The Shadow Land

The Shadow Land

by Elizabeth Kostova


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The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova

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 political oppression—and she will find out all too quickly that this knowledge is fraught with its own danger.

Elizabeth 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.

Advance praise for The Shadow Land

The Shadow Land is thrilling, and not just as a gripping tale. It’s also thrilling to watch such a talented writer cast her spell. The central character actually begins this deft novel in an urn, only to emerge as one of the most memorable characters I’ve encountered in a long time.”—Richard Russo

Praise for Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian
“Quite extraordinary . . . Kostova is a natural storyteller. . . . She has refashioned the vampire myth into a compelling contemporary novel, a late-night page-turner.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Hypnotic . . . a thrill ride through history.”—The Denver Post
“Part thriller, part history, part romance . . . Kostova has a keen sense of storytelling and she has a marvelous story to tell.”—Baltimore Sun
“Kostova’s vampire is no campy Lugosi knockoff. . . . Blending history and myth, Kostova has fashioned a version so fresh that when a stake is finally driven through a heart, it inspires the tragic shock of something happening for the very first time.”Newsweek
Praise for The Swan Thieves
“Exquisite.”—The Boston Globe
“Engrossing.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
“Stunning . . . A beautifully written tale of art, love and an obsession triggered by both.”—Associated Press

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345527868
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/11/2017
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 506,989
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.70(d)

About the Author

Elizabeth Kostova is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Swan Thieves and The Historian. She graduated from Yale and holds an MFA from the University of Michigan, where she won a Hopwood Award for Novel-in-Progress. She is also co-founder of the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation for Creative Writing in Bulgaria.

Read an Excerpt


Sofia, the year 2008. The month of May, impeccable spring weather, and the goddess Capitalism sitting on her long-­since-­tawdry throne. On the top step outside Hotel Forest hovered a young woman, more a girl than a woman, and more a foreigner—­which she also was—­than anything else. The hotel looked out over NDK, the former communist regime’s palace of culture, a giant concrete blossom now patrolled by teenagers; sunlight falling across the plaza glinted off their spiky heads. Alexandra Boyd, exhausted from an endless plane ride, stood watching the Bulgarian kids on their skateboards and trying to tuck her long straight hair behind one ear. To her right rose apartment buildings of ochre and gray stucco, as well as more recent glass-­and-­steel construction and a billboard that showed a woman in a bikini whose breasts surged out toward a bottle of vodka. Stately trees bloomed near the billboard, white and magenta—­horse chestnuts, which Alexandra had seen during a trip to France in college, her only other time on the European continent. Her eyes were gritty, her scalp grimed with the sweat of travel. She needed to eat, shower, sleep—­yes, sleep, after the final flight from Amsterdam, that jerking awake every few minutes into self-­exile across an ocean. She glanced down at her feet to make sure they were still there. Except for a pair of bright red sneakers, her clothes were simple—­thin blouse, blue jeans, a sweater tied around her waist—­so that she felt dowdy next to the tailored skirts and stilettos that made their way past her. On her left wrist, she wore a wide black bracelet; in her ears, spears of obsidian. She gripped the handles of a rolling suitcase and a dark satchel containing a guidebook, a dictionary, extra clothes. Over her shoulder she carried a computer bag and her loose multicolored purse with a notebook and a paperback of Emily Dickinson at the very bottom.

From her plane window, Alexandra had seen a city cradled in mountains and flanked by towering apartment buildings like tombstones. Stepping off the plane with her new camera in her hand, she’d breathed unfamiliar air—­coal and diesel and then a gust that smelled of plowed earth. She had walked across the tarmac and onto the airport bus, observed shiny new customs booths and their taciturn officials, the exotic stamp in her passport. Her taxi had looped around the edges of Sofia and into the heart of the city—­a longer route than necessary, she now suspected—­brushing past outdoor café tables and lampposts that bore political placards or signs for sex shops. From the taxi window, she’d photographed ancient Fords and Opels, new Audis with tinted gangster windows, large slow buses, and trolleys like clanking Megalosauruses that threw sparks from their iron rails. To her amazement, she’d seen that the center of the city was paved with yellow cobblestones.

