This debut collection from Penkov spotlights the best of the young (he was born in 1982) writer's output, much of which has been published in literary magazines. The opener, "Makedonija," sets the bittersweet scene, depicting a disgruntled old man nursing a grudge against the fellow who wrote letters to his wife 60 years earlier. "East of the West" is a Forrest Gump
-like romance 30 years in the making between a young man with a busted beak and the lovely cousin for whom he pines. "Buying Lenin" also presents a romance of sorts, between a grandson enraptured by America and the Stalinist grandfather who teases him. In all the stories, Penkov so fully occupies his narrators that one can almost hear their voices. In "The Letter," a thieving young minx plays a British transplant for an easy grand, then blows the cash on a spa day instead of her friend's abortion. "A Picture with Yuki" demonstrates the strangeness of the immigrant experience as deftly as stories by Ha Jin, as a young man and his wife return from Chicago to participate in an in vitro fertilization program in the capital of Sofia. Often these stories link the banality of day-to-day survival to the magic of Bulgarian myth, as in the final story, "Devshirmeh," about a divorcé father telling his daughter the story of a blood tribute.
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