I am a writer of narrative non-fiction, poetry, and fiction. My work explores the alchemy between places and people, geopolitical ‘peripheries’, nexus of cultural confluence and conflict, and geographies both inner and outer. Border (2017) and To The Lake (2020) explore the ancient trans-boundary human geography of the southern Balkans. My ongoing work is set in the southern Balkans and the Highlands of Scotland. It takes further my narrative journey into nature and culture, trauma and transformation. The meeting of the human and more-than-human worlds now drives my explorations.
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 (BAHon), and English Literature and Creative Writing at Victoria University of Wellington (MFA). While living in New Zealand, I published 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 moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, and wrote my first book of narrative non-fiction. Street Without a Name (Granta 2008) is a coming-of-age story in the twilight years of totalitarian Communism and an unsentimental journey across post-Communist Bulgaria. It was shortlisted for the Stanford-Dolmann Travel Book Awards, and has Bulgarian, Swedish, Spanish, French and Turkish editions, with an Italian edition forthcoming.
The memoir-history Twelve Minutes of Love (Granta 2011) blends a tale of obsession with a history of the Argentine tango, the music of early-20th century 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 with a coastal Ecuadorian setting, 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). My poetry is anthologized, most recently in Anthology of Young European Poetry (Carl Hanser Verlag, 2019).
Border: a journey to the edge of Europe (Granta/ Graywolf 2017) is an exploration of the remote triple borderlands of Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece where two continents meet and where the easternmost stretch of the Iron Curtain ran. 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 polyphonic narrative of the south-east Balkans, told through the prism of the border. It casts light on border culture, people’s relationship with land, and how borderlines shape human destiny through time.
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 Al-Rodhan 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), in German as Die Letzte Grenze (Paul Zsolnay Verlag 2018), in Polish as Granica (Czarne 2019), in Spanish as Frontera (Armaenia 2019), in Italian as Confine (EDT 2019), in Danish as Den Sidste Graense (Informations Forlag 2019), in French as Lisière (Marchialy 2020/ J’ai lu 2021), in Greek as Synoro (Brainfood 2020), in Turkish as Sinir (SaltOkur 2020), in Serbian as Granica (Geopoetika 2021), in Ukrainian as Cordon (Tempora 2021). Chinese, Romanian, Croatian, and Norwegian editions are forthcoming.
I am bilingual in Bulgarian and English, 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, The NZ Listener, Metro Magazine NZ, Granta Magazine, World Literature Today, Tin House, Aeon, Belgium’s De Standaard, The Spectator, Vanity Fair, 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 mentor for the philanthropic programme for young Bulgarian artists Cultural Perspectives/ ‘С усилия към звездите’, and for the Scottish Book Trust.
Since 2010 I have lived in the Highlands of Scotland.
My latest book, To The Lake (Granta/ Graywolf 2020) explores the human geography of two ancient lakes. Joined by underground rivers, Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa are a biosphere three million years old now partitioned among three countries: Macedonia, Albania and Greece. As I journey to my maternal place of origin, I encounter a historic hub once crowned by the Roman Via Egnatia. The ancestral journey unfolds to a broader enquiry into how geopolitics imprint themselves upon individuals, families and nations, and how the cycle of human suffering can be transcended. To The Lake has editions in Bulgarian, Polish, German, French. Forthcoming are editions in Turkish, Macedonian, and Italian.
To the Lake was shortlisted for the Highland Book Prize.
My next book is Elixir (Jonathan Cape 2022).
In 2020-2021 I was non-resident Fellow of Europe’s Futures at the Vienna Institute for Human Sciences (IWM).