This is the first time I’ve read a Bulgarian novel, and it was a worthy beginning. Miroslav Penkov’s excellent debut novel, following on the success of his story collection East of the West, is largely about the relationship between a young Bulgarian-American man and his grandfather. The unnamed narrator returns to the village of Klisura, seeking the grandfather who has been incommunicado for three years (and by the way, planning to sell the family land to pay off crippling student debt at home). The narrator teases out his grandfather’s disappearance and its connection to the coming of the storks and the nestinari dancers who trace their tradition back hundreds of years — and meantime, he is falling in love with Elif, the feisty daughter of the imam and his grandfather’s sworn enemy. Add in some local corruption, some border politics (Klisura lies in the borderlands with Turkey, in an area previously under the Ottoman Empire), domestic violence, shady events that might be history or might be myth, and you have a truly splendid tale. It is subtle, and rich, and sensitive in its exploration of the narrator’s relationship with his far-more-cunning-than-he-looks grandfather. A splendid debut.
Stork Mountain — Miroslav Penkov — Sceptre — PB — $30