A captivating, slyly brilliant debut by the award-winning author of East of the West
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 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.
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.
Penkov teaches creative writing at the University of North Texas, where he is the editor-in-chief of the American Literary Review.
An intelligently mapped plot complements the skilful blend of familial relationships with religious commentary . . . This is a historically rich study of borders: those imposed by cartography and those that are self-constructed. — Zoë Apostolides, Financial Times
Penkov uses classic narrative forms as a springboard for a dark, dreamlike debut novel steeped in Balkan history and legend . . . The characters' lives are beautifully interwoven with ancient tales and family histories, all deeply rooted in the landscape of the Strandja Mountains, home of black storks, fire dancers, and worshippers of pagan saints . . . a beautiful and haunting novel — Hilary Rice, Chicago Review of Books
To the honor roll of the Bulgarian literary diaspora, add Miroslav Penkov, who writes sumptuous English . . . what the Great Bulgarian Novel could be if it could be rendered in English. — Stephen G Kellman, Dallas Morning News
Wildly ambitious . . . thoughtful and thought-provoking, with a passionate faith in the redemptive powers of art. — Wendy Smith, Boston Globe
[A] searing, heartfelt novel . . . rich, enmeshing the personal with the political and historical, told in strange and vertiginous language that seems fitting for a tale of such passion. — Publishers Weekly
A Bulgarian Don Quixote fighting windmills, his Sancho Panza a lost American grandson, and Dulcinea a Turk overfond of smoking dope. Add a smattering of Christian firewalkers, a touch of Muslim clerics, thousands of hysterical storks who deliver more secrets than babies. What you get is a marvel of a novel. Penkov has written a rollicking, poignant delight. — Rabih Alameddine, National Book Award Finalist and author of An Unnecessary Woman.
I can't speak to Miroslav Penkov's standing among Bulgarian novelists, but now that I've read STORK MOUNTAIN, it is easy to say that Penkov is my favorite novelist publishing in America. — Kyle Minor, author of Praying Drunk
Miroslav Penkov writes with warmth, wit and emotional precision, and STORK MOUNTAIN is a gorgeous and big-hearted novel that manages to be both a page-turning adventure story and a nuanced meditation on the meaning of home . . . a fantastic book. — Molly Antopol, author of The UnAmericans
STORK MOUNTAIN is a timely novel when Europe - its entangled past and its uncertain future - occupies the headlines; it is a timeless tale too about the undying and undead, about dreams not paled by reality, and above all, about a young man's search for an answer by searching for the right question. What a tremendous achievement from one of the best young international writers. — Yiyun Li, author of Kinder Than Solitude