Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Shadow Land - Elizabeth Kostova

Summary: From the #1 bestselling 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.
  (summary and pic from

My Review: I think that the best way to describe this book is to say that it is complex. It’s not complex in a way like your BioChem 200 textbook is, but it is complex in that it is many layered and the story is very involved. There are many characters, but enough that you need some sort of list at the beginning to refer back to. They are all contained in their own respective stories and Kostova is a competent author who can manage all of them.

The book starts with a flashback to a tragic situation in the main female character’s life. This situation is touched upon sometimes, but is actually kind of irrelevant and I think added a layer to the story that was unnecessary. Nothing ever comes to fruition about it and because of that I wouldn’t have missed it. I think people can be vulnerable and understand sadness and tragedy, especially in the situation that is upcoming.

Then the book moves to another part in the female protagonist’s life, the present day. As mentioned in the description, through a strange turn of events, she ends up with an urn and from there the story just takes off and has many complex and somewhat improbable twists and turns, although they weren’t completely impossible so that makes the story interesting.

So then it turns out that the book is actually a time hop book where we learn about the life of the man in the urn…and his family and friends and related people. Because of that, there is some time hopping inside the time hopping. And the history of Bulgaria is also in there, which I was unfamiliar with. It is tragic and horrible and reminiscent of other tragedies from that same area. I found this part to be the most surprising, actually. Good historical fiction has a way of bringing the past to life that I wholeheartedly appreciate and this book does just that. Kostova definitely brings to light a part of history that is just as tragic as the work camps during Nazi Germany, but is not as well known, and I appreciated that.

This book has some good twists and turns, some I saw coming and some I did not. Kostova is obviously a writer who is competent enough to juggle all of the complexities of the book and deal with the many layers even with the complexities, which I appreciated. When I finished the book my mind was kind of blown about how she was able to handle so much that was going on in such a graceful way.

As mentioned at the beginning of this review, I believe there was one layer of the protagonist’s story that could have been left out for simplicity’s sake. It didn’t really add to the story and with a book this complex and this deep, simplicity is a good thing.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This is a book with some sad and tragic events, including war violence. There is some minor language and sexual content but I think it is fairly clean considering the genre and the events. 

1 comment:

Jordan @ForeverLostinLiterature said...

So interesting to hear your thoughts on this one! I had extremely mixed feelings on this book. I also appreciated the many layers and stories that were created, but I just seemed to struggle to get through it for some reason. I agree that Kostova is extremely talented and does well at having so many layers. I also completely agree about the tragic situation in the main character's life - it just didn't seem to fit in as well as the other stories. Great review!


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