But the driver had somehow misunderstood her request and dropped her here, at Hotel Forest, not at the hostel she’d booked weeks earlier. Alexandra hadn’t understood the situation, either, until he was gone and she had mounted the steps of the hotel to get a closer look. Now she was alone, more thoroughly than she had ever been in her twenty-­six years. In the middle of the city, in the middle of a history about which she had no real idea, among people who went purposefully up and down the steps of the hotel, she stood wondering whether to descend and try to get another taxi. She doubted she could afford the glass and cement monolith that loomed at her back, with its tinted windows, its crow-­like clients in dark suits hustling in and out or smoking on the steps. One thing seemed certain: she was in the wrong place.

Alexandra might have stood this way long minutes more, but suddenly the doors slid open just behind her and she turned to see three people coming out of the hotel. One of them was a white-­haired man in a wheelchair clutching several travel bags against his suit jacket. A tall middle-­aged man held onto the chair with one hand and a cell phone with the other; he was speaking with someone. Beside him stood their companion, an old woman with one hand on the tall man’s elbow and a purse dangling from her wrist, bowlegged beneath her black dress. Her hair was auburn, with streaks of gray that radiated from a painfully bare parting. The middle-­aged man finished his call and hung up. The old lady looked up at him and he bent over to tell her something.

Alexandra moved aside and watched them struggle across the hotel landing to the top of the steps and felt, as she often did, a stab of compassion for other people’s fates. There was no way for them to descend, no ramp or wheelchair access, as there would have been at home. But the dark-­haired tall man appeared to be magically strong; he bent and lifted the older man out of the chair, taking his luggage along. And the woman seemed to come alive inside her empty gaze, long enough to fold the chair with a few practiced motions and carry it slowly down the steps—­she, too, was stronger than she looked.

Alexandra picked up her own satchels and suitcase and followed them, feeling that their sense of purpose might propel her forward. At the bottom of the steps, the tall man put the old man back into the wheelchair. They all rested a moment, Alexandra standing almost next to them at the edge of the taxi lane. She saw that the tall man was dressed in a black vest and an immaculate white shirt, too warm and formal for the day. His trousers were also too shiny, his black shoes too highly polished. His thick dark hair, with its sheen of silver, was brushed firmly back from his forehead. A strong profile. Up close he looked younger than she’d first thought him. He was frowning, his face flushed, glance sharp. It was hard for her to tell whether he was nearer to thirty-­eight or fifty-­five. She realized through her fatigue that he might be one of the handsomest men she’d ever observed, broad-­shouldered and dignified under his somehow out-­of-­date clothes, his nose long and elegant, the cheekbones flowing up toward narrow bright eyes when he turned slightly in her direction. Fine grooves radiated from the edges of his mouth, as if he had a different face that he reserved for smiling. She saw that he was too old for her after all. His hand hung at his side, only a few feet from one of hers. She felt an actual twinge of desire, and took a step away.

Now the tall man went over to the window of the nearest taxi and plunged into some sort of negotiation; the taxi driver’s voice rose in protest; Alexandra wondered if she might learn something from all this. While she was watching, she had a moment of vertigo, so that the traffic receded to an uncomfortable buzz in her ears and then returned louder—­jet lag. The tall man could not seem to come to an agreement with the driver, even when the old woman leaned in and added indignant words of her own. The driver waved a dismissive hand and rolled up his window.

The tall man picked up their luggage again, three or four nylon and canvas bags, and stepped to another taxi, even nearer to where Alexandra stood. She resolved not to try the first driver herself. Then the tall man abruptly concluded his bargaining and opened the back door of this acceptable new cab. He set their luggage down on the sidewalk and helped the crooked figure out of the wheelchair and into the back seat.

Alexandra wouldn’t have moved toward them again if the old woman hadn’t suddenly stumbled, trying to get into the taxi beside the old man. Alexandra reached out and caught the woman’s upper arm in a firm sudden grip she hadn’t known herself capable of. Through the black fabric of the sleeve, she could feel a bone, surprisingly light and warm. The woman turned to stare at her, then righted herself and said something in Bulgarian, and the tall man looked fully around at Alexandra for the first time. Maybe he wasn’t really handsome, she thought; it was just that his eyes were remarkable—­larger than they’d seemed from the side, the irises amber when the sunlight touched them. He and the old lady both smiled at her; he helped his mother carefully into the seat of the taxi, reaching back with his other hand for their bags. It was as if he knew Alexandra would come to their rescue again. And she did, catching the smaller bags up in a tangle and passing them to him. He seemed to be in a hurry now. She kept a grip on her own heavy satchel and laptop, and especially on her purse, just in case.

