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.
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.