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, hidden confluences, and the worlds-within-worlds of mountains. I am completing a Balkan quartet where each book explores a different region of the southern Balkans, rich in nature-culture ecologies and scarred by political trauma. The first two are Border (2017) and To The Lake (2020). The latest is Elixir (2023).
I was born in November 1973 in Sofia, Bulgaria to scientist parents, and studied at the French Lycée in Sofia. Our family emigrated to New Zealand in 1992, 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 early 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 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.
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 River Beauly in the Highlands of Scotland.