I am a writer of narrative prose and poetry. At the core of my work is a search for meaningful encounter with places and people. I am drawn to geographical and psychological margins, and historical confluences where myth meets linear time. I am completing a quartet where each book delves into a particular region of the southern Balkans. These are ancient realms of rich nature-culture ecologies, scarred by political trauma. The first two are Border (Granta 2017) and To The Lake (Granta 2020). Through intimate personal stories, they explore collective and ancestral pain against the backdrop of a natural wilderness. The following two are Elixir (Cape 2023) and Anima (Cape 2024). Through multiple narratives, they explore how humans, plants and animals are psychically and materially bound in an alchemical process that unfolds continuously. As the early eco-psychologists said: The mind is nature, nature – the mind.
I was born in November 1973 in Sofia, Bulgaria to scientist parents, and studied at the French Lycée in Sofia. In 1992, our family emigrated to New Zealand where I studied French and Russian Literature at Otago University, and English Literature and Creative Writing at Victoria University of Wellington. I have written poetry since early childhood. In the first years of life in New Zealand, I made a transition from my mother tongue Bulgarian to English as my primary literary language. My first published work from those years reflects this period: the poetry collections All roads lead to the sea and Dismemberment (Auckland University Press), and the novels Reconnaissance and Love in the Land of Midas (Penguin NZ). Reconnaissance won a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for best first novel in Asia-Pacific. All roads lead to the sea was awarded a NZ Montana Book Award.
In 2005 I emigrated to Edinburgh and wrote Street Without a Name (Granta 2008). It is a coming-of-age story (mine) in the twilight years of Communism and a journey across post-Communist Bulgaria. It was shortlisted for the Stanford-Dolman Travel Book Awards, and has Bulgarian, Swedish, Spanish and Turkish editions, with Italian and French editions forthcoming.
Twelve Minutes of Love (Granta 2011) blends a tale of obsession with a history of the Argentine tango. It was shortlisted for the Scottish Mortgage Investment Book Awards and published in Russian, Polish, Bulgarian, and Czech. A Croatian edition is forthcoming.
Villa Pacifica (Alma Books 2011) is a novel set in coastal Ecuador and came out at the same time. It was published in Spanish and Bulgarian under the same title.
My last poetry books are Someone else’s life (Bloodaxe/ AUP 2003) and Geography for the Lost (Bloodaxe/ AUP 2007). Some of these poems appear most recently in Anthology of Young European Poetry (Carl Hanser Verlag, 2019).
Border is an exploration of the triple borderland of Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece. Described by the British Academy Prize jury as ‘being about the essence of place and the essence of human encounter’, its human stories weave into a many-voiced narrative. The French edition of Border was awarded the Nicolas Bouvier Prize. It won the British Academy’s Book Prize for Global Cultural Understanding, the Saltire Scottish Book of the Year, the Edward Stanford-Dolman Travel Book of the Year, and the inaugural Highlands Book Prize. It was short-listed for the Baillie-Gifford Prize, the Bread and Roses Prize, the Duff Cooper Prize, the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Awards (USA), the Gordon Burn Prize, and the Central European Prize in Literature Angelus in Poland. Border was published in Bulgarian, German, Polish, Spanish, Italian, Danish, French, Greek, Turkish, Ukrainian, Romanian, Norwegian, Croatian, Serbian and Chinese. A Macedonian edition is due in 2024.
To The Lake explores the ancestral geography of two lakes. Joined by underground rivers, Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa are a biosphere millions of years old, now partitioned by three countries: Macedonia, Albania and Greece. My personal odyssey to the roots of my maternal family line becomes an enquiry into how generational suffering is perpetrated by war, and how to face the war within. To The Lake has been published in Bulgarian, Polish, German, French, Italian, Macedonian, Turkish, with a forthcoming Croatian edition. It was a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week. To the Lake was shortlisted for the Highland Book Prize, the Central European Prize Angelus, and won France’s Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger for non-fiction.
Elixir (Jonathan Cape/ Graywolf 2023) is an exploration of the symbiotic relationship between people, place and plants along the Mesta River and a search for a cure to what ails us in the Anthropocene.
I am bilingual in Bulgarian and English, and speak French and some Spanish and Russian. My reviews and essays have appeared in The Guardian, The Financial Times, The Times Literary Supplement, The Sunday Times, The Scottish Review of Books, The Economist 1843 Magazine, The New Statesman, Prospect Magazine, The NZ Listener, Metro Magazine NZ, Granta Magazine, World Literature Today, Tin House, Aeon, Belgium’s De Standaard, The Spectator, La Stampa, Vanity Fair, Traveller, Conde Nast, and Vogue.
In 2021, I joined the jury panels of the Prix Jan Michalski in Switzerland and the Highland Book Prize in Scotland. Before that I served on the jury panels for The Neustadt Prize 2019-2020, the 2019 Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival, and the 2017 International Dublin Book Award. I was a mentor for the philanthropic programme for young Bulgarian artists Cultural Perspectives/ ‘С усилия към звездите’, and for the Scottish Book Trust. In 2020-2021, I was non-resident Fellow at the Vienna Institute for Human Sciences (IWM).
Since 2011, I have lived by the Beauly River in the Highlands of Scotland.