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The Shadow Land

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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.

478 pages, Hardcover

First published April 11, 2017

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About the author

Elizabeth Kostova

19 books4,395 followers
Elizabeth Kostova was born Elizabeth Z. Johnson in New London, Connecticut and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee where she graduated from the Webb School of Knoxville. She received her undergraduate degree from Yale University and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Michigan, where she won the 2003 Hopwood Award for her Novel-in-Progress. She is married to a Bulgarian scholar and has taken his family name.

Her first novel, The Historian, was published in 2005 and it has become a best-seller.

In May 2007, the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation was created. The Foundation helps support Bulgarian creative writing, the translation of contemporary Bulgarian literature into English, and friendship between Bulgarian authors and American and British authors.

Kostova released her second novel The Swan Thieves on January 12, 2010. Her third novel, The Shadow Land, was released in 2017.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,444 reviews
Profile Image for Linda.
1,291 reviews1,331 followers
February 7, 2017
"A land that looked nearly untouched by history, a Grimms' fairy tale setting in Alexandra's eyes."

And here's where your own eyes come into favor with an Elizabeth Kostova novel. Bring with you an openness that views life, not only in the here and now, but in times past. Our modern vision tends to view most things from a slanted perspective. As if such atrocities never existed. As if humanity did not drink from the cup of indifference. As if Bulgaria and its people did not live, at a time, in the dark shadows where breathing was a luxury.

Alexandra Boyd arrives in Sofia, Bulgaria seeking the solace of being on different footing than her existence in America. She had lost her brother, Jack, in a hiking accident for which she encases herself in the heaviness of guilt. An English teaching position will keep her more than occupied. As she battles the traffic in the crowded streets, she steps on the curb in order to hail a taxi. An old woman, a sick, elderly man in a wheelchair, and a tall, dark haired man attempt the same action. They smile and exchange conversation in their limited English. Alexandra snaps a photo and wishes them well as she helps them and their baggage into a taxi.

What transpires hereafter will take you quite by surprise. Alexandra looks down and notices that the little traveling party has inadvertently left behind a black bag. Upon opening it, she beholds a hand-carved box containing an urn filled with ashes and engraved with the name Stoyan Lazarov.

Our Alexandra has a king's ransom of guilt deep within her soul from her brother's death. She left him on a mountain path alone and trudged on without him. This time would be different. This was someone's loved one who would not be left behind. So Alexandra takes on this mission to find the Lazarov family. She hails a taxi driven by Bobby who will become her greatest ally in Bulgaria.

Kostova presents a storyline imbued with Bulgarian history of the past that seeps into the present and saturates it profoundly. The emphasis is on a journey taken so readily by Alexandra with hope lining the windshield. The Shadow Land is rich with its characterizations. Kostova goes deep. You feel the remorse of Alexandra that parallels with the penitent nature that gnaws through many of the other characters. Each individual along the winding roads serves as a stepping stone in the search to find the Lazarov family.

If you've read anything by Elizabeth Kostova before, you know that she hands over a weighty novel. This one is no exception. Kostova is an stellar storyteller by her very nature. Be prepared for that as she takes you through the winding streets of Sofia and beyond. But the underlining message is what drives humanity in this world. Is it the true essence of kindness in the likes of Alexandra or is it something far darker and more menacing below the depths of blackened hearts?

I received a copy of The Shadow Land through the Giveaways on Goodreads. My thanks to Random House/Ballantine Books for the opportunity as well as to Elizabeth Kostova.
Profile Image for Always Pouting.
575 reviews760 followers
June 11, 2017
I really liked this novel, the characters had depth and I got to learn a lot because I didn't know much about Bulgaria. The pacing was good too and I honestly did not know where the story was leading which was nice because I hate reading mysteries and knowing ten pages in what's going to happen. That said I found it kind of awkward the way point of view kept switching, not just from person to person but from first person to third as well. It interrupted the flow and was not needed. Also the way the book was divided up into chapters but would divide a chapter up in the middle of the narrative when something was happening was pretty annoying as well. The beginning was slow but about half way it picked up and I really enjoyed the parts that were from the past especially. I do think a lot of the stuff could have been cut off from the story line without taking away from the plot. The ending was also unnecessary, they could have ended it a chapter or so before. Still I really enjoyed the book and I liked the writing very much, most of the problems with the book were just about writing too much which I think is a preferable problem to things like boring plots or flat two dimensional characters.

Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,783 reviews14.2k followers
April 9, 2017
Almost from the beginning I found the story problematic, the storyline that leads to the books true purpose struck me as unbelievable. If you visited a foreign country, didn't know the language, stopped to help someone, and found you mistakenly had come to posses the ashes of someone who belongs to the people you helped, would you travel around the country trying to return said ashes? Would you get into a cab, the driver a young man you do not know, and travel back and forth across the country, now mind you no one knows where you are, trying to find these people? I do mean back, and forth for over half the book, a few clues gathered here and there.

On the plus side the descriptions of the country were beautiful, Bulgaria a country I am not very familiar with, but the receptiveness and the tedium of learning the same thing, just in different cities really slowed the pacing. The last third of the book when we learn of the imprisonment of the man who is now ashes, his treatment and the treatment of the other prisoners was the best part, the strongest writing and the most interesting.

In my opinion this book is best suited to those who can suspend belief and accept the basic premise. If you are the type of, person who can pan for gold for four days or so just to come up, with a few nuggets, then this book will work better, it does require patience. Many readers, from some of the ratings, are these type of readers, I am not. Grab me quick and don't let go is my reading motto.

There were some nuggets of gold here, the music, Vivaldi being a safe place and I adore that musicians music. The scenery as I said was gorgeous, learning a bit about a country new to me, all pluses and some of this countries history.. Just don't know if I would have had the patience to persevere to discover these if this wasn't a buddy read with Angela and Esil.

ARC from publisher.
Profile Image for Arah-Lynda.
337 reviews533 followers
February 12, 2017
Alexandra Boyd has travelled from America to Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital city.  She chose Bulgaria largely due to her brother’s fascination with the area in a geographical game they used to play as children.  Since Jack is no longer able to make this dream a reality Alexandra has gone in his stead, arranging a teaching post to augment her scant resources.  

Shortly after her arrival at the wrong hotel in Sofia, she reaches out to prevent an older woman from a near fall and in her efforts then to assist the lady and her travelling companions, she inadvertently ends up in possession of one of their bags.  

