Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Best Bulgarian Short Stories

If you do a search on Google for "Bulgarian short stories" one of the first results you will see is a news item from October stating that Bulgarian author Miroslav Penkov won the BBC International Short Story Award. Penkov's story, "East of the West," from his 2011 debut short story collection of the same name, "explores the difficulties of love, relationships and identity in a region ridden with conflict," according to the contest's organizers.

"East of the West" is the story of a village, divided by a river and by the harsh realities of the Cold War. To the east is Bulgaria, home of a boy known as Nose, and to the west is the home of his cousin, a more liberal land where one can buy blue jeans and Adidas sports shoes. Every five years the authorities allow the villagers to reunite for a feast, where the cousins can dream and plan for freedom and a different future.

In the other stories in the collection, a grandson tries to buy Lenin's corpse on eBay for his communist grandfather; a Bulgarian brings his Japanese-American wife to his grandparents' village; and a crazed craftsman steals goat hides in an attempt to construct 100 bagpipes as a cure for his wife's cancer.

These are stories of thieves and madmen, of addicts and communists. These are stories of Bulgaria, a country which never forgets its liberation from the Ottomans but is, itself, burdened with years of mistreating its Turkish residents.

As someone who has lived and traveled in Bulgaria and visited towns and villages similar to those described in the book, Penkov's stories came across as vivid reminders of that wonderful land. For those who have never previously been to Bulgaria, this collection of stories will be an excellent introduction. The book's subtitle is "A Country in Stories," and this is truly appropriate.

"I wanted to write a story about those Bulgarians who... were severed from our country, and who inevitably will lose, if they haven't already, their sense of being Bulgarian," Penkov said, quoted in the BBC news article. "At the same time, I wanted to write a story about myself, abroad in America and in many ways alone, with a huge body of water between me and the people I love."

Miroslav Penkov was born in 1982 in Gabrovo, Bulgaria. When he was four, his family moved to Sofia, where he graduated from First English Language High School. He arrived in America in 2001 and completed a bachelor's degree in Psychology, followed by an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Arkansas. Miroslav is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of North Texas and the editor of the American Literary Review.

Buy East of the West and read it now!

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