Summary and book reviews of Stork Mountain by Miroslav Penkov

Stork Mountain

by Miroslav Penkov

Stork Mountain by Miroslav Penkov
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2016, 448 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2017, 448 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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About this Book

Book Summary

Stork Mountain is an enormously charming, slyly brilliant debut novel from an internationally celebrated writer. It is a novel that will undoubtedly find a home in many readers' hearts.

In Stork Mountain, a young Bulgarian immigrant returns to the country of his birth in search of his grandfather, who suddenly and unexpectedly cut all contact with the family three years ago. The trail leads him to a village on the border with Turkey, a stone's throw away from Greece, high up in the Strandja Mountains - a place of pagan mysteries and black storks nesting in giant oaks; a place where every spring, possessed by Christian saints, men and women dance barefoot across live coals in search of rebirth. Here in the mountains, he gets drawn by his grandfather into a maze of half-truths. And here, he falls in love with an unobtainable Muslim girl. Old ghosts come back to life and forgotten conflicts blaze anew until the past surrenders its shameful secrets.

ONE

SOMEONE WAS BEATING THE DOOR of the station and I heard a man cry out, "Let us in, you donkeys. The storm's on my tail and inching closer." But I hadn't slept in thirty hours and maybe I was dreaming of voices. Or maybe I didn't want to get up, snug as I was on the floor in the corner. The handful of peasants around me began to stir, uneasy. The stench of wet wool, of sweat and tobacco, rose like mist from their ancient bodies and the waiting room fogged up. I knew they expected me, the young boy, to wrestle the door open, to let into safety whoever was out there. So I pretended that I was sleeping.

I had arrived on a bus from Sofia early that morning, a four-hour wobble east to the middle of nowhere. "You wait here," the driver had told me, "for the bus to Klisura. It comes around noon. A blue bus. With a big sign.To Klisura. Will you be able to read it?" He'd spoken to me the way people speak to foreigners, drunks, or the dim-witted. I'd smiled and nodded ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Stork Mountain is one of the more extraordinary novels I've read recently. The plot, setting and characters are all unusual and captivating, and the author's ability to forge these diverse elements into a compelling story is nothing short of stunning. The novel might not work for everyone, as it does require a bit of perseverance to get to the meat of it, but those looking for a departure from the standard fare will likely find this one a winner.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Full Review (751 words).

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Media Reviews

Chicago Review of Books

Stork Mountain is a beautiful and haunting novel, one that delves into a painful past and begs the questions: To what extent are we doomed to relive the past and carry it with us? At what point must we relent and set it free?

The Boston Globe

[A] sprawling, wildly ambitious novel... thoughtful and thought-provoking, with a passionate faith in the redemptive powers of art.

The Dallas Morning News

[W]hat the Great Bulgarian Novel could be if it could be rendered in English... Stork Mountain takes wing to the heights.

Kirkus Reviews

An earnest and somber tale of rural life that gets tangled in its metaphorical brush.

Library Journal

The author uses gentle humor to soften the vast differences among various factions in Klisura, grandpa and the imam, the Catholic Church and the educators, the ecologists and the builders, all while writing a love song to his native land.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.

Author Blurb Yiyun Li, author of Kinder Than Solitude and Gold Boy, Emerald Girl.
Stork Mountain is a timely novel when Europe - its entangled past and its uncertain future - occupies the headlines; it is a timeless tale too about the undying and undead, about dreams not paled by reality, and above all, about a young man's search for an answer by searching for the right question. What a tremendous achievement from one of the best young international writers.

Author Blurb Rabih Alameddine, National Book Award Finalist and author of An Unnecessary Woman.
A Bulgarian Don Quixote fighting windmills, his Sancho Panza a lost American grandson, and Dulcinea a Turk overfond of smoking dope. Add a smattering of Christian firewalkers, a touch of Muslim clerics, thousands of hysterical storks who deliver more secrets than babies. What you get is a marvel of a novel. Penkov has written a rollicking, poignant delight.

Author Blurb Molly Antopol, author of The UnAmericans.
Miroslav Penkov writes with warmth, wit and emotional precision, and Stork Mountain is a gorgeous and big-hearted novel that manages to be both a page-turning adventure story and a nuanced meditation on the meaning of home. This is a fantastic book.

Author Blurb Kyle Minor, author of Praying Drunk
"I can't speak to Miroslav Penkov's standing among Bulgarian novelists, but now that I've read Stork Mountain, it is easy to say that Penkov is my favorite novelist publishing in America.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Nestinarstvo or Ritual Fire-Dancing

Nestinarstvo, or ritual fire-dancing, plays an important role throughout Stork Mountain.

The practice, which involves walking barefoot across burning coals, is specific to the Strandja Mountain region in southeast Bulgaria, an area that shares both borders and cultural ties with Greece. Indeed, it's believed that the rite originated with the ancient Thracian peoples of Greece as part of their cult of sun worship. As Christianity spread throughout the area, over the centuries the customs were gradually adapted so that they would fit into the new religious framework.

The dance is said to celebrate St. Constantine (the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, who gave Christianity legal standing) and his mother, St. Helene. As patron saints ...

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