Under the Yoke was published after Bulgaria won independence from Turkish rule. Translated, the novel brought to Western readers a fresh and vivid insight into the affairs of that troubled country. Although the story is tragic, the treatment of the theme is romantic in the manner of Sir Walter Scott; and through fictitious characters and events, the trials of the Bulgarians are faithfully re-created. Under the Yoke is a competently written political novel that glorifies Bulgarian independence through the story of a young revolutionary and his struggles. Although melodramatic and unrealistic in parts, the novel is very effective in presenting a picture of life in Bulgaria in the years of Turkish domination.
Under the Yoke reflects Ivan Vazov’s keen interest in the details of the Bulgarian nationalist movement’s activities. He himself participated in the independence movement, and many of the novel’s memorable scenes owe their vividness to the fact that when he wrote them Vazov was relying heavily on deeply felt personal experiences. His hometown of Sopot is the model for Bela Cherkva in the novel and is the town where he was involved in preparations for what turned out to be an unsuccessful uprising, much like that led by Kralich in Klissoura. Unlike Bela Cherkva, however, which in the novel escapes harm by backing out of the planned rebellion, Sopot was attacked by the Turks; when Vazov returned there in 1878 after independence was won, he found the town destroyed and his father among those murdered.
Vazov is at his best in the political scenes, at the school where Kralich teaches or at the theater, and in his scenes of domestic life. The opening scene in the book, for example, in which the reader sees the Marko family at dinner and gets a vivid description of their table manners and conversation, immediately provides a realistic setting for the story. Likewise, Vazov skillfully handles the scenes at the school, with his portrayals of Rada and Kralich and their students. He shows how many of the underlying political and social problems in Bulgaria’s history...
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