While Mirsloav Penkov got internationally fame with his short-story titles, Stork Mountain is his first novel. The story about a young American student returning to Bulgaria, like a stork flies back to the nest he was born at, is part memoir, part a historical novel about Bulgaria, and a coming of age at the same time. Klisura, a remote village on the border with Turkey has been the scene for Thracians, Greeks, and Turks to conquer the country and impose their culture. Next to that Islam and Christianity also put their mark on the region, the voluntary and compulsive conversions, buildings, ownership of land and education.
The story’s pace is alternating throughout the book. From lengthy expositions of the storks’ migration paths to short summarized eras, like “And then, devoid of people, the Christian hamlet was transformed into a border zone. Such was the end. (..) The years passed, Grandpa raised my father an honest, smart, hardworking man. My father met my mother, married her, and I was born. Then Communism fell and Father said, We have no future here.” The book is full of repetitive small stories and phrases, hooks for the major story line.
Set in the Strandja Mountains where black storks in nest in giant oaks and their lives move with the seasons. Pagan rituals like fire walking, worship of idols and Christian icons are mixed with the rages of the local imam and his daughter. Will the young American be free to fall in love with a Muslim girl? Will his grandfather reveal all answers he’s looking for? Although it took me a while to get into the story, it then got my full attention until the very last page. A story well composed and told.
About the author
Miroslav Penkov was born in 1982 in Bulgaria. He moved to America in 2001 and received an MFA in creative writing at the University of Arkansas. His stories have won the BBC International Short Story Award 2012 and The Southern Review’s Eudora Welty Prize and have appeared in A Public Space, Granta, One Story, The Best American Short Stories 2008, The PEN / O. Henry Prize Stories 2012, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2013. Published in over a dozen countries, his debut collection EAST OF THE WEST was a finalist for the 2012 William Saroyan International Prize for Writing and the Steven Turner Award for First Fiction by the Texas Institute of Letters. In 2014-15 he was the literature protégé in the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, working with mentor Michael Ondaatje. Penkov teaches creative writing at the University of North Texas, where he is editor-in-chief of the American Literary Review.