Saturday, September 17, 2016

Bulgaria: Stork Mountain, by Miroslav Penkov

When I read an interview with the author of this book online, I knew I wanted to read it. And I wasn't wrong - I absolutely loved the book.

The narrator is a young boy, born in Bulgaria, who left with his family, apparently when he was about ten years old, and returns to sell his share of the family land. He has landed in financial trouble and needs the money to pay his debts. But also, he sets out to find his grandfather who stayed in Bulgaria. Intertwining with the stories of the boy and his grandfather are the myth like stories they make up to tell each other, and the story of the young Muslim girl Elif, who the boy falls in love with. Then there are the storks who journey every year from Africa to the mountains in the south of Bulgaria, and the fire dancers who perform their rituals every year in two small villages. So there are many layers to the story, and they are all beautifully woven together.

The book is in seven sections which the author has described as corresponding to the seven stages of transformation. It's not a short book but each individual chapter is short, and the reading seemed to go quickly - perhaps because there is plenty of white space on the page, perhaps because I was so engrossed.

I really want to read more of this author's work. My only question - does this qualify as a Bulgarian book? The author was born in Bulgaria and left at about the age of nineteen for college in the United States. He is now a creative writing professor at the University of North Texas. Since he is still quite young - early thirties - I expected the perspective to be Balkan. However the book was written in English, not Bulgarian, though it has been translated and published in Bulgaria. To me, it read as Bulgaria seen through American tinted spectacles. So I think I would still like to find a book by an author still living in Bulgaria, and see if it has a different flavour, a less westernized viewpoint. It sounds like a fascinating country with a long and turbulent history, at the cross roads of Europe and Asia.

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