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 and their inhabitants. Increasingly I am compelled to explore the tug between human and more-than-human ways of being. I am completing a Balkan quartet. 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).
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 and prose 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 transitional 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.
The memoir-history Twelve Minutes of Love (Granta 2011) blends my tale of obsession with a history of the Argentine tango, a music of exile. It was shortlisted for the Scottish Mortgage Investment Book Awards and published in Russian, Polish, Bulgarian, and Czech.
Villa Pacifica (Alma Books 2011), a novel set in coastal Ecuador, 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 mountainous 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 stories weave into a many-voiced narrative told through the prism of the border.
The French edition of Border was awarded the special mention at the Prix du livre européen and won 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 as Граница (Janet 45), German as Die Letzte Grenze (Paul Zsolnay Verlag 2018), Polish as Granica (Czarne 2019), Spanish as Frontera (Armaenia 2019), Italian as Confine (EDT 2019), Danish as Den Sidste Graense (Informations Forlag 2019), French as Lisière (Marchialy 2020/ J’ai lu 2021), Greek as Synoro (Brainfood 2020), Turkish as Sinir (SaltOkur 2020), Ukrainian as Кордон (Tempora 2021), Romanian as Frontiera (Pandora), Norwegian as Grensen (Capellen Damm 2022), Croatian as Granica (OceanMore 2022). Serbian and Chinese editions are forthcoming.
I am bilingual in English and Bulgarian, and read French, 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.
I was a juror 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).
In 2021 I joined the jury panels of the Prix Jan Michalski in Switzerland and the Highland Book Prize in Scotland.
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 into the roots of my maternal family line unfolds to a broader enquiry into how generational suffering is perpetrated by war, and how to face the war within ourselves. To The Lake has been published in Bulgarian, Polish, German, French, Italian, Macedonian, and is forthcoming in Turkish. It was a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week. To the Lake was shortlisted for the Highland Book Prize and won France’s Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger for non-fiction.
Elixir (Jonathan Cape/ Graywolf 2023) is a book of ailing, healing, and dreaming with the people and plants of the Mesta River. It is the third book in the Balkan quartet.
Since 2011, I have lived by a river called Beauly in the Highlands of Scotland.