Brussels Naked by Irina Papancheva


We are all puppets, parts, expressions, qualities of a city. Our unique role is to give it life.”

‘Brussels Naked’ is an experimental novel in the form of twelve interconnected novellas, each named after municipalities or neighbourhoods in Brussels, and each with a different narrator. It covers a period of fifteen years and is built around three main arcs: the life of Iris, Brussels itself as a protagonist and the EU crises, captured in the stories of ordinary people.
Iris, a married young Bulgarian journalist, arrives to be a trainee at the European Parliament in 2003. She expects Brussels to be “a plain, institutional and boring city” but is enchanted by it and decides to stay. The stakes are high: her marriage.
Brussels is a city where people from different origins and backgrounds can easily live in their own circles and bubbles without truly meeting. What happens when chance breaks the boundaries of their worlds and brings them together? Is the married Dutch employee at the European Central Bank making the mistake of his life when on a lonely night in Brussels he calls a Slovenian escort? Will the young Moroccan girl find love in an arranged marriage, while her sister escapes and enrols in university? Will the Senegalese man, who is the only person to stay with Iris night after night in a haunted house, take advantage? How will the French-speaking Belgian woman, who cannot come to terms with Brussels being flooded by foreigners and migrants, deal with having to host a Syrian refugee woman and her little girl? Has the Croatian woman working in the Commission managed to escape the war from her childhood? Will the Portuguese photographer taking shots from the 2015 lockdown manage to choose his life companion? Will the British woman spending her evenings making EPSO tests get a permanent position at the Commission?
Ten characters from different race, nationality, religion share episodes from and before their Brussels existence with Iris’s life weaving through them like a red thread.

“I am especially glad because Irina Papancheva has been able to write a novel which shows Brussels as it is, sometimes raw, sometimes bright and always full of people that meet and I have indeed sensed that she loves this city. Brussels really lacks this sort of literature, unfortunately.’

Jan Dorpmans, Passa Porta Literary Guide

“I thought ‘Brussels Naked’ moved well; belonging, without visible strain, to time and place. You open up the city very smartly, through its districts and diverse narratives. The construction was cleverly managed, the shifting roles of the characters. Irina Papancheva’s story is open to Europe and the wider world, the interconnected pains of migration and settlement. It gives me the flavour of lives lived; meals, drinks, exchanges, solitude.”

Iain Sinclair, Author of 'London Orbital' and 'The Last London'

“‘Brussels Naked’ is an extraordinary multicultural novel that explores human relationships in a unique setting and passes a Bulgarian literary milestone in conveying the emigrant experience.”

Christopher Buxton, Author

‘Brussels Naked‘ is a novel written with deep intimate knowledge of the multinational context in the capital of united Europe. Irina Papancheva’s elegant composed style harkens back to the best examples of contemporary European prose, and the original structure of the novel adds to its impact.
As a narrator, Irina Papancheva demonstrates an enviable inner self-confidence and balance that help her bear the paradoxes of Europe’s cultural puzzle, but also the complexity of the interpersonal relationships. Without being overtly emotional, the novel ‚Brussels Naked‘ is imbued with a subtle eroticism and sensitivity that touches and fascinates the reader.”

Alek Popov, Author of 'Mission London'