The bag contains an urn of human remains and Alexandra is understandably distressed by her accidental misappropriation of such a personal item.   She resolves immediately to do whatever possible to return the urn, with her apologies to the travelling trio she met briefly at the hotel.  In the process she meets and befriends Bobby, the taxi driver.  ( I confess I developed a little crush on Bobby)

Despite her resolve, locating the rightful owners of the urn, who Alexandra has since learned contains the ashes of a deceased musician named Stoyan Lazarov, proves difficult and leads Alexandra and her taxi driver Bobby across the country and up into the mountainous regions of Bulgaria.

Each new stop reveals a little more of Stoyan’s history and the political unrest of the times through which he lived.  Stoyan’s history is told through a series of flashbacks, involving communist labour camps and the inhumane deprivation of political prisoners. Their treatment is so merciless and unsparing,  that in order to survive, Stoyan has to escape to a place of his own building, deep within the recesses of his mind.  Brilliantly handled by Kostova.   His is a past full of secrets with disturbing ties to the current day political landscape of Bulgaria.  

But Stoyan’s past is also full of music and Kostova’s description of this, his first love, as Stoyan plays his beloved violin,  is stunning in it’s power to transport the reader.  I felt as though I too were standing in that tiny bakery, listening with bated breath, heart swelling,  as Vivaldi's notes danced and rippled through the architecture of my ears.

Alexandra has her own history to overcome.  Her brother Jack disappeared forever years ago on a hiking expedition with her family, and Alexandra harbors her own feelings of guilt about the role she played on that fateful day, and it is perhaps this very need to atone for her own perceived sins, that is the driving force behind her resolve to return Stoyan’s ashes to their rightful resting place.  

I thoroughly enjoyed this trip across Bulgaria and no doubt learned something of it’s history in the process, without ever leaving the comfort of my armchair.  Not a bad way to travel.

My thanks to Text Publishing, Elizabeth Kostova and NetGalley for the opportunity and pleasure of reading this advance copy.
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,363 followers
April 8, 2017
Barely 3 stars. The Shadow Land felt like two books. One of them was heart wrenching but really good. The other one was long, meandering, pointless and implausible. Alexandra travels from the US to Bulgaria to teach English and get away from some sadness in her life at home. Immediately upon arriving in Bulgaria, she has a chance encounter with a Bulgarian family that leads to a luggage mix up, and she ends up with a bag containing an urn with human ashes. The rest of the book consists of a long chase in the company of Bobby the taxi driver to return the ashes to the rightful owners. As the story progresses, we get the back story about the guy in the urn. The backstory was good. It gave me insight into Bulgaria's history, and some of the atrocities suffered under the communist regime in that country. The contemporary story was frankly silly. That Alexandra would get into such a situation was beyond improbable. The endless travel from one place to another was tiresome. And the underlying mystery about why the family is so hard to track down hinges on way too many coincidences. Which is unfortunate because buried in there is an interesting and emotionally engaging story about Bulgaria's past. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an opportunity to read an advance copy. And thanks to GR friends Angela and Diane for another great buddy read -- I definitely enjoyed the company if not the book.
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,309 reviews2,191 followers
April 6, 2017

There are a number of things that I liked about this book and some that didn't work so well for me, leaving me with a rating of 3 stars and an extra half star for the dead man whose ashes and life become the focus of the novel. I found myself very engaged in Alexandra's story initially. The back and forth in time giving us a view of her past, how she came to Bulgaria and the deep loss she feels about losing her brother Jack, was very moving . I was engaged in the search she embarks on with Bobby, a taxi driver she connects with, to return a bag with the ashes of a man named Stoyan Lazarov, that she mistakenly comes to have in her possession. I loved the descriptions of the places in Bulgaria where they traveled and learning a bit of this country's history. I loved the historical sections of the book where we discover the man whose ashes they carry around . This for me is where the story comes to life.

At some point, though the search felt like a wild goose chase and I just wanted it to be over. I only became reengaged when the story focused on Stoyan, the only character I felt was fully realized. He was the only character I felt I knew and I have to give that extra half star for how the gut wrenching story of his time in a prison camp and his passion as a musician lets the reader know him . It was both heartbreaking and uplifting that he imagines playing his violin, his beloved Vivaldi to keep from losing himself. What we know about Alexandra and Bobby come to us in snippets of facts not through seeing who they are through what they do. I didn't get why there was such a mystery about Bobby and knowing earlier that he was more than just an activist taxi driver wouldn't have made a difference to the story if we knew earlier. While I enjoyed parts of this book, it felt somewhat overwritten at times.

Thanks once again to my friends Diane and Esil for our third read together. It's always a pleasure to be enlightened by their thoughts!

I received an advanced copy of this from Text Publishing through NetGalley.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,802 reviews2,384 followers
March 17, 2017

4.5 Stars

This book is a train with many cars, the old kind, moving clumsily along a track at night. One car contains a small supply of coal, which splits out into the passageway when an internal door is opened. You have to step over piles of slippery black grit to get through the corridor. Another car contains grain, shipped for export. One car is full of musicians and instruments and cheap overnight bags, nearly half an orchestra sitting according to their friendships and rivalries in the seats of the second-class compartments. Another car contains bad dreams. The final train car has no seats but instead is full of sleeping men, who lie crushed together on their coats in the dark. The door to that one has been nailed shut from the outside.

Alexandra Boyd is seeking something, a peace of some kind she’s unable to find at home in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, a home where she once roamed with her brother Jack. Where Jack walks no more, missing since the day they had an argument and she told him to “get lost.” Trying to get away from all the memories for a while, she arrives in Sofia, Bulgaria with an upcoming teaching position, teaching English to Bulgarian students. Bulgaria – Jack’s favourite country on the atlas when they were young, which was that perfect shade of green. Alexandra’s favourite always Yugoslavia.

"A land that looked nearly untouched by history, a Grimms' fairy tale setting in Alexandra's eyes."

She had shown the note with the name of the hostel written in Cyrillic script, to the Airport taxi driver, and trusted him to deliver her to the correct place. After she’s dropped off, she realizes too late that this is not the place, and in her confusion she ends up standing next to an older woman, an elderly man in a wheelchair, and another, younger, man while they’re trying to hail taxis. A brief conversation ensues, their English is sufficient for that. She is so pleased with meeting such friendly people, she asks if she could take a photo of the first people to be kind to her in this country, so new to her. With bags placed in proximity, amid the need to get the elderly man in the cab first, a bag of theirs ends up among Alexandra’s things, and it is only after she is safely in her own taxi driving some minutes away that she realizes the mistake. And even later, she realizes the gravity of that mistake. It isn’t just someone else’s precious family possession she holds in her hands – it’s their actual family – an urn containing the prah, their ashes.

