From the best-selling author of The Historian comes an engrossing novel that spans the past and the present - and unearths the dark secrets of Bulgaria, a beautiful and haunted country.
A young American woman, Alexandra Boyd, has traveled to Sofia, Bulgaria, hoping that life abroad will salve the wounds left by the loss of her beloved brother. Soon after arriving in this elegant East European city, however, she helps an elderly couple into a taxi - and realizes too late that she has accidentally kept one of their bags. Inside she finds an ornately carved wooden box engraved with a name: Stoyan Lazarov. Raising the hinged lid, she discovers that she is holding an urn filled with human ashes.
As Alexandra sets out to locate the family and return this precious item, she will first have to uncover the secrets of a talented musician who was shattered by oppression - and she will find out all too quickly that this knowledge is fraught with its own danger.
Kostova's new novel is a tale of immense scope that delves into the horrors of a century and traverses the culture and landscape of this mysterious country. Suspenseful and beautifully written, it explores the power of stories, the pull of the past, and the hope and meaning that can sometimes be found in the aftermath of loss.
©2017 Elizabeth Kostova (P)2017 Random House Audio
Say something about yourself!
As she did with her novel The Historian, Kostova once again takes her readers deep into the landscapes of her own youth. The Shadow Land is a tale that begins in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, and unfurls through a perilous journey over the steep roads that wind up into the mountain villages. Kostova brings to life the dichotomy of a country that has one foot in its melancholy history and the other struggling to pull itself into a prosperous future. The views are rich and evocative, the thick dark forests, sharp overhangs of mountains, ancient monasteries, and cemeteries -- Kostova's portrayal of Bulgaria captures your imagination. But that is once you get into the story...
The writing is stunning and I found myself slowing down the audio speed just to linger over the sentences, the scenery, and the characters. All of those aspects are wonderful, masterfully done. Kostova's love of this country, her knowledge of its history, are evident. My own knowledge of Bulgaria's political background sharpened after reading the history that she weaves into the book. There are different stories, generations of players; fascinating characters that seem not of this time, imbued with a strength and depth of character that has been honed into them. They cling to their friends and neighbors through the years and over the miles, hanging onto their past like it is a secretly shared thread that binds them together, that keeps them alive.
I won't review the plot as it involves characters from a long ago past that have shaped the future, but want to express how richly this story expands, and how beautifully. The time spent in the forced labor camps recalls the outrage and cruelty we know from another period in history. The section that talks about the music of Vivaldi, the violin, the creative period of time when composers wrote so magically is outstanding. Even without the soundtrack, this music speaks that language beyond a language. It is a museum, an orchestra, a masterpiece, a history lesson in these sections. It is also a warning on the delicate nature of politics, the power of money and ambition.
However, the story initially moves very slowly, threatening to shake your interest. There are also some coincidences that are hard to accept smoothly. It becomes a cross-country game of unending tag that has to support a whole story. Lots of time in a cab, lots of salami breakfasts, lots of subversive politics. I'll admit it...after The Historian and the copious mentions of wolves, I was hoping this would take a turn toward The Historian and give me a classy werewolf surprise, something like Dracula in The Historian. But this deals with another kind of monster. I liked this, sometimes loved it; but, for all of its magnificence, it wasn't quite a 5* listen for me. Better than Swan Thieves -- not as good as The Historian.
Kostova's new book follows the excellent formula used in her previous two books. A contemporary mystery leads the protagonists to explore layered mysteries from the past. Shadow Land evokes the gravity of such books as 'All the Light We Cannot See' and 'The Nightingale.' But the historical setting for these complex and terrible events is simultaneously more exotic than the Western Europe of WWII and more shockingly near to us in our times.
The characters here are intricately drawn and the various plots unfold deliciously slowly in language that enchants. Interwoven are stories and folk tales of Bulgaria that illuminate its history and its people. The narrators are particularly well chosen to make the most of all the elements of this work.
Shadow Land is not light reading. It is, however, thoroughly engaging and entertaining. It is contemporary literature at its finest.
If you've enjoyed her previous works, you will not be disappointed by the Shadow Land. Written with rich descriptions of a place I'd never thought to travel to and somehow is now on my "to-go" list. It's also very poignant in this current climate, with so many countries in the world suffering from civil unrest. I finished it in just 2 days, I could hardly set it down.
This book certainly is timely, given the growth of extreme conservative politics around the world. We need to learn from the what's gone before us. Sadly, though, human's don't take history to heart.
Thanks to Ms. Kostova for personalizing the impacts of the extremes of the recent past on the lives of her characters. I was right there with them as the journey unfolded.
I'm going to read the book since I want to "hear" it in the voice, with inflections, that i imagine for Alexandra. Unfortunately, she was portrayed as a wimp by the reader, in what seemed a very unflattering and demeaning persona.
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