In his mesmerising first novel, the internationally celebrated short-story writer Miroslav Penkov spins the intriguing tale of an American student who returns to Bulgaria, the country he left as a child. His mission is to track down his grandfather and to find out why he suddenly cut off all contact with the family three years before.
The trail leads him to a remote village on the border with Turkey, a stone's throw away from Greece, high up in the Strandja Mountains - a place of pagan mysteries and black storks nesting in giant oaks; a place where every spring, possessed by Christian saints, men and women dance barefoot across live coals in search of rebirth. Here in the mountains, he is drawn by his grandfather into a maze of half-truths. And here, he falls in love with an unobtainable Muslim girl. Old ghosts come back to life and forgotten conflicts blaze anew, until the past finally yields up its plangent secrets.
PRAISE FOR EAST OF THE WEST, WINNER OF THE BBC SHORT STORY AWARD 2012: - Humour, poignancy, tenderness and a deep sense of European history suffuse these lovely stories by a young Bulgarian writer of whom more will surely be heard. Sunday Telegraph Penkov's stories combine toughness, vulnerability and bravado ... he applies humour and compassion in equal measure: this is a sparkling collection. Guardian Every once in a while, but no more often than that, a first book by a young writer comes along to restore a reader's faith ... Penkov's stories are ironic without being trite, melancholic, but with a whiff of whimsy ... a considerable, quirky, new talent. Canberra Times 'Penkov's teeming stories accomplish in phrases what lesser writers take chapters to convey ... A collection of triumphs.' Los Angeles Times 'One of the most exciting debut collections in recent memory ... Funny and sad and wonderfully natural.' Boston Globe His splendid prose can be fleet, leisurely, colloquial, or formal ... These stories are not the promising work of a first-time author. They are already a promise fulfilled - wise, bright, and deep with sympathy. Alec Solomita, The New Republic I suspect that Miroslav Penkov would be a wonderful writer in any language, but lucky for us, it happens to be English, and what funny, tender, tragic, and soulful stories he spins from his adopted tongue. EAST OF THE WEST is, simply put, one of the best collections I have read in years, ambitious and accomplished enough in scope to encompass east, west, and all stations in between. Ben Fountain, author of Brief Encounters with Che Guevara Miroslav Penkov unpacks his stories with great skill, drawing the reader so deeply into the world he has created that when the magic comes - a father wrapping his son's eyelash in a handkerchief - it knocks the wind right out of you. EAST OF THE WEST captures the moments that prove we are truly living. Hannah Tinti, author of The Good Thief There is a kind of magic at work in East of the West, a beautiful alchemy that combines wisdom and imagery, soul and story to render, finally, the pure gold of these tales. Miroslav Penkov is an extraordinary writer. May many books follow this one. Bret Lott, author of Jewel and A Song I Knew by Heart These eight stories play with dimensions of Bulgaria's beleaguered past and Turkish occupation through the eyes of an endearing set of appealing and convincing characters. Exile, betrayal, courage, hope, joy, death and anguish flow through these stories. Sunday Territorian a series of superb tales of love and hate, home and homesickness, passion, exile, violence, history and humour. Bendigo Advertiser Miroslav Penkov spins magical tales. There is wonderful humor here, and characters you will never forget. You will love this book. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Ellen Gilchrist, National Book Award-winning author of A Dangerous Age and I Cannot Get You Close Enough Miroslav Penkov has successfully trapped two elusive creatures: the absurd beauty of Eastern Europe, and the emotional paradox of self-exile from that absurdity. His sense of history, his sense of humor, and his ability to create lasting characters make this book a dark yet hilarious pleasure. Elizabeth Kostova, author of The Historian
Miroslav Penkov was born in 1982 in Bulgaria. He moved to the United States in 2001 on a scholarship to study psychology at the University of Arkansas, where he subsequently gained an MFA in creative writing. His stories have won the 2012 BBC International Short Story Award and The Southern Review's Eudora Welty Prize and have appeared in journals and anthologies including Granta, The Best American Short Stories (edited by Salman Rushdie and Heidi Pitlor) and The PEN / O. Henry Prize Stories 2012. Published in more than a dozen countries, his collection East of the West was a finalist for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing and the Steven Turner Award for Best Work of First Fiction. Penkov teaches creative writing at the University of North Texas, where he is the editor-in-chief of the American Literary Review.