Kostova effortlessly weaves in fairly-tales, horror stories of prisoners in camps, the beauty of so many places in Bulgaria, love stories, and messages of hope. Some parts are heartbreakingly sad, horrifying, other parts let enough of the good through, so you can breathe easily and calm your heart, and perhaps even charm you. All through, the past that haunts Bulgaria is woven through this story until it meets the present, those who know of the stories but never really knew.

Music is a profound presence in this story, as one of the main characters of the past was a violinist, classically trained, and I found myself wishing I could listen to these pieces as I read through those sections. The descriptions of various locations are often so lovely that I would pause and read them once more. I felt as if I had been transported to the setting, again and again, by music or the magic and power of Kostova’s writing.

There is a part that deals with the ugliness of the past, a past we know a variation of, or think we know, or maybe even know a bit about it. We’ve heard or seen a paragraph or two or a documentary or perhaps saw a special show on it once upon a time. And we���ve become complacent thinking this was so long ago, it’s the past and not the present – and, perhaps more importantly, we didn’t live it. People die, ideas don’t. They return, reincarnate. We need to remember that people let this happen. Allowed this to happen, maybe even when they didn’t want it to happen.

Overall, this is lovely. An assessment of the power we have to find significance and faith, optimism in the past, despite the despair. To remember, to cherish those things worth cherishing and to leave behind those things that have the power to destroy.

I will remember you, will you remember me?
Don't let your life pass you by
Weep not for the memories

- Sarah McLachlan “I Will Remember You”


Pub Date: 11 Apr 2017

Many thanks for the ARC provided by Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine!
Profile Image for Liz.
2,149 reviews2,770 followers
March 23, 2017
Alexandra’s brother disappears on a family hike when he is 16 and she's 14. As a twenty-six year old, she travels to Sophia, Bulgaria because it was her brother’s desire to have traveled there. She has no sooner arrived that she accidentally picks up a suitcase that contains someone’s ashes. And so it begins. This is a beautifully written, wonderfully detailed book. Kostova paints a picture with each chapter so that you can visually picture everything happening. You feel as much the outsider as Alexandra, trying to make heads or tails of this country with a language that you don't speak that sounds nothing like English and doesn't even share an alphabet. You gradually are given the story of the man whose ashes Alexandra is carrying around.

There is a bit of mystery to this story. Not only the story of Stoyan Lazerov, but why is someone following Alexandra and Bobby, her taxi driver/friend and damaging his car.

I knew next to nothing about Bulgaria’s history. This novel takes your through most of the 20th century. Politics play a large part in this book, both present and past. There is a candidate running on a campaign of “against corruption” with a “purity” angle. This takes place in 2008 but hits close to home with the current anti-immigration movements in the EU and US. One of the most telling lines in the book is “There you are, Bird… In your country you don't care about history and in my country, we cannot recover from it.”

This is not a fast paced novel. It takes its time, moving from location to location, time to time. I felt that Stoyan’s time in the labor camp was especially slow and would have been better if compressed.

The ending isn't believable but it is satisfying. Of course, the entire premise of the book isn’t what you’d call believable. Ther are way too many coincidences and lots of leaps of faith required. But if you’re willing to suspend your critical thoughts about that, the book is very enjoyable.
My thanks to netgalley and Random House/Ballantine Books for an advance copy of this nove
Profile Image for Emma.
986 reviews1,006 followers
March 25, 2017
The language in this book is beautiful, mesmerising and detailed. If you wish to get lost in the wonder of Bulgaria, then this is the closest you'll get to the experience of being there without actually going. It made me want to pack bag and head off into the unknown, to feel that sense of trepidation and excitement that only happens when you go to a place you've never been before and don't speak the language.

But...that's where the talent lies in this book. The words are perfectly crafted and evocative, but they have no real meaning as a function of the overall narrative. Unless you consider again the value of the language, so much of it is unnecessary. The plot never finds itself, it has wandered so far from the path that the reader feels adrift. Those intrepid ones who stick it out till the end are far from rewarded, it stretches the boundaries of belief too far.

ARC via Netgalley
Profile Image for Susan.
2,701 reviews594 followers
March 3, 2017
This novel is by Elizabeth Kostova, who is, of course, best known for her wonderful novel, “The Historian.” As such, if you are looking for more of the same, you may well be disappointed by this novel, which would be a shame. This is a very different book, but it contains much that is very special indeed and is – as you would expect – beautifully written.

The story begins with a young American woman named Alexandra Boyd, who has travelled to Sofia in Bulgaria, in order to teach and to recover from the loss of her beloved brother, Jack in a hiking accident. It is obvious that Alexandra blames herself for the loss and that she has travelled to Sofia, largely as it was a country that Jack always wanted to visit.

On her very first day, in the first in a long line of odd events, she is taken by her taxi to the wrong hotel. Tired, disorientated and yet knowing that she cannot afford the expensive hotel she has been dropped at, she turns to take another taxi. While waiting, she speaks to a group of people, including an elderly couple and another man. One of their party is in a wheelchair and, while assisting them into a taxi, Alexandra finds herself left behind with one of their bags. Burdened with her own luggage, she does not realise this until she is in her own taxi, driven by the man who is to become her companion on the strange journey she is about to embark on.

For, inside the bag is an urn, containing the ashes of a man named Stoyan Lazarov and Alexandra and cab driver, Bobby, set off to find the relatives of Stoyan Lazarov and return them. Along the way, Alexandra will discover the life story of the man whose ashes she carries so carefully and, through his life story, the history of the beguiling, beautiful and, often difficult, history of the country that is Bulgaria.

It is also the story of how Alexandra herself comes to terms with her own history and a place for herself in the world. This is a very moving, quietly deceptive novel, which you need to take at a slower pace – very much character, rather than plot, driven and masterfully written. I received a copy of the book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.

Profile Image for Susan.
1,062 reviews200 followers
March 29, 2017
This is a love story to the country of Bulgaria. It's a place I can safely say, I have not thought much about before this book. It's always been one of those gray places behind the Iron Curtain to me but I have a different view now. It's a place of history and great beauty and a wonderful place to explore.

