyed the old Anglo-Saxon stereotype about how self-absorbed and humorless they can be.

Come to think of it, few of us (who don’t speak the language) were aware the French had such a vibrant satirical tradition until that horrible terrorist act exposed it far and wide. It’s a shame that it took a tragedy to catapult Charlie Hebdo’s comedic brilliance over the Channel. Several days after the attack, I experienced one of the most surreal moments in my life when randomly looking at the TV screens in my gym I spotted a couple of objects that looked familiar during a report about the premiere of the special Charlie Hebdo editions in the bookstores. Right on the counter there was a pile of my Atlas of Prejudice. I felt complemented and embarrassed at the same time. On one side there was the satisfaction about my recognition. On the other, the idea that the book sales may have been boosted by this horrible nightmare felt like a dagger through my heart. Bittersweet doesn’t even come close to describe it.

Making fun of people can be a dangerous job and contrary to common belief, the risks are not necessarily determined by the author. There are hordes of touchy people on this planet who take themselves and their holy ideas far too seriously. This realization was the main theme of the second volume of the book, which was published in France on April 8. You can get it from Amazon France, Fnac, or from your nearest bookstore. French-speaking Canadians can order it through their regional Amazon store. Here’s the official blurb, in the language of Voltaire and Piaf:

Nous n’en avons pas fini avec les stéréotypes nationaux !

Après le formidable succès de l’Atlas des préjugés (tome 1), l’auteur a poursuivi sa chasse aux idées reçues en imaginant 40 nouvelles cartes et infographies qui stigmatisent nos préjugés.

le monde vu par les Vikings ou Christophe Colomb ; les plus grands stéréotypes européens ; l’Europe vue par les conservateurs britanniques ; la carte des plats immangeables…
Comme l’humour est parfois plus efficace que les longs discours, l’auteur a imaginé des cartes satiriques, souvent décalées et toujours drôles sur nos préjugés nationaux.
Un livre à mettre entre toutes les mains.

Atlas of Prejudice 1 (French Edition) Out Now!

Atlas des préjugés de Yanko Tsvetkov Attention s’il vous plaît! The French edition of Atlas of Prejudice (Vol. 1) is available for preorder on Amazon and will be hitting the bookstores on October 8, 2014!

To say I am pinching myself would be an understatement. After the German, English, Russian, and Spanish editions, my first book is finally available in the language of love, adultery, and posh agriculture!

It’s also the language I always wanted to learn but for some reason never managed to. Like every fluent Anglo-Saxon speaker, I excel at finding excuses to be busy with something else. Maybe this book is a chance for a change. What about you? How good is your French? Pick this up and let’s find out! :)

The book is published by Les Arènes and was and translated by Jean-Loup Chiflet.

Here’s the official blurb, in glorious, seductive French:

Depuis l’Antiquité jusqu’à nos jours, les préjugés ont la vie dure. Pour la première fois, ils sont cartographiés ici. 40 cartes inédites portent un regard satirique et sans concession sur les stéréotypes nationaux, 40 regards croisés où l’on rit aussi bien des autres que de nous, 40 caricatures hilarantes qui nous en apprennent plus que de longs discours. Best-seller en Allemagne, L’Atlas des préjugés est un livre plein d’ironie qui permet de mieux comprendre les cultures nationales.

Yanko Tsvetkov est né en Bulgarie. Il a fait ses études en Allemagne, a travaillé en Grande-Bretagne et vit aujourd’hui en Espagne. C’est un européen de la génération « Erasmus ». Des clichés et des préjugés, il en a entendu des centaines. Cet atlas leur rend hommage.

Atlas of Prejudice 2 (English Edition) Out NOW!

Atlas of Prejudice 2 by Yanko Tsvetkov

Atlas-of-Prejudice-2-TOC

The success of Atlas of Prejudice Volume 1 surprised even the most optimistic people around me. In less than a year, the book was published in German, English, Russian, and Spanish. Several other foreign language editions are in the works. The combined worldwide sales already reached 20,000. I bought a private jet and a house in California.

Well, the last sentence wasn’t quite true. Probably because I declined a $25,000 offer from an established company that wanted to publish the English version under a different title and with a different cover. I thought the demand was outrageous, and said no. Then I self-published the book with CreateSpace and started promoting it without the marketing backup of an established publisher. Freedom has its cost.

The idea about a sequel came almost immediately after I finished the first volume. However, due to the complications with the English edition, I had to postpone most of the work on it until August 2013. Then, in a scenario similar to the struggle with the first book, I had to break the piggy bank with randomly collected proto-ideas and start matching them together like gigantic puzzle pieces of a Jackson Pollock painting.

About a third of the book was written on my tablet, late at night. I remember once I deleted half a chapter with a simple thumb slide. That’s how I found out that Google Keep doesn’t have an automatic save function. And why should it, the app was never meant for writing books. After this high-tech fiasco, I abandoned the dream of writing the entire book on a touchscreen device and went back to Microsoft Word and the good old laptop.

