I’ve mentioned in a few of my earlier posts that I have a soft spot for flawed protagonists who manage to do well in spite of themselves. Crazy thing is I haven’t actively sought out books staring these kind of characters. But for whatever reason or reasons they keep falling into my lap. The latest one to cross my path is Zachary Karabashliev’s 18% Gray. Originally published in his native Bulgaria back in 2008, it went on to win a pair of awards including Bulgarian novel of the year. Thankfully, for Western readers an English language edition was published by Open Letter in early 2013. I stumbled across a copy of 18% Gray during one of my weekend public library visits and was inspired to read it thanks to Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge. Not knowing a single thing about the book or its author, I grabbed it only because I could use a piece of Bulgarian fiction for the challenge. But fortunately for me, I got lucky. I was pleasantly surprised by Karabashliev’s novel. And let’s be serious – how often does one find a book by a Bulgarian author?
18% Gray tells the story of Zack, Southern California-dwelling Bulgarian immigrant who’s found himself in a bit of a predicament. Depressed after his wife has left him and hating both his dead-end job and the boss that comes with it, Zack slips across the border into nearby Tijuana for a little adult-oriented R and R. What starts as a little bar-hopping soon degenerates into a huge drunken bender. By the end of his alcohol-fueled misadventure he’s inadvertant stopped a drug-related murder, beat-up a pair of total strangers, stolen a van and found himself in possession of a duffel bag of high-grade marijuana. Zack then sets off on a cross-country journey to NYC in hopes of selling his illicit loot for a handsome price.
I enjoyed 18% Gray. Even with all the flashbacks such as former life in Bulgaria, his college days in the US and his overall frustrations with living in the states, the action keeps coming. And above all, it’s funny. Zack is a bit of a loser, but he’s not stupid or mean. Deserted by his wife and lamenting his mediocre life, Zack just wants to unload the weed, make a huge pile of cash and go on to be the successful photographer he’s always wanted to be. But before that can happen, he must arrive safely in New York with his precious cargo intact. And that won’t be easy.
Like I mentioned at the beginning, I was pleasantly surprised by 18% Gray. I have no reservations recommending it to readers seeking a little adventure and more than a few chuckles. Feel free to give it a shot.