Alexandra is still recovering from the sudden and unexpected death of her brother in a tragic accident when she decides to go to Bulgaria, a place he had always wanted to visit. She is going to teach English there. Nothing goes right. The taxi takes her to the wrong hotel and she runs into some people having problems getting in their taxi so she helps out. When they leave she discovers she has one of their bags and it contains human ashes. Alexandra makes it her mission to return the ashes.

She runs into a helpful taxi driver who remarkably speaks English. They go on an adventure to discover the people and return the bag but it turns out there is much more to the story and they are being pursued and the people have mysteriously disappeared. As she wanders around Bulgaria it enfolds in front of us. There are villages with stone houses built into mountains, wooden house villages by the sea and monasteries. It becomes apparent that this is a moving travelogue to Bulgaria disguised in a mystery. It's very effective.

They learn more about the man whose ashes they have and the history of Bulgaria unfolds. It centers around Russian labor camps where enforced labor was used to mine rocks. I must be getting old because man's inhumanity to man becomes harder and harder to understand and what happens in the Labor Camp is inhuman.

And it is at the Labor Camp that the story really speaks to me. It shows what as humans we are able to endure. How people are treated so harshly and yet survive. I can tell you that I don't feel like I could endure long with a breakfast of a polluted cup of water with a smear of jam on the lip and then go out break up stones. Yet they do day after day. It also speaks to what sustains us in times of trouble. What makes you get out of bed every morning and live through the trials. I am in awe of what people can do.

The ending was a little pat to me but it didn't matter. It's almost besides the point because the story is about so much more. It speaks to the human soul. I loved this book and it will stay with me for a long time.
Profile Image for Purple Country Girl (Sandy).
150 reviews24 followers
March 23, 2017
I received a copy of The Shadow Land from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.


I really wanted to like this one but I struggled with it from almost the beginning. I love historical fiction and I especially love it when there are parallel past and present stories being told. I should have known, however, that it might not work for me as reviews of Elizabeth Kostova’s other novels run the gamut from superb to long and boring.

Unfortunately, in this case, The Shadow Land is slow and very wordy. Her writing, when it is not overly descriptive and repetitive, is lovely but there are so many instances where an editor could have gone in and easily slimmed things down. I think the biggest issue for me is the modern day portion of the story. It is so monotonous and exasperating at times. The past story is more interesting but I found navigating through the present narrative turned me off the book.

The present account follows Alexandra Boyd who has come to Sofia, Bulgaria, for a position teaching English. After an interesting chance meeting with an elderly man and woman and the younger man accompanying them, she gets a taxi to take her to her hostel. On the way, she discovers she has accidentally picked up one of their bags and, when she opens it, she discovers an urn full of ashes inside. The only clue she has is an engraving: Stoyan Lazarov. She asks the taxi driver to take her to the police but instead of leaving the bag and urn with them, she decides to take them with her and try to find the owners. The taxi driver, a man named Bobby, agrees to drive her to the monastery that the younger man had mentioned they planned to visit. The trio is not there and they do not appear to have been there and this begins Alexandra’s countryside tour of Bulgaria with a complete stranger.

This is where I started to tune out. I found her need to scour the Bulgarian countryside for the owners of the urn to be an odd choice (supposedly partially motivated by her guilt over her brother’s disappearance when they were kids). Sure, she feels bad about picking up the bag but she’s never been to this country before and she doesn’t even speak the language. Bobby is oddly accommodating in her need to traipse around Bulgaria. They begin at an address provided by a policeman as a possible starting point for them to find information on the trio. After they visit that address, they ping all over the countryside, visiting various people who relate the sad tale of Stoyan Lazarov, a violinist. Lazarov’s tale is harsh, illustrating the horrors and violence of the past and the political unrest of the time - the effects of which are still felt in the modern story.

But it just drags. There was a time I devoured big, fat historical novels but maybe I’ve grown impatient with overly wordy writing. I felt like there was a lot that could have been removed and it would not have affected the plot. Another thing that really bugs me is the tenses. The book starts with Alexandra’s third person POV. Then the book rolls back to over a decade ago when her brother disappeared and, all of sudden, it is in Alexandra’s first person POV. With the past sections concerning Stoyan Lazarov, they are related in third person and at some point switch to Lazarov’s first person POV. It’s very confusing and inconsistent.

I also think I was maybe mislead, or read too much into, the book description. It made me believe it would be on the suspenseful side but there was no suspense, just some major doses of corruption. The Shadow Land is definitely a miss for me which is disappointing as I was really looking forward to getting lost in this story, instead I just wanted to get away from it.
Profile Image for Judy.
1,711 reviews297 followers
June 26, 2017
If you loved The Historian as much as I did and even if you didn't love The Swan Thieves to the same degree (I loved it in a different way from Elizabeth Kostova's first novel), you will probably love The Shadow Land. In each book, we have a literary writer who also never fails to include mystery, romance and the sense of a thriller while covering parts of history that at least I did not know before.

Alexandra Boyd is similar to other female characters in Ms Kostova's books. At first I found her a little too bewildered and passive, but then at the beginning of the story she had just arrived in Bulgaria after more than 24 hours of air travel, jet-lagged, under slept and a stranger to the country. As the novel progressed she proved to have a strong sense of what she felt was right and to follow that sense despite fear and doubt.

The ashes she mistakenly came to possess on that groggy morning in Sophia turn out to be the remains of the talented violinist Stoyan Lazarov, who was prevented from living the life of a celebrated touring musician because of the political turmoil of his home country. He spent years in Communist work camps where his hands were ruined and his dreams destroyed.

In order to return the musician's remains to his family, Alexandra must learn the history of Lazarov's life and penetrate a great deal of secrecy and fear. She turns out to be a determined young woman with an abundance of courage.

Once again I learned the history of a country I could barely find on a map. There is so much to learn about the world that I don't like to spend time berating my ignorance. A novel that can teach me so much in under 500 pages while keeping me on the edge of my seat the whole time as well as introducing me to such vivid characters is something extra special. I even got some insight into the current political scene in the world.

Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Amy (my_bibliophilia).
133 reviews191 followers
April 5, 2018
*****4.7 stars.*****

Después de unos días digiriendo este fabuloso libro, aquí estoy plasmar todo lo que me transmitió esta lectura.

Empecemos por el argumento: Alexandra Boyd es una chica estadounidense que viaja a Sofía, la capital de Bulgaria (yo no sabía ese dato hasta empezar el libro), con la esperanza de que un cambio de aire en el extranjero le ayuden a superar la pérdida de su hermano mayor. LLegando a la ciudad, ayuda a una pareja de ancianos a abordar un taxi y accidentalmente se queda con una de sus bolsas. Dicha bolsa contiene una caja labrada con un nombre: Stoyan Lazarov, y dicha caja contiene cenizas humanas.