He straightened up and glanced down at the bags she had handed to him. Then he looked at her again.

“Thank you very much,” he said to her in heavily accented English—­was it so obvious that she was a foreigner?

“Can I help you?” she asked, and felt foolish.

“You already helped me,” he said. Now his face was sad, the momentary smile gone. “Are you in Bulgaria for a vacation?”

“No,” she said. “To teach. Are you visiting Sofia from somewhere else?” After she said this, she realized it might not sound complimentary. It was true that he and his elderly parents did not look cosmopolitan in this setting. But he was the first person she had really spoken to in almost two days, and she didn’t want to stop, although the old man and the old woman were waiting for him in the cab.

He shook his head. She had read in her guidebook that Bulgarians traditionally nodded to mean “no” and shook their heads to mean “yes,” but that not everyone did this anymore. She wondered which category the tall man fell into.

“Our plan—­it was to go to Velin Monastery,” he said. He glanced behind him, as if expecting to see someone else. “It is very pretty and famous. You must visit it.”

She liked his voice. “Yes, I’ll try to do that,” she said.

He did smile then—­slightly, without activating all the grooves. He smelled of soap, and of clean wool. He started to turn away, but paused. “Do you like Bulgaria? People say that it is the place where anything will happen. Can happen,” he corrected himself.

Alexandra hadn’t been even in Sofia long enough to know what she thought of the country.

“It’s beautiful,” she said finally, and saying this reminded her of the mountains she had seen as she flew in. “Really beautiful,” she added with more conviction.

He inclined his head to one side, seemed to bow a little—­polite people, Bulgarians—­and turned toward the cab.

“May I take your picture?” she said quickly. “Would you mind? You’re the first people I’ve talked with here.” She wanted a photograph of him—­the most interesting face she’d ever seen, and now would never see again.

The tall man bent obligingly close to the open cab door, although he looked anxious. She had the impression that he was in a hurry. But the old woman leaned out toward Alexandra with a smile of her own: dentures, too white and regular. The old man did not turn; he sat gazing ahead in the back seat of the taxi. Alexandra pulled her camera out of her purse and took a swift shot. She wondered if she should offer to send the picture to them, later, but she wasn’t sure that elderly people in this country—­or a formal-­looking middle-­aged man—­passed photos around on email, especially with strangers.

“Thank you,” she said. “Mersi.” That was the simple Bulgarian version of thanks; she couldn’t bring herself to attempt the longer, infinitely harder word she’d tried to memorize. The tall man stared at her for a moment, and she thought his face was even sadder. He raised a hand to her and shut his old people quickly into the cab. Then he swung down into the front seat beside the driver. Their conversation had taken only a couple of minutes, but a taxi somewhere along the line had lost patience and was honking. The driver of the little family took off with a rush of tires and moved into the river of traffic, vanishing at once.

Reading Group Guide

1. Consider the opening passage, which begins “This book is a train with many cars, the old kind, moving clumsily along a track at night.” What do you think the author meant by this? How does it affect your reading of the novel? What is the significance of the train car door that is nailed shut from the outside?

2. Why do you think Alexandra goes to such great lengths to return the bag to the Lazarovi? What would you have done in her position?

3. What do you think motivates Bobby to stick with Alexandra from the start? What are some of the main differences and similarities between the two characters?

4. Discuss the theme of guilt in the novel. How do the different characters experience guilt, and what are some of the ways they seek redemption?

5. What does the novel have to say about the importance of history? What are some of the ways we see the past impacting the present over the course of the book?

6. On page 369, Bobby tells Alexandra “In your country, you don’t care about history, and in my country we cannot recover from it.” What do you think he means by this? Do you agree or disagree?

7. Compare and contrast Alexandra at the start of the novel and at the end. What are some of the ways her experience changes her? What do you imagine might happen next for her?

8. Chapter sixty-nine is stylistically very different from the rest of the novel. Why do you think the author chose to tell this part of the story in this way? How did you react to reading that chapter?

