Book review: 'Cold Snap: Bulgaria Stories' by Cynthia Morrison Phoel

Cynthia Morrison Phoel’s (Bulgaria 1994-96) new book of stories, Cold Snapcold-snap1has just been published with great reviews in Booklist and Foreward Magazine. Cindy is out of Boston and doing readings, interviews, and meeting up with Bulgarian RPCVs. First off is a trip to Chicago where on Friday she will be interviewed on Chicago Public Radio, and for the Chicago Tribune. Then there is a reading at a Bulgarian restaurant in Chi-town with RPCVs. The restaurant is called “Bulgaria.” Cindy will read, take questions, and sign books, and, oh, drink beer! You can learn more at:

Meanwhile read this great review of Cold Snap that appeared  in the Dallas Morning News over the weekend. It was written by Anne Morris, a Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News, and a member of the National / The Dallas Morning News Circle.

It’s not unusual for a returning Peace Corps volunteer to write a book. So many have that it’s almost a subgenre. Cynthia Morrison Phoel’s debut collection of six stories set in a Bulgarian village represents that kind of fiction at its best. Phoel conveys a unique sense of place, yet creates characters whose problems we recognize.

The stories in Cold Snap are warm, quirky and sometimes funny. Her fictional village of Old Mountain is 60 kilometers east of Bulgaria’s capital city, Sofia, and feels even more remote. A place of extreme temperatures, bleak prospects, friendships of convenience and the presence of Dallas on TV, Old Mountain is a community of hopeful hardship. Its traits are best represented by Cucumber, the ugly street dog “owned by no one and cared for by all.”

In the first story, “A Good Boy,” Dobrin is a sensitive teenager who worries about his parents’ marriage. His father has again accepted electronics in place of needed pay. This time it’s a TV satellite dish, largest in the village, “and at night the dish looks larger than the moon.” The males watch sports and porn, while the long-suffering mother, a teacher of literature, lies down with a migraine.

In “Galia,” an only child’s parents smooth the way for her with bribes, hire a classmate to do her homework and buy her a husband. Attempting to provide Galia with certainty in life, they unknowingly take it away. Even her disgusting husband will tell her, “When I’m with you, I feel like I’m with nobody.”

In “Satisfactory Proof,” Plamen achieves a master’s degree in number theory but fails to see the needs of those around him. He has learned how to take but not how to give in return, his supportive father finally realizes.

“Never Trust a Man Who ___” takes readers into the village classroom where their teacher, Ms. Kuneva, does her best to teach the “young ladies and gentlemen” to speak English. In this often funny story, she shares her rocky life experiences, and the student dialogues involve her being “spurned, jilted, shunned and forsaken.”

In “I Guess That Counts for Something,” an old woman mourning her husband’s death bonds with a lonely boy who is visiting her neighbor. They fall into a pattern of playing a game in which each tries to impress the other with something they possess: two frogs mating, for example, or a perfect report card.

The final, novella-length story gives the book its title. As the village suffers freezing temperatures, waiting for central heat to be switched on, characters from the earlier stories reappear. Their problems peak as the cold deepens.

Behind in his homework and with problems at home, the teenage Dobrin sees no point to it all. “Even if he mastered the English language . . . he was still going to end up in some mildewing apartment with pigeons whirring in the bathroom vents and the cold everywhere around him.”

Then the book tells you, “Maybe not.” The heat comes on, and with it, some sense of hope.

When the book ends, you will not want to leave these people. Fortunately, you can read the stories again and learn a little more about Phoel’s village each time you do.

Anne Morris at

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