"La historia de mi vida la dejaré en mi música."

A partir de allí, Alexandra emprende un viaje por toda Bulgaria con el fin de locarizar a la familia de Stoyan Lazarov, teniendo que, inesperadamente, develar los secretos del pasado de un músico talentoso cuyos sueños y metas se vieron trucados por una guerra y el comunismo.

"Año 1944, en primavera los bombardeos eran tan constantes y fuertes que nos sentíamos atrapados en una pesadilla... Stoyan tocaba a veces el violín para nosotros a oscuras en el sótano. Decía que los aviones volaban tan alto que no podían oírle. Estoy segura de que si esos pilotos hubieran podido escucharle, habrían dejado de tirar bombas y nos habrían dejada en paz para siempre."

Inicié este libro a modo de prueba, me dije: 5 capitulos y veré si me engancha para seguirle; ya yo en el capítulo 2 estaba encantada con la autora y primera vez que leo algo de la misma. Tierra de sombras es un libro que se divide en 3 partes y aunque desde el inicio uno se ve medio perdido con el argumento, la intriga atrapa cuando la protagonista emprende la búsqueda. El libro va develando secretos e incluyendo personajes; todo se centra en uno en particular, Stoyan, un violinista prodigio, fiel admirador de Vivaldi, que no pudo hacer carrera musical ni terminar sus estudios por culpa de la guerra.


"No permitiría que nadie accediera al centro de mi ser; me fabricaría un lugar al que poder escapar en lo más hondo de mi yo, pasase lo que pasase."

A medida que avanza, la historia se cierne un peligro sobre la protagonista, y Alexandra tendrá que averiguar por qué parece haber tanta gente buscando las cenizas y qué secretos se enconden en el pasado del músico.

¿Qué tiene este libro para que me gustara tanto? La parte histórica, como dice la autora en sus notas, toca un tema hoy en día poco conocido para los más jóvenes como lo fue la época comunista y la guerra que se dio en Bulgaria; los campos de trabajo forzado, los encarcelamientos por supuestas conductas anti-patrióticas y una gran cantidad de ciudadanos que pagaron condena en dichos campos sin juicios. Es un libro sólido muy bien documentado.

La parte musical támbien es un punto a favor, a mí personalmente me gusta escuchar música clásica y todas las obras aquí citadas iba reprodiciéndolas. El final del libro, aunque debo admitir que se me volvió un poco pesado en algunas partes y lento, fue muy bello. Si eres lector de ficción histórica, y como yo, te encanta las historias ambientados en la guerra, este libro es super recomendado.
Profile Image for Thomas.
770 reviews175 followers
May 28, 2017
This book takes place entirely in Bulgaria. It starts with an American woman, Alexandra Boyd, dropped off at the wrong hotel by a taxi that is now gone. She is trying to decide how to get another taxi and get to the hostel where she has a reservation when she steps up to stop an elderly woman from falling. The two men with her thank her before they get into their taxi. She asks permission to take their picture and they leave after she takes the picture. Only then does she discover she has mistakenly taken one of their bags. She opens it and discovers an urn of ashes.
The book goes back and forth between her efforts to return the urn and the arrest of the dead man in 1949 by the Bulgarian secret police on false charges. The narrative of the horrific labor camp to which Stoyan Lazarov is sent is not for a squeamish person. It reminds me of One day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which I read over 50 years ago. There are some sinister men following Alexandra and her taxi driver friend as she tries to return the urn
The two narratives do connect at the end of the book for a very satisfying ending.
This book brought back memories of my two months in Bulgaria, volunteering as a UN Sanctions Assistance Monitor in the summer of 1993 during the Bosnian war.
Some memories:
Shopska salad--greens. sliced cucumbers& tomatoes covered with shredded sheep's cheese
Doorways into shops with ribbons or bead from the top of the doorway to the floor.
Excellent and very cheap wine. I was at a restaurant with colleagues. I ordered a glass of wine. I spoke almost no Bulgarian. The waitress spoke very little English, but told me that I could not order a glass of wine. I must buy the whole boutelika, which turned out to be $2 for the bottle.
The Rila monastery, not mentioned in the book, but a UNESCO World Heritage site that I visited. Alexandra visits a fictional monastery driving through fictional mountain villages that are familiar to me.
Some quotes:
Fall of the Berlin wall "Actually, it was all to the credit of Pink Floyd. They built the wall and they made it fall down one little piece at a time."
Doorway "In the field beside them stood a doorway, all by itself--no house, no door--just the frame and a few concrete blocks."
Smile "That smile--so handsome it made the sun come out."
I am counting this for Bulgaria in my UN mystery challenge.
Violinist "He said the violin should be able to tell the truth and it should be able to cry."
An easy 4.5 stars. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me this book.
Profile Image for Paul.
308 reviews73 followers
February 7, 2017
3.25 stars
some reviewers have compared shadow lands to the historian. where kostavas debut novel was longer in length it was fast paced shadow lands isn't at all fast paced. but the writing is more mature kostova seems surer of herself in her latest novel. the slow pace was frustrating at moments to me because I am a very plot heavy story driven reader. but once i settled into the lush language of this title I relaxed enough to appreciate there are many ways to tell a story.

the plot of this story is almost shadow thin, but overall this book may be compared to Seinfeld in that one reviewer at the peak of the sitcom' s popularity commented on how a show "about nothing" had so much content it was almost about everything
in other words if you just read the surface text of kostova's novel you may miss the amazing layer of depth the subtext holds. I loved this title despite being as aforementioned a plot heavy reader and hopefully others will too.

thank you to netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this title
Profile Image for Erin Dunn.
Author 3 books88 followers
February 7, 2017

Thank you to NetGalley for providing a free ebook copy of The Shadow Land By: Elizabeth Kostova in exchange for an honest review.

I was very excited to read The Shadow Land since I loved The Historian by this author so much. The Historian is one of my favorite novels, but this one did not do it for me. The writing in this one killed me from about page two. I feel like unimportant things are described in too much detail. The writing droned on and on. I felt like I had been reading forever and I wasn't very far in. To be honest, I only made it to 5% and I had to quit. Wow.

