East of the West

Publisher: Bond Street Books
A brilliant debut from a rising talent praised by Salman Rushdie, among others.

A grandson tries to buy the corpse of Lenin on eBay for his Communist grandfather. A failed wunderkind steals a golden cross from an orthodox church. A boy meets his cousin (the love of his life) once every five years in the waters of the river that divides their village into East and West. These are some of the strange, unexpectedly moving events in talented newcomer Miroslav Penkov's vision of his home country, Bulgaria, and they are the stories that make up his extraordinary debut collection.

In East of the West Penkov writes with great empathy about 800 years of tumult in troubled Eastern Europe; his characters mourn the way things were and long for things that will never be. But even as the characters wrestle with the weight of history, the debt to family, and the pangs of exile, the stories themselves are light and deft, animated by Penkov's unmatched eye for the absurd. In 2008, Salman Rushdie chose Penkov's story "Buying Lenin" (which appears in this collection) for that year's Best American Short Stories, citing its heart and humour. East of the West reveals the full realization of the brilliant potential that Rushdie recognized.


I was born just twenty years after we got rid of the Turks. 1898. So yes, this makes me seventy- one. And yes, I’m grumpy. I’m mean. I smell like all old men do. I am a walking pain, hips, shoulders, knees and elbows. I lie awake at night. I call my daughter by my grandson’s name and I remember the day I...
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“These are fearless, gutsy stories with tremendous impact.”
Philadelphia City Paper

“The reader will be forgiven for not recognizing the name of the 28-year-old Bulgarian-American writer, or for being ignorant of the plight of Bulgarians at home or abroad. East of the West may do a lot to change that because of its rich and fascinating subject matter and its author’s unmistakably large talent. . . . East of the West is about unforgettable characters in memorable situations. You are, in short, in the hands of a novice master testing his skills and the boundaries of his craft. Think of a young Alice Munro crossing paths with David Bezmozgis and Jonathan Safran Foer.”
The Gazette (Montreal)

“Penkov’s Bulgaria is a postmodern multicultural mix, but there is also something primitive and tribal about the place. A poor, culturally divided and frankly backward country, with many of the people we meet dreaming of Western lifestyles and trying to make it to America, it nevertheless exerts an elemental force of attraction through its land, history and powerful family ties. Blood binds and blood divides but home is where the heart is.”
Toronto Star

“Miroslav Penkov unpacks his stories with great skill, drawing the reader so deeply into the world he has created that when the magic comes—a father wrapping his son’s eyelash in a handkerchief—it knocks the wind right out of you. East of the West captures the moments that prove we are truly living.”
—Hannah Tinti, author of The Good Thief

“Miroslav Penkov has successfully trapped two elusive creatures: the absurd beauty of Eastern Europe and the emotional paradox of self-exile from that absurdity. His sense of history, his sense of humor, and his ability to create lasting characters make this book a dark yet hilarious pleasure.”
—Elizabeth Kostova, author of The Historian

“I suspect that Miroslav Penkov would be a wonderful writer in any language, but lucky for us, it happens to be English, and what funny, tender, tragic, and soulful stories he spins in his adopted tongue. East of the West is, simply put, one of the best collections I have read in years, ambitious and accomplished enough in scope to encompass East, West, and all stations in between.”
—Ben Fountain, author of Brief Encounters with Che Guevara

“Miroslav Penkov spins magical tales. There is wonderful humor here, and characters you will never forget. You will love this book. I cannot recommend it highly enough.”
—Ellen Gilchrist, author of A Dangerous Age

“There is a kind of magic at work in East of the West, a beautiful alchemy that combines wisdom and imagery, soul and story, to render, finally, the pure gold of these tales. Miroslav Penkov is an extraordinary writer. May many more books follow this one.”
—Bret Lott, author of Jewel