Volume 1 was a collection of maps with a couple of added essays about stereotypes. Most of those maps were already complete when I started the book. Volume 2, on the other hand, is much more organic. The workflow was reversed: I started with the text and drew the new maps only after I finished writing each chapter. I consider Atlas of Prejudice 2 my first real book, in the classic sense of the word. I hope the readers will be able to sense that.

This time around, there’s much more to read. I wanted the book to have a backbone, an idea that runs almost continuously through it, like a baseline of a song. I found inspiration for it examining the generational gap between me and my grandmother. The book opens with a description of the world according to her and ends with a map according to a Facebook user. Even though I am in my late thirties and I’m not a huge fan of that particular social network, I consider myself part of the generation it defines. The self-obsessed teens shouting for attention on various social networks are not very different from what I was at their age. Whatever nuances may separate us, they all fade away when compared to the enormous gap between 2014 and 1932, when my grandmother was born.

The process of growing up and adapting to a new world is often examined in between those chapters. The first voyage of Columbus spelled the end of European puberty. It led to the worst excesses of post-adolescent Spain, an empire that behaved like a 18-year-old college boy, loaded with cash and lack of responsibility. Further to the East, the Pope and the Ottoman sultan competed who will wear the biggest tiara. The Vikings to the North, already Christianized, continued to hunt for narwhals in the Arctic, selling the tusks of those animals as unicorn horns to the ignorant people from the south.

During the promotion of Volume 1 an Austrian journalist assumed my prediction about the end of the European Union was something serious. Volume 2 contains a chapter dedicated to modern Europe and its chances for survival. Of course, Brussels was the last place I turned for inspiration. Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europa Express did a much better job. What is lacking in today’s Europe is something as inspired as this album. Something that transcends the political and economic bullshit of the day. Because, as Alain de Botton recently mentioned in his article about the contemporary addiction to breaking news, “we badly need people whose attention is not caught up in the trends of the moment and who are not looking in the same direction as everyone else”. We need more idealism. Not the naive, distracted kind; we have plenty of it on Facebook, Twitter, or any other place where slacktivism reigns supreme. We need the kind of idealism that is informed and able to reach beyond the day after tomorrow.

But most of all, we need to learn how to laugh at ourselves, and to give up the habit of frowning all the time. Atlas of Prejudice 2 is about that.

The English version of the book is already available on Amazon and it will soon appear on other online retailers. The German version will come out next month, on March 20, and can be preordered here. More information about other stores is available on the official site of the book. A preview of the content is available on Google Books.

The Atlas of Prejudice, Finally in Russian!

putins-favorite-book-by-a-gay-author

I have to admit that the first time I heard someone from Russia was interested in my book I thought it was a joke. And this uncertainty never really left me until I saw my title appear in the online catalog of the publisher at the beginning of this month.

Bulgarians have a love/hate relationship with Russia. On one side there is the enormous admiration for Russian culture, the linguistic and geographical proximity, the common history. On the other side we have communism, repression, hegemony and… even more common history. People usually discard one at the expense of the other. I can’t. I feel equally fascinated and intimidated.

I remember a journalist from the Izvestiya newspaper calling me in London, days after The Telegraph featured my Mapping Stereotypes project. During the interview she asked me what was my opinion about Russia. This is what I said:

I love Russian culture. When I was a kid I was extremely influenced by Russian literature, in particular the fairy tales of Kashchey the Deathless.

Because, you know, Dostoevsky is so last week. And then of course I had to make things even more awkward, admitting that I am in love with Stalinist architecture.

Of course I shouldn’t feel embarrassed to say what I think and I was completely honest. Kashchey (along with Baba Yaga) was one of the most impressive characters from my childhood and I really find buildings like Hotel Ukraina absolutely poetic.

However, where I’m coming from, none of these things are appreciated for what they really are. There are always a couple of layers of extra meaning. My friends who had lost family members during communism detest them, they project their loss on every symbol from the communist past, from the bubble gum packaging to the space rockets. My other friends who are still dwelling in the past with its Utopian promises are using them as counterarguments for everything they don’t like about the present.

I feel caught in the middle because for me a building, a mythological character, or even the whole bibliography of a literary genius, don’t come packaged with an ideology that I have to accept or reject, regardless of the cost. There’s something incredibly sad about seeing things in black and white, in mixing politics with culture, and banalities with symbols that survived the test of time. It’s true that no artwork is created in a vacuum but dismissing its beauty because of it is just pathetic.

This year for the first time since the beginning of the 90’s I felt the unsettling spirit of the Cold War creeping back on the political scene. Perhaps it is the Syrian crisis, perhaps it’s just historical inertia but the propaganda machines seem back on track in full swing. On one side, American media delights in discussing Russia’s human rights record, conveniently marginalizing US atrocities like Guantanamo and the NSA scandals. On the other, Russian media excels in regurgitating stories about Bradley Manning, skipping the outrageous fact that the country put a dead whistleblower on trial.

And then there are the anti-gay laws in Russia, one of the most shameful things that had happened to this country in the 21st Century. Of course people like John McCain, the anti-equality Arizona conservative, were quick to criticize the Russian politicians because they “codify bigotry against people whose sexual orientation they condemn“.