Overall The Shadow Land is a pretty disappointing read for me and I'm sad I had to DNF so early on. This book to me did not feel like the same writing that I loved in The Historian. Not everyone can be Tolkien and not every book needs that level of description. I couldn't get into this one at all so I figure why keep going if I already really dislike it?

I can't personally recommend this one, but if the blurb sounds good and you can handle long winded descriptions then maybe you'll like this one more than I did.
Profile Image for Maureen.
347 reviews82 followers
November 10, 2021
This started as a 3 star for me as It was just too unbelievable. Alexandra Boyd has her own secrets to tell, but as she arrives in Bulgaria she is brought to the wrong hotel. Next she finds that she has a bag that doesn’t belong to her. She looks in the bag and discovers a urn with ashes in it. What does she do?
She decides to try to find the rightful owner of this urn. She is in a foreign country and doesn’t speak the language.
She gets a taxi cab driver whom she doesn’t know to take her places that she is unfamiliar with.
But the book got to me the writing and the descriptions of Bulgaria were just beautiful. As Alexandra finds clues to the person whose ashes she has in her possession, you learn of the history of Bulgaria and the warm hearted people.
The music of Vivaldi is also discovered.
In the end this book turned into a 4 star because of the beautiful writing, even though the story was unrealistic in parts.
Profile Image for Fatman.
118 reviews53 followers
April 25, 2022
This one starts off slow and drags in the middle. By the time the ending arrives, the Big Reveal has already been obvious for several chapters, and the confrontation scene fizzles out. There is little tension as the characters move from Point A to Point B and back again - danger is hinted at, but remains in the background for about 475 of the book's 478 pages.

That said, no modern writer writes setting like Elizabeth Kostova, and her style is nothing short of exquisite. You will be immersed in every vista of the beautiful Bulgarian landscape, taste every bite of food, and feel like you're sitting right in the middle of every conversation between the characters. Also commendable is the historical accuracy of the events presented in the novel. For me this was not quite as good as The Historian, but still an enjoyable read.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
1,747 reviews6,672 followers
April 16, 2017
The Shadow Land is Elizabeth Kostova's 2017 standalone novel that falls under multiple genres: mystery/suspense, culture/travel, historical fiction, music, and war. There are two alternating timelines that include a present-day mystery to locate the owners/keepers of an urn and flashbacks in history that follow Stoyan, the man whose ashes now fill the urn. I found the combination of these parallel stories made for a long and slow read in my opinion. Once the historical flashbacks started, I only wanted to read that story. It was much more engaging than the present-day mystery that seemed to go on and on with little progress. Personally, I didn't care about the mystery component, I would have been happy to just read Stoyan's story only. His parts were so well-written that I had to fight frustration to be pulled back to present-day. Overall, this book was just OK and my initial rating was 2 stars, but I continued to think about Stoyan and I know his characters may stay with me for some time so I added an extra star just for him ♥

My favorite quote:
"Obey and hate yourself, survive. Disobey, redeem yourself, perish."
Profile Image for Dawn Michelle.
2,423 reviews
April 13, 2017

I do not really know how to write a review about this book; not when I am still in the throes of it and all the emotions that it continually evoked in me. There was just an onslaught of emotion throughout this whole book and to say I have serious book hangover now is really a complete understatement. Maybe in a few days or weeks or months, I will be able to look back at this book and write a review that will do it justice. Maybe. Or maybe I will just tell everyone I know that they MUST read this book. As soon as possible. So they too can be changed by this book as I was.
Profile Image for Cat Tutt.
179 reviews12 followers
March 28, 2017
I'm giving this one 4 stars, however it's pulled up from 3 based on the wealth of historical knowledge written into it. I'm a big fan of historical fiction, particularly when it's deftly done so that a good deal of historical information can be woven in with the story without feeling like a textbook, which Ms Kostova achieved.

But, it was a little slow moving and boring. Her first book, "The Historian", is one of my favorite books of all time. So I was really excited to get my hands on this one, and had very high hopes. It didn't live up to my expectations. It wasn't bad... it was actually quite good... but it was a little dry, and drug a little bit. I think a good chunk of pages could easily have been condensed out of it without losing any of the story elements, and have made it move along at a more page-turning pace.

Really, though, the amount and depth of knowledge Ms Kostova displays of Bulgaria and communist Bulgaria must have taken a fair bit of time to acquire. She uses the information easily and with good detail, really bringing it to life for me. While I might not suggest this book to an adrenaline junkie, lovers of history and knowledge might appreciate it very much.

*An ARC of this book was provided by Random House Publishing and Ballantine Books in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for making this available.

Visit my blog at www.booknerdcat.wordpress.com
Profile Image for Eliza.
596 reviews1,376 followers
August 11, 2017
I received a copy of The Shadow Land from Ballantine Books (NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review. This does not persuade my actual opinion of the novel.

Well, that was lovely.

As soon as I started this novel, I knew I was going to love it. The way Elizabeth Kostova's flawless writing paints an image in your mind is absolutely remarkable. Honestly, I enjoyed nearly every moment of this book. I enjoyed the history, the rare but exhilarating thriller scenes, the constant mystery, and even the slow-burning romance. Ah, this was quite an enjoyable read.

Some people might compare this novel to The Historian, but not me. To put it simply, I didn't enjoy that novel as much, which is why I'm really glad I gave this book a chance - even though I didn't have the greatest success with her novels prior. And who knows? Maybe I'll even go back and re-read The Historian because of how amazing this story was. Honestly - I'm still in awe.

Another thing I might add is, that even though this was beautiful - it's certainly not for everyone. If you don't enjoy books with "little action" and a "slow burn" then, this isn't for you. But even still, I dare you to give it a chance. It might just be one of my favorite Historical Fiction novels I've read recently.

But now...I just have to wait for the release date, so I can have the physical copy of the book!

Lastly, thank you to Ballantine Books for giving me the opportunity to review this.
Profile Image for Christine Zibas.
382 reviews36 followers
April 8, 2017

"Do you like Bulgaria? People say that it is the place where anything will happen. Can happen, he corrected himself."

A young American woman, Alexandra Boyd, lands in Sofia, ready to teach English and explore a country that fascinated her brother as a young child. Really, who among us knows much about Bulgaria? If the descriptions in this book are any indication, many more readers may be setting their sights on this fascinating (if largely unknown) nation.

One of the most profound statements in the book comes from Alexandra's main Bulgarian companion (a poet and taxi driver) in which he tells her that in her country, no one cares about history and in his, no one can escape it. In particular, Alexandra becomes unexpectedly wrapped up in an adventure not of her own choosing.

