East of the West A Country in Stories

Miroslav Penkov




Trade Paperback

240 Pages


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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 river that divides their village into east and west. These are Miroslav Penkov’s strange, unexpectedly moving visions of his home country, Bulgaria, and they are the stories that make up his beguiling and deeply felt debut.

In East of the West, Penkov writes with great empathy of centuries of tumult; his characters mourn the way things were and long for things that will never be. But even as they wrestle with the weight of history, with the debt to family, with the pangs of exile, the stories in East of the West are always light on their feet, animated by Penkov’s unmatched eye for the absurd.


Praise for East of the West

"Penkov's teeming stories accomplish in phrases what lesser writers take chapters to convey . . . A collection of triumphs."—Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times

"One of the most exiting debut collections in recent memory . . . Funny and sad and wonderfully natural."—John Freeman, The Boston Globe

“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

"An agile and assured debut . . . In each of these stylistically old-school yet freshly envisioned morality tales, Penkov burnishes brute circumstances to surprising beauty."—Elle

"Like Aleksandar Hemon, Ha Jin, and Edwidge Danticat, Penkov is a translingual . . . His dexterous English prose [portrays] human beings left in limbo, without a compass."—The Dallas Morning News

"Splendid . . . These stories are not the promising work of a first-time author. They are already a promise fulfilled—wise, bright, and deep with sympathy."—The New Republic

"Penkov's stories combine toughness, vulnerability, and bravado . . . This is a sparkling connection."—The Guardian (London)

"A fantastic collection that lives up to its audacious subtitle . . . Penkov's writing style is clear and startling, filled with warmth and wisdom . . . These are fearless, gutsy stories with tremendous impact."—Philadelphia City Paper

"Bulgarians, both at home and abroad, are the subject of the wistful, tragic, and funny stories in this impressive debut. The title story opens in 1970 with a boy meeting his cousin, Vera, at a reunion held every five years. Her home, previously located in his village, is now in Serbian territory, and the river that divides them plays a central role in their ensuing relationship. In "Buying Lenin," a young Bulgarian in college in Arkansas enjoys a deepening relationship with his grandfather, who sees the West as morally corrupt. In "Devshirmeh," a divorced Bulgarian man living in Texas relays his great-grandmother's story to his young daughter. The standout "A Picture with Yuki" finds a Bulgarian man bringing his Japanese bride to his native land in the hopes of overcoming fertility problems. Deep in the countryside, among Gypsies, the hope of life and the sadness of death combine and a tourist's camera is put to use in ways no one could have expected. This rich and serious work by Penkov, who was born in Bulgaria and came to America in 2001, marks him as a talent worth watching."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

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 met my wife much better than yesterday, or today. August 2, I think. 1969. Last night I pissed my bed and who knows what joy tonight will bring? I am in no way original or new. Although I might be jealous of a man who’s sixty years dead.
I found
Read the full excerpt


  • Miroslav Penkov

  • Miroslav Penkov was born in 1982 in Bulgaria. He arrived in America in 2001 and completed a bachelor’s degree in psychology and an M.F.A. in creative writing at the University of Arkansas. He has won the Eudora Welty Prize in Fiction, and his story “Buying Lenin” was published in The Best American Short Stories 2008, edited by Salman Rushdie. He teaches creative writing at the University of North Texas, where he is a fiction editor for the American Literary Review.

  • Miroslav Penkov Kyoko Arai
    Miroslav Penkov