Karabashliev, Zachary

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Zachary Karabashliev is a Bulgarian-born author, now living and writing in the U.S. His debut novel, 18% Gray, (Ciela Soft and Publishing, 2008) written and published in Bulgaria in his native language, is a bestselling title. It was chosen by anonymous vote as among the 100 most loved books of all time by Bulgarians in the BBC campaign The Big Read. It has been published in the U.S. by Open Letter Books with the support of the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation (2013).

Prizes for 18% Gray:

  • Bulgarian Novel of the Year Award in 2008 from the Edward Vick Foundation;
  • Flower of the Readers Award in 2008 from the largest bookstore chain in Bulgaria, Helicon;
  • Finalist for the Book of the Year Award in 2008, Helicon;
  • Finalist for the literary biennial Elias Canetti Award in 2008.

18% Gray has been praised for its literary merits and commercial success by critics and readers alike.

His second book, a collection of short stories, A Brief History of the Airplane (2009 by Ciela Soft and Publishing) won the Book of the Year Award in 2009, Helicon.

Zachary Karabashliev publishes short stories and essays for lifestyle magazines, literary journals and newspapers. He also writes for the theater. His play Recoil won the prestigious New Bulgarian Drama award in 2008. Sunday Evening won the most respected theater award in Bulgaria in 2009 an Askeer and is now running at Theater Sofia.

He resides in San Diego, California, with his wife and daughter.


Synopsis of the novel 18% Gray by Zachary Karabashliev

~84 000 words: plot-driven literary fiction

Stellas been gone nine mornings. Zack, her husband, is a thirty-something failed photographer, a Bulgarian ex-pat, now living in California, and holding a 9-to-5 job at a pharmaceutical corporation. Devastated by his wifes leaving, he crosses the border into Mexico for a night of alcohol and sex. There, he encounters a violent scene, and, trying to save a strangers life, nearly loses his own. He manages to escape in his assailants van and makes it back to the US, only to find a huge bag of marijuana in it.

Zack decides that instead of clocking-in the next morning, hell use the unintentionally smuggled marijuana as a means to change his life. The fact of the matter is, however, that he has never sold a single joint and has no idea how to turn weed into cash. The only man who can help him is Danny, a college friend, starving artist and small-time drug dealer in New York City. Danny arranges a meeting between Zack and a mysterious man who might be able to buy the marijuana wholesale.

Zack sets off for the East Coast with nothing but a large bag of cannabis and a vintage Nikon he salvages from a pawnshop. Through the lens of the old camera, he starts rediscovering himself by photographing an America we rarely see. His journey unleashes a series of erratic, hilarious, and life-threatening events. As he travels forward across country, the narrative slips backward in time to explore his obsessive romance with the emerging artist, Stella. The story shifts from present-day California to Eastern Europe in the late eighties, where it runs through an anti-communist student campus occupation and continues with the young couples exodus to Ohio. It flows briefly through France and climaxes in a contemporary loft high above Manhattan. There, Zack meets the enigmatic Boss, uncovers the story behind the bag of marijuana, and accepts the excruciating truth about the absence of Stella. Ultimately, he faces his biggest challenge to find his true purpose in a world seemingly governed by chance.

The novel has a number of well-drawn comic characters who serve as Zacks allies and adversaries. The most notable is Danny, whose day job is bubble wrapping million-dollar works of art auctioned off at Christies. Another one is Elijah Ellian overweight, redheaded vegan and unsuccessful screenwriter, obsessed with the idea of creating the perfect romantic comedy. The list continues with characters such as Ken (the good friend from Ohio), Hito (the Japanese fashion photographer), Bernard (the pretentious French artist), and others.

18% Gray is a suspenseful, darkly funny love story with a solid literary flavor. It is written in raw, poetic, and short-breathed cin?ma v?rit? style. The ending, twisted but inevitably logical, takes the reader back to the beginning.


Critical Reviews



  • Zachary Karabashliev:
    E-mail: zakaraba@gmail.com
    (619) 822 3904
    (619) 822 3904
    (858) 558 8608
    8929 Lombard Pl. Apt# 128
    San Diego, CA, 92122,

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