9. What is the significance of the story of The Wolf and the Bear? How does it relate to the larger story of this novel, and what do you think the lessons that can be learned from it are?

10. Many of the characters in this novel are artists – musicians, painters, poets – or else have a great love for and appreciation of art. What do you think the significance of this is? What does the novel have to say about the importance of art and creative expression?

1. The Shadow Land begins with the protagonist finding herself in the midst of a startling dilemma. What would be your first instinct if you found yourself in Alexandra’s situation—-in possession of cremated remains belonging to a stranger? How far would you go to -return the ashes?

2. Alexandra and Jack love to pull out the map and dream about the distant lands they hope to one day explore. Likewise dreams of someday traveling to Venice. Is there a place you’ve always wished to visit? Where, and why that place?

3. What do you think happens to Jack? What do you think of the blame Alexandra places on herself for his disappearance? Do you think she makes the right choice in keeping the details of her last conversation with Jack a secret?

4. What do you make of the irony of Alexandra’s inability to find her brother’s remains, and yet her stumbling upon the remains of a stranger? What do you think the author is trying to illustrate through this irony? Are there more instances of irony that unfold throughout the novel?

5. Compare the Bulgarian world of Stoyan’s days to the Bulgarian world Alexandra enters. Although much time has passed, what cultural values and traditions seem to persevere? Why do you think these have stood the test of time? Are there cultural values in your own life that have persisted through generations?

6. The arts seem to hold a special place in this book—-Bobby writes poetry, Irina paints, and Stoyan is a master violinist. Art even becomes a tool of survival for Stoyan and Nasko in the work camp. Why do you think the author places such an emphasis on the importance of fine arts in this novel? What other functions do the fine arts serve for the various characters?

7. Stoyan believes he deserves to pay a penance for causing the murder of Velizar Gishev and his family, and for keeping the truth a secret. Why do you think he later inflicts self—punishment by rebuilding Baba Yana’s house even in his weakened condition? Hasn’t he suffered enough at the hands of the Bulgarian government?

8. Several times, Momo offers Stoyan freedom in exchange for reporting to the Commissioner from Sofia that the prisoners of the work camp are treated well. Each time, Stoyan firmly refuses, and dooms himself to a longer sentence. Do you think he makes the right choice? Do you think Momo would really have released Stoyan if Stoyan had agreed to the deal?

9. Storytelling is an important element in The Shadow Land. Why do you think it is important that we hear the many pieces of Stoyan’s story told from each speaker’s perspective, rather than only from Alexandra’s narration?

10. What do you make of the interconnectedness of Stoyan’s and Alexandra’s lives? What was your reaction when the vision Stoyan creates for himself of his son and a young woman sitting by the river together is played out with Alexandra and Neven?

11. Do you think Vera betrays Stoyan by having a child with another man while Stoyan is in the work camp?

12. Were you surprised to learn that Momo and the Minister of Roads, Mikhail Kurilkov, are the same person? Did you suspect this at any point before it is revealed? If so, how did you know?