She's outside a hotel and spots an elderly couple having trouble getting into a taxi and goes to help them. She unwittingly ends up with one of their suitcases, and spends the rest of the book trying to return this to them. This is no ordinary matter, however, for it contains the ashes of a Bulgarian musician, making it even more important that the urn/suitcase find its way to its rightful owners.

From one end of the country to another, Alexandra follows the clues. As readers learn more and more about the fate of the man behind the ashes, the story becomes darker, but no less meaningful. This is a rich tale with plenty to share, and not all of it is goodness and light. It is certainly worth the journey, however. What Kostova has to share with her readers is profound, and there's even a little twist at the end, just to round things off.

A wonderfully written, important book.

Thanks to Good Reads and Ballentine Books for allowing me to read an Advanced Readers Copy of this book.
Profile Image for Snooty1.
441 reviews8 followers
March 19, 2017
***4.5 stars***
I'm completely emotionally drained...there's nothing left...between tears, adrenaline and sheer loss of sleep as my dreams were marred from scenes of this book...this book took everything out of me...and I LOVED IT.

There is a character in this novel, that completely captured my heart; a person that you never meet in the book...and yet I feel that I know him so deeply. I have often been obsessed by the notion of a person so beautiful/pure/kind/radiant that others simply bask in their light and are drawn to them.
When someone draws loyalty throughout their entire lives; a sense of reverence from those in their lives it seriously melts my heart.

We are transported to Bulgaria, and a trip a young Alexandra Boyd needs to make to start her own healing process in her life. Once there, she very quickly meets a man and his family and by accident keeps one of their bags. Inside that bag is an invaluable find...which leads the rest of the story in motion. I truly feel that I am a better person for reading this novel.

The only issue I had with it was that it was a tad long-winded in the descriptions department. Let's just say, it was obvious that the author LOVES Bulgaria!

***Thanks to Netgalley and Ballantine Books for giving me this ARC for my honest review.***
Profile Image for Maureen Carden.
284 reviews70 followers
March 24, 2017
Dorothy's quest to meet The Wizard. As I am writing this, (all proud of my cleverness)I realize there is a character named The Wizard. (Duh) But he actually isn't the THE Wizard.
Our Dorothy, Alexandra, is a young woman newly arrived in Sofia, Bulgaria to teach. Alexandra is also on a pilgrimage of sorts for her brother who died young in a hiking accident. Alexandra is almost destroyed by her burden of guilt. So when by trying to do a good deed for a small little family group, she ends up with cremains, Alexandra is horrified. Unh uh, no way is she going to bear this guilt.
Alexandra meets up with her Scarecrow, a taxi driver named Bobby, who joins her on this quest to find three people in Bulgaria when she doesn't know their name, phone, or address. Although she soon catches a break on the name.
Bobby is the ultimate Scarecrow with skills and secrets of his own. Everyone should be so lucky as to have a Bobby in their life.
Alexandra and Bobby's journey on the YBR is a physical and historical journey through Bulgaria. A journey of light and darkness. Early on they discover the name of the man whose remains they hold, Stoyan Lazarov, a violinist of exceptional skill. It is his story we begin to learn. The story of his incredible skill as a violinist, his abiding love for his Vera, and his long dark journey into the hell of the Bulgarian gulags.
Alexandra and Bobby find themselves in danger almost from the beginning. It takes a long while to discover by whom and even longer to discover why. As Alexandra and Bobby begin to meet Stoyan's family and friends, they discover his journeys into hell are almost balanced by the beauty of these F and Fs. Kostova paints her characters as lovingly a Sargent or a Casset.
There is a distraction at first when some of the chapters are told by Alexandra's POV, This distraction soon disappears. This about the only discordant note I can think of.
I don't think I have to words to describe Kostova's description of Stoyan's music. Her descriptions, are, well, music. But all of Kostova's descriptions are lovely. Sometimes I just skim wordy descriptions, in Kostova's case I savor her words.
For all the right reasons, this book takes commitment. It is a journey well worth taking.
Thank you to NetGalley for a chance to read this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,233 reviews1,048 followers
October 17, 2017
I rather enjoyed Kostova's 'The Historian,' but the main reason that I picked up this book is that I recently, and unexpectedly, traveled to Sofia, Bulgaria - and loved it. I was eager to revisit the city with a book set there. Unfortunately, the book didn't live up to my hopes. The perspective on Bulgaria is definitely that of a tourist's brief visit: "I went to that monastery on my trip, so I'm going to make my characters go there too!"

Alexandra is a young American woman who's landed a teaching gig in Bulgaria, and has decided to arrive a bit early to take in the sights and get adjusted to life in Sofia. Unfortunately, as soon as she arrives at her hotel, a luggage mishap means that she ends up with someone else's bag - a bag that turns out to hold a funerary urn. Appalled by her error, she appeals to her taxi driver for help in attempting to return the remains of the deceased, Stoyan Lazarov, to his family - a task which turns out to be much harder than either of them initially anticipated, as the current whereabouts of the family, and their history, is rather shrouded in mystery.

And this was my main problem with the book. Kostova makes a huge deal of the 'mystery' throughout the plot. The Lazarovs - and even the taxi driver - are apparently hiding secrets. It's played up to such an extent that it almost requires some kind of dark and supernatural revelation, as she gave us in The Historian. But there's nothing of the sort here. (I feel this is sort of an anti-spoiler, as I feel like I may have enjoyed the book more if I had ruled out expecting a dramatic revelation.) We do find out a bit of the past of the Lazarov family and it's some fairly quotidian stuff involving Bulgaria's past political turmoil.

My other issue is that the characters' decisions appear to be driven by the necessity of the plot, rather than any sensible logic process. OK, fine, young women have been known to go to crazy lengths after seeing an attractive man, but why would the taxi driver would take days out of his life for her strange errand? I remained unconvinced by the justifications.

Many thanks to Ballantine and NetGalley for the opportunity to read.
Profile Image for aPriL does feral sometimes .
1,932 reviews438 followers
April 13, 2020
'The Shadow Land' by Elizabeth Kostova is a good thriller and an even better mystery! It deftly weaves in the real-life past history of the Soviet occupation of Bulgaria after World War II and how the effects of that period linger on. However, the book has a few faults in pacing and character motivations while the protagonists travel around what is obviously a beloved Bulgaria by the author. Also, I see some readers focus in negatively on some implausible coincidences - but I do not. At least, not for this novel. If contrived plot twists excessively bothered me, I'd give up reading as very few books unfold in a natural and uncontrived fashion, especially mysteries and thrillers.

