Review: Nine Rabbits by Virginia Zaharieva

Already a best-seller in Europe, Nine Rabbits, the latest from Bulgarian author Virginia Zaharieva, is a remarkable, untraditional novel about a universal story: one woman’s quest to create – and maintain – her own identity.

The novel is told in two parts, the first taking place in 1960s Communist Bulgaria when the narrator, a precocious four-year-old named Manda, goes off to live with her grandmother while her recently-divorced mother works long hours, hoping to provide Manda with a better life. Despite frequent beatings at her grandmother’s hand, Manda manages to see both her grandmother and her mother not as cruel or neglectful, but simply as products of their own unfortunate circumstances.

Manda’s ability to see and appreciate the women in her life as multi-faceted serves her well in her adult life, which is explored in Part 2. Now in her 40s, Manda finds herself living the life her mother and grandmother dreamed of: she is a successful, working artist, not beholden to a man or an oppressive government. However, a debilitating case of writer's block shakes what Manda perceives to be the core of her identity (“If I don’t write, it’s like I’m not here. I don’t exist.”), sending her into a tailspin, as demonstrated in a particularly heartbreaking scene where Manda can’t muster the words to answer the simple question: “Who are you?”

Told through a series of beautifully written short chapters, Nine Rabbits is a moving tale of one woman’s struggle to identify not as one part of herself, but as a whole, complex being. While the novel certainly addresses some heavy topics, Zaharieva moves through each scene with the ease of an old friend sharing stories over a long, boozy dinner, making Nine Rabbits read more like a memoir than a novel, and making Manda seem less like a character and more like the fully-realized woman she strives to be.