Out now - new novel by the IAS 2019/20 Writer in Residence Alek Popov
“The East is a subtle affair…”
From the Soviet movie, White Sun of the Desert (1970)
The descendants of the ancient Bulgarians have been found! The question is - who will they vote for?
In faraway Turan, a small backward republic in central Asia, an expedition from faraway Bulgaria, a developed, rich country within the EU, searches for the cradle of the once-great Bulgarian nation. Professor Nestorov is convinced that the locals are direct descendants of the proto-Bulgarians and is ready to measure thousands of heads to prove his theory. And elections will soon take place in Bulgaria. The nation suffers from a demographic decline, the rating of politicians is falling. What could be better than finding new Bulgarian voters to cast the appropriate ballot? The historical mission to integrate the newly found blood brothers falls upon Professor Dokuzanov, the chief ideologue of the Keepers Order News TV Channel, an expert in the construction of authentic ancient fortresses, a peddler of myths and ceremonial wine mugs made from the skulls of long-dead Byzantine soldiers.
A dizzying series of absurd and comic situations ensues. Popov transports the reader into an exotic world of adventure and tumultuous love affairs, of dictators and free steppe riders, a world of songs, shamanic spells, and dancing on the thin ice of big politics. But under the star-covered dome, in the vast steppe, eternal questions continue to flare up: who are we, where do we come from, why are we here?
An allegorical story, as absurd as it is plausible, in which the small folk are nothing more than a bargaining chip. But their free will, which is seldom held into account, can disrupt the geostrategic plans of the fat cats. And maybe even change the ethnic map of old Europe...
Alek Popov's healing laughter comes to help us outlive our national complexes and delusions about our glorious past and look at the future with new eyes.
Mission Turan comes exactly twenty years after the release of Mission London, the emblematic first novel by Alek Popov, translated in 17 languages so far. Mission Turan started out as a movie project and gradually acquired the texture of prose. The “quest for roots” is the core theme around which issues of corruption, demographic crisis, fears of migration and lack of democracy revolve. The novel takes an ironic approach to the phenomenon of rising nationalism in Eastern Europe and tries to see it in the broader context of the search for identity – a trend unfolding on various levels in post-modern societies all over the world. The plot is set in an imaginary land: the remote post-Soviet republic of Turan – the supposed cradle of the ancient Bulgarian civilization, ruled by an unscrupulous local autocrat.
Although a work of fiction, Mission Turan is based on long and meticulous researches. Following the steps of his main characters, the author ventured out to South Siberia disguised as an anthropologist. He also spent several months in Budapest as a writer in residence with the Institute of Advanced Studies at CEU to explore the Hungarian tradition of the "quest for roots" drawing inspiration from the exploits of Arminius Vambery and Sándor Csoma de Kőrös.
Alek Popov is the author of several novels: Mission London, The Black Box, The Palaveev Sisters in the Storm of History, The Palaveev Sisters on the Road to the New World; the collection of essays The Radical Thinker’s Companion, as well as a series of short story collections, including Advanced Level, Transition Myths, Body Weeds, etc. He is among the most translated and read Bulgarian writers with more than 40 books published abroad. Alek Popov is the co-author of the screenplay of the film Mission London, based on his eponymous novel, as well as of several plays staged nationally and internationally. He has won a number of literary recognitions, including: the Helikon Award for New Bulgarian Prose (2002, 2013); the National Drama Award Ivan Radoev; the Elias Canetti Prize, the Helicon Flower for the best-selling book of 2007 and 2013, the British Pen Center Award for Literature in Translation, the ProzaBalkan Award for Contribution to Balkan Literature (2019) and others. Alek Popov is a corresponding member of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences in the department of Arts.