Things like these make me angry. Because they force me to do one thing that I really hate – talk publicly about my sexuality. I’ve never paraded the fact that I’m gay but I feel disgusted by the people who voted for these laws, by their supporters and by the hypocrisy of bigots like McCain who try to hijack the conversation about my own rights just to suit their simple-minded political bullshit peppered with the worst cliches of American exceptionalism.

Do people really have to take this shit? From both sides? What if we just stand up and leave the room while those idiots are talking? I know how idealistic this sounds. I know it may not even be possible. But a gay man can dream.

So here’s the thing. The Atlas of Prejudice debuted in German, then got published in English this summer (so bigots like McCain can read it). And now it’s available in good old Russia so those opportunistic homophobes around Putin can take a look as well.

Job done. I’m off partying!

Atlas-stereotipov-i-predrassudkov-Yanko-Tsvetkov

Democracy, Tyranny, and Art

The Battle of Anghiari

How political and artistic freedom don’t always overlap

While shooting the movie The Third Man, Orson Welles, who played the main character, decided to improvise with the dialog and added the following rant to the script:

In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, they had 500 years of democracy and peace — and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

It’s an interesting thought but it definitely doesn’t do justice to the Swiss.

To begin with, the first known cuckoo clock was actually a possession of August von Sachsen, who, like many other provincial German rulers during the Renaissance, had a penchant for sophisticated eccentricities.

The most significant Swiss invention to date is a set of fonts, which is more ubiquitous than Coca Cola. This set was created by Swiss typographer Max Miedinger in 1957 and was named Helvetica, after the Latin name of his homeland.

Today, Helvetica is the de facto standard in modern graphic design, spurred by the rise of the International Typographic Style. Like most things that claim universal appeal, it is bland, neutral, faceless, inexpressive and unemotional.

This is exactly why it’s so invisibly omnipresent. Helvetica is the default font on your iPhone. It’s used in logotypes for countless popular brands like Lufthansa, McDonald’s, Gap, Orange, Motorola, Panasonic, American Apparel, BMW, Target, J.C. Penney, Kawasaki, Zanussi… Even Arial, the font family that secretaries around the world have come to love and cherish, is a Helvetica rip off, Microsoft-style.

This ubiquitous typeface and the design philosophy that underlines it have a cult following which, in its attempt to purify modern design from any unnecessary detail, has reached a level of fanaticism that could make any suicide bomber blush.

If there is a dark side to democracy, as Orson Welles implied, it must be that sometimes, in a very ironical way, the cultures that thrive under it may develop striking limitations in their blind pursuit of compromise. By contrast, societies which are run by despotic and undemocratic principles may spark unparalleled freedom of thought.

Illustration: Peter Paul Rubens’s copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Battle of Anghiari. Allegedly from left to right: Francesco Piccinino, Niccolò Piccinino, Ludovico Trevisan, and Giovanni Antonio del Balzo Orsini.

This article was first published on Medium on August 16, 2013.

Atlas of Prejudice 2 Coming Soon

Atlas der Vorurteile 2 von Yanko Tsvetkov

After selling more than 10 000 copies in Germany in only 6 months and subsequently appearing in English and Russian, the Atlas of Prejudice is ready for a sequel.

In fact I have been preparing it ever since I finished the first book because 80 pages weren’t enough to collect all the ideas I had. The format was already predetermined, so I couldn’t go above it. This is one of the limitations of working with publishers. In my case it was the only one because my publisher in Germany, Knesebeck Verlag, gave me absolute freedom about every aspect of the book, front to back.

It’s easy to forget how much trust such a decision requires, especially with new authors who haven’t proven themselves commercially. Appreciating creativity is one thing but betting a significant part of the budget of your company on it is much more complicated. I am very thankful about that.

Now that we have not only creative ideas but also a solid financial success behind us, Knesebeck Verlag and I are going to continue our collaboration on the next version of the book, the Atlas of Prejudice 2. It’s scheduled to appear in February 2014 on the German market and it will expand the project beyond national stereotypes. The cover, which I just finished, may give you an idea about the new direction. The rest is contained in the draft annotation that describes the project at its current stage:

It’s easy to forget that each and every one of us is culturally biased. A real explorer is able to recognize this psychological flaw and steer clear of it when he gets in touch with a different culture. For the truly adventurous, the world is not a tourist destination but a stage, a platform on which nothing is certain and everything changes all the time.

People who are able to rise above their own cultural limitations often appear as weird. But this weirdness is often projected upon them by the limitations of our own minds we like to describe as “normal”.

In order to truly explore human nature we have to burst the cocoon of cultural preconceptions in which we so eagerly wrap ourselves. We have to overcome the fear of losing our own identity in the process. We have to reject the idea that we are simply products of our societies and rediscover our true roots that run much deeper than any social, cultural, or political accidents.

This book is for those of us who have both the courage and the sense of humor to recognize that.

Stay tuned.