Twenty-six-year-old Alexandra Boyd has agreed to teach English in Sofia, Bulgaria after graduating from college. She had come from a small city in the Blue Ridge Mountains, moving between her two divorced parents, teachers themselves. What had caused the divorce of her parents and her choice of Bulgaria to teach was the disappearance of her brother Jack on a hiking trip. Bulgaria had been a place he wanted to visit one day after he grew up.

Alexandra never got over Jack's disappearance because she blamed herself when he went missing. They had had a childish argument on a family hike up a trail. Ever since, she has looked for opportunities sometimes to punish herself for her part in his refusing to continue the hike with them, maybe running away.

A cab driver in Sofia has delivered Alexandra to the wrong hotel. She didn't notice until she got out of the cab. While trying to decide what to do because of her limited funds, she watched an elderly couple, a man in a wheelchair and a woman, with a younger tall man, leave the hotel. She puts down her bags to help them settle in a cab with their own bags. Afterwards, she gets a cab and her bags and tells the driver the address of her hostel where she has reservations. While they are driving there, she sees she has one of the old man's bags. Inside is a carved wooden box full of ashes with the name Stoyan Lazarov on a plaque.

Alexandria bursts into tears. She becomes desperately, frantically, eager to find the three people to whom the urn belongs. The cab driver, at first cautious, becomes inexplicably interested in Alexandra's problem. She remembers they told her they were going to Velin Monastery.

This information begins a journey of detection and deepening mystery! The cab driver, Asparuh (Bobby) Iliev, decides to drive Alexandra wherever she needs to go to track down the two old people and the young man. Bobby ends up being invaluable to Alexandra as she speaks no Bulgarian. He basically deserts his job for the next week. She doesn't entirely trust him, but she is beside herself in grief for having accidentally grabbed the satchel with the urn.

As the two young people follow clues, they end up seeing a lot of Bulgaria. They travel on a lot of bad roads, visiting old towns and pass by ugly Soviet-era buildings mixed into thousand-year-old residential areas. The countryside is gorgeous and Alexandra can't take her eyes away from the sights beyond the cab's windows. Ominously, both soon know someone is following them, threatening them with messages left on their car. Weirdly, the two pick up a dog which insists on being with them.

Why is someone interested in them? Alexandra is not deterred, although she is very frightened. Bulgaria is a corrupt country, and still more of a police state than not. But the idea of these elderly people not having their loved one with them is more than she can stand. Frankly, gentle reader, I think she is mental. But if she wasn't, there would be no book. So.

Halfway in the book, the life story of Stoyan Lazarov is told. It is horrible, gentle reader. He was a brilliant musician who studied music and the violin in Vienna before Hitler came to power. But he returns to Sofia in 1940 to take care of his parents and hopefully be in a safer city than Vienna. As the events of World War II play out, particularly after the Soviet communists take over Bulgaria, anyone who studied in a foreign country is considered a criminal. Without trial or a sentence, Lazarov is picked up and is shipped to a concentration camp. Three times.

The author did a lot of research about the history of Bulgarian communism and the camps the government set up. It is awful, gentle reader.

The book is enlightening about historical events of which Westerners know little. The country of Bulgaria is vividly described by Kostova as she has lived there for twenty years. The improbable search Alexandra and her cab driver undertake looking for the family of Lazarov offers readers slowly building thrills and chills of an increasingly dangerous quest, but I agree that for literary fans this novel falls short. But as a historical mystery, it is engrossing and deeply disturbing.
Profile Image for Bam cooks the books ;-).
1,915 reviews248 followers
October 18, 2020
*3.5 stars rounded up!

Elizabeth Kostova obviously wanted to write a story about the horrors that happened in Bulgaria during the Soviet-influenced era of communism after WWII. She does that in this novel through the experiences of one man, a remarkable violinist named Stoyan Lazarov.

But Kostova couches her story of the past in present day Bulgaria, where a young American woman named Alexandra Boyd arrives with a job in hand to teach English. But before she can even check into her hotel, she notices an elderly couple and a middle-aged man awkwardly trying to enter a cab outside the hotel. She steps in to help and afterward realizes she has inadvertently kept one of their bags. Inside the bag is an urn with the ashes of Stoyan Lazarov.

Thus begins a rather preposterous journey for Alexandra as she travels around Bulgaria with a surprisingly helpful taxi driver, trying to track down the Lazarov family and return the ashes. It soon becomes apparent that they've disturbed a hornet's nest.

Alexandra is the typical young foreigner who is outside her element, not understanding exactly how things are done in this land of ancient history--a country, she is told, where anything can happen.

I enjoyed the chance to learn more about Bulgaria myself in the pages of this novel. Kostova writes wonderful descriptions of the landscape and villages as Alexandra and her driver Bobby zoom here and there, following clues. The post WWII history Kostova writes about is remarkable too and is really the gem of the novel.

This is the latest novel my family picked for our mother-daughter book club during the pandemic. I'm looking forward to our Zoom meeting and discussion. Perhaps we can play some Vivaldi in the background to set the mood.

I received an arc of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I apologize for the long delay in getting it read and reviewed and hope the philosophy of 'better late than never' will hold true here.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,119 followers
July 4, 2017
I was curious about this novel after reading both The Historian and The Swan Thieves by this author. I have grown accustomed to complex novels that still move quickly, usually discussing art or literature in some way. I was disappointed by The Shadow Land.

It is very clear that the author has fallen in love with Bulgaria (and a Bulgarian!) and wanted to write a novel that expressed it. So she created this novel as a framework. The first half of the novel contains a lot of movement from place to place, I imagine because she wanted to write about some of these places with such rich history, but some of these places have no bearing on the outcome of the story. The characters are too obviously pawns and the events are too implausible. Some opportunities were missed - the main character is there to teach English yet everyone she meets speaks good enough English, even the elderly. I'm pretty sure the timeline of her adventure overlaps with when she was expected in the classroom but this is not addressed. Her taxi driver has indicators of revolutionary activity (at least resistance) but this is pretty much dropped midway through the story (and was possibly the most interesting story line to me.) One story that seems to tie everything together is told unevenly, and contains the elements of most confusion.

Despite my complaints I did learn some things about Bulgaria in World War II, and the ancient people called the Thracians. I can see why the author is in love with this place. But I think the story she chose to tell inside of it was not a success.

Thanks to the publisher for granting access through NetGalley.
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