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The Shadow Land 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was well written interesting story. I was glued to the book and did not want to put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book from beginning to end. It stays with you when you are not reading it and you are sad when it is finished because you have been so involved in the characters. This author's other books are also very well done, especially The Historian. Highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Engaging and beautiful
Anonymous 10 months ago
A hundred pages into the novel and I stayed up all night reading (as if I could have finished the book lol). The stories of the different characters were compelling, the land of Bulgaria enchanting and sometimes frightening. Loved The Shadow Land even more than the Historian I think.
cloggiedownunder More than 1 year ago
“The photos were mainly black-and-white, some brown or yellowish sepia. Several of the images looked very old; these were wedding groups in stiff clothing with something Eastern about it, young people staring transfixed into futures now long past” The Shadow Land is the third novel by American author, Elizabeth Kostova. In May, 2008, Alexandra Boyd leaves her North Carolina home and her job as a librarian to take up a teaching position at the Central English Institute in Sofia, Bulgaria. But on her very first day in the country, through a mix-up, she ends up with a bag not her own, one that contains an urn of ashes. Alexandra is distraught at the thought that Stoyan Lazarov’s family are heading to the Velin Monastery in Rila without his remains. Her taxi driver, Asparuh Iliev (just call me Bobby) obligingly returns her to the spot where the unfortunate mishap took place, to no avail. A visit to the Police Station sets them on a path that becomes almost a quest: a quest to see the urn returned to the family. In the process of this far-from-straightforward mission, they learn a great deal about the life of the man whose remains they are carrying with them. As well as the third person narrative of present day events from Alexandra’s perspective, there are some chapters describing her motivation for travelling to Bulgaria. Stoyan Lazarov’s story is told to Alexandra and Bobby, both by others, in anecdotes often second- or third-hand, (usually translated by Bobby) and by Stoyan’s own account, written as a confession, that details the important milestones in his life from 1940 onwards. Kostova gives the reader a tale that has it all: mystery, romance, history, politics and corruption, a secret compartment, labour camps, violins and a faithful, heroic dog. All this rendered is gorgeous descriptive prose. The protagonist’s quest takes the reader on a tour of Bulgaria while subtly informing about a shocking history not commonly known. Kostova’s original plot has several twists that even the most astute reader is unlikely to anticipate. Tension-filled pages build up to a very exciting climax, and several of the multi-faceted characters are not what they at first seem to be. Kostova’s extensive research and her familiarity with Bulgaria, her politics, her history and her customs, are apparent on every page, as is her love for the Bulgarian people and the landscape: “On every horizon Alexandra saw mountains, some of which were blue and very distant, beyond a great plain. Others were closer and rubbed with darkness, like long smudges of soot”. This inspirational story demonstrates what one will do to endure. The Shadow Land is intriguing and informative, but also moving and very uplifting. A superlative read.
Anonymous 7 months ago
Anonymous 8 months ago
I also read her other book, The Historian. Both were outstanding examples of intermixing history with story-telling.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sam1219 More than 1 year ago
I am voluntarily submitting my honest review after receiving an ARC of this ebook from NetGalley. After reading The Historian, I had high expectations going into this book. While I wasn't precisely disappointed, I can't say that The Shadow Land was better. Still, I did enjoy this book a great deal. In this work, In this work, the protagonist, an American tourist fleeing her own grief following the death of her brother, ends up with an urn containing the human remains of a stranger when she helps an elderly couple into a cab in and accidentally keeps one of their parcels. As she tries to return the urn to the rightful owners, we are taken on a exploration of the Bulgarian police state with all of its attendant horrors. But Kostova also weaves in elements of the sublime as she describes the landscape, culture and heart of Bulgaria and her people. This juxtaposition of brutality and beauty illustrates the tension created by the attempts to oppress a people who despite knowing loss, fear and evil, have found a way to endure, survive and even triumph through courage and compassion. The only flaw for me was that the ending rang false in that it was just a bit too bright. Otherwise, this was a great read that provided much insight into Bulgarian history and culture even though it is a work of fiction.
JLYoung More than 1 year ago
The language of this book is great. It reminds me of books like the Nightingale. The story is intriguing. It caught my interest from the beginning. It's fast paced and suspenseful. I had no idea what was going to happen next. I hate when books are so predictable that I know what's going to happen from the beginning. This is not one of those books. It time hops a little from Alexandra's younger life to the present. There is tons of culture and historical information throughout which is super interesting. Loved that part of the book. Descriptions are vivid and beautiful. But... oh you knew there was a but coming... the switching tenses from 1st to 3rd person drove me absolutely nuts. Why couldn't the author just pick one and stick with it? It was incredibly annoying especially in places where the switches were quick. Read 3 pages in 1st person and then all of a sudden 3rd person. Ah! I kind of think the author might have done it to separate the past from the present in an obvious way but oh my goodness not worth it. Other than that the story was amazing. I received a digital copy of this book from netgalley and the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
