This first novel from Penkov (author of the story collection East of the West) is about a boy who leaves America for the desolate borderlands of Bulgaria in search of his grandfather. Looking for a way to pay his debts, he returns to the village of Klisura, on the Bulgarian side of the Turkish border, to find out why his grandfather fled the U.S. and his family, and to claim an inheritance he believes is his. The young man discovers a place where exiled Christians dance on fire in honor of their saints, where Muslims were converted and given new names by a cynical Communist regime, and where storks come each spring to bear their own young in giant walnut trees. The village is steeped in mysteries and vendettas. The boy absorbs the folklore and also begins to glean his grandfather’s tragic involvement in Klisura’s troubled past, “like stepping stones that lead you to yourself.” The boy falls in love with Elif, the daughter of the local imam with whom Grandpa has a long-standing feud, meeting her in secret in a stork’s nest in the trees. He plots to save Elif from her abusive father, and to rescue Elif’s little sister, who is sick with a fever believed to be induced by the nestinari, the Christians who dance on fire. That the boy ends up finding himself within his grandfather’s story, among the gnarled and mystical roots growing out of ancient Christianity, Islam, and communism, is the great reward of this searing, heartfelt novel. This book is rich, enmeshing the personal with the political and historical, told in strange and vertiginous language that seems fitting for a tale of such passion. Agent: Nicole Aragi, Aragi Inc. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 12/21/2015 Release date: 03/15/2016 Genre: Fiction
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