SecondRunReviews More than 1 year ago
I first encountered Elizabeth Kostova when I tackled The Historian ages ago. The tome still sits on my bookshelf. I was less than thrilled with her second novel, The Swan Thieves and as a result, I approached requesting The Shadow Land with a bit of trepidation. Within two chapters, I was sucked into The Shadow Land. Within two days, I was 50% complete with a close to five hundred-page novel. The story, the characters and the scenery were magnificent. Kostova does a beautiful job describing the scents and sounds of Bulgaria. I could see, feel, hear and smell the country. By the end of the novel, I want to visit Bulgaria and experience it for myself. So score one for Kostova for taking me mentally to a country I never before considered visiting. The story itself takes two paths. In the present we follow Alexandra, a troubled American travelling to Bulgaria for a teaching job when she is unexpectedly thrown into a life threatening situation. Her journey, from page one to the last, pulls her out of her shell and helps her to see life in a new light. Her journey and her forced reliance on strangers to complete her journey teaches a wonderful lesson. Sometimes we get wrapped up in our own problems and issues that we forget that others might be able to offer some comfort or share in an experience that will allow us to understand ourselves and/or the world better. The second path is in the past following a doomed violinist in an Eastern-Bloc country post World War II. And I couldn’t help but compare this novel with The Last Lament and since both novels take place during a similar time period. For some reason, I have more of a connection to Stoyan’s story in The Shadow Land than Aliki’s story in The Last Lament. Stoyan’s story is only told in the present tense as it happens to him. Perhaps this, coupled with the fact that Stoyan is an adult vs. Aliki’s being an adult reflecting back on the past provided a “real-time” connection with The Shadow Land. Stoyan understood more (or as much as you could during the Communist rule in eastern Europe) the implications of his actions or inactions at the time. There were also more breadcrumbs in the story to lead to the resolution of the mystery. Only two things stand out as issues. What was the point of Alexandra’s brother’s disappearance in the opening chapters? The ending, compared to the rest of the book, was just a little perfect, somewhat lackluster and not as strongly written as the rest of the novel. The book, as a whole, was well written as Kostova managed to pull me running through a rather lengthy emotional novel in less than a week. Since the rest of the story was so tightly woven, I was hoping for a bit more punch at the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tarri More than 1 year ago
The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova was hard to put down. It was one of those books that kept me up until 4:00 a.m., two nights in a row, because I just had to know what was happening next. Like her book, The Historian, the author wraps the reader into the pages and leaves us wanting more. In The Shadow Land the author melds the past and the present into one story and tells the tale of a dark time in Bulgaria's past. A past (in the not so distant time) when a person could be taken from their family, with no warning or trial, and sent to labor camps until someone decided to let you out. Chilling and masterfully related to the reader by relating the experience of concert violinist Stoyan Lazarov. Alexandra is a young woman who has come to Sofia to teach when she accidentally picks up the box holding the ashes of Stoyan Lazarov. In her quest to return the remains to Mr. Lazarov's family, Alexandra is aptly aided by Bobby, the Bulgarian taxt driver with many secrets of his own. When they are followed to where the family is supposed to be, they discover that not only is the family in peril, but so are Alexandra and Bobby and they people they meet along the trip. I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in return for an honest review. I honestly loved this book and highly recommend it to other readers. I also recommend The Historian, which is on my top ten list.
MerryWifeofWindsor More than 1 year ago
I've never actually read an Elizabeth Kostova book before, so this was a first for me. I am sad to say that I didn't enjoy "The Shadow Land" at all. Alexandra Boyd is a young woman who visits Bulgaria in the year 2008. Still haunted by the thoughts of her brother, Alexandra reminisces about him and their childhood and adolescence continually. On her first day in Bulgaria, something strange happens to her. While at a hotel, she spots a handsome and charismatic tall young man who is accompanied by an elderly couple. When the elderly woman takes a stumble while climbing into a taxi, Alexandra reaches out to assist the woman. Eventually, the trio drive off and mistakenly leave behind a bag. In that moment, Alexandra, becomes involved in a mystery surrounding an urn full of ashes and she teams up with a taxi driver to find the trio. "The Shadow Land" is more of a travelogue with descriptions of Bulgaria than anything else. While it had such beautiful, rhapsodic prose, it had very little of real substance to really entice me as the reader. Moreover, it entirely lacked a much-needed plot and the pacing was otherwise painfully slow. If it had a faster pace and more of a climax, I would have given this book a higher rating but it was sadly underwhelming. All throughout the story, I failed to develop an emotional connection with any of the characters who I found to be one-dimensional. The general tone and atmosphere is thoughtful with a hint of mystery. In conclusion I would like to say that I really wanted to like this book. It was the book cover and the description that really captured my attention initially. **2.5 Stars** Reviewed by the Merry Wife of Windsor. I graciously received a copy of "The Shadow Land: A Novel" by Elizabeth Kostova" from Ballantine Books in exchange for an honest review.
brf1948 More than 1 year ago
I received a free electronic copy of this historical novel from Netgalley, Elizabeth Kostova, and Ballentine Books in exchange for an honest review. Thank you all, for sharing your hard work with me. I had to keep reminding myself of the years this tale covers - all after the end of World War Two, in Bulgaria. These were atrocities one wants to put to the blame of Hitler and the Nazi troops - but no. Revolution - years and years of revolution and the effect of same on the general populace. It was a book I had a hard time putting down. And the first thing I did when I finished The Shadow Land was order copies of Kostova's other novels. This is an author I will follow. This was a book that will live in my brain for a long time to come.
Myndia More than 1 year ago
For years, Alexandra Boyd has carried a great sadness and guilt about her brother’s death. In an effort to both shake off the shadow of that loss and feel more connected to her brother, she travels to Bulgaria, a country her brother had wanted to visit. Immediately upon her arrival, she finds herself wound up in a strange situation that becomes even stranger as she chases after the answers, trying to right a wrong. She befriends a taxi driver (who turns out to be so much more than that), unravels the tragic past of a man and his family, and of the country she is currently traveling in. And along the way, she learns the cost of hanging onto the past, to pain, to guilt, and starts to let go of some of her own. One of the main characters in this story is a classical violinist who had a passion for Vivaldi. Though I’m not passionate about classical music generally speaking, my mother had Vivaldi’s Four Seasons on vinyl, and I used to play it over and over and over (that and Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf) growing up. Several times during the reading of this book, I put it aside and listened to parts of Four Seasons, and then resumed reading with a greater sense of connection to Stoyan. It was a wonderful thread that kept me tethered to the story. After I finished reading, I immediately started looking for pictures of Bulgaria, the individual cities mentioned in the book, and researching the history of the labor camps I never knew existed. Before this book, I couldn’t have picked Bulgaria out on a map, and I had no idea about the dreadful labor camps. Now I feel compelled to learn more, not just about Bulgaria, but about all of the countries that were involved in the World Wars, that were swept up in the Communist invasion, countries that we learn very little about in American schools. Again I say, historical fiction is a gateway to learning. Such a beautiful thing. The story itself unraveled very slowly. And it’s not such a short book. But it was methodical, thoughtful, purposeful meandering that deepened the story. And when things begin to become clear towards the end, the story doesn’t seem to have been that long at all. My favorite parts of the book were those written from Stoyan’s perspective, the flashbacks to his life. So heart-wrenching. But I loved him. His methods for keeping his mind intact during unimaginable suffering, they were genius, beautiful, inspiring. It was impossible not to ache for him. What can I say? A wonderful book. Informative, thought-provoking, beautifully written, and complex characters. What’s not to love? Note: I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley. I pride myself on writing fair and honest reviews.
Fredreeca2001 More than 1 year ago
Alexandra has just move to Bulgaria to teach English. She accidentally ends up with someone else’s bag. The contents of this bag send her searching throughout Bulgaria for the rightful owner. Alexandra is extremely naive in a new country. I sometimes wanted to pop her upside the head and say “THINK WOMAN!” As she is searching for the owner of the bag, she befriends a strange taxi driver. They travel through Bulgaria in search of the owner of the bag. Many learning experiences later…. This is a winding tale. It is beautifully written just very slow going. It took forever to get anywhere and believe me…we were all over Bulgaria. I enjoyed the historical aspect to the novel. I did not realize the communist history of Bulgaria. I learned a great deal. However, this story meandered way too much for me. Some people enjoy slow soothing reads. This book is for you if that is you taste in reads. I need more action! I received this novel from Netgalley for a honest review.
Deb-Krenzer More than 1 year ago
I think this book would have been a lot better if it was a lot shorter. For me, it was just WAY too long. I was 1/3 of the way into it and was still thinking why am I still reading this? It seemed like the girl and the taxi driver would drive for hours, get to their destination and either no one would be there or Neven would not be there. A relative would be there and they would have an address and then they would get back in the taxi and drive for hours again. The violinist led a very sad life and I was not aware that they had camps that long after the war, so I did learn that. However, the lead up, for me, was just too long. And then the ending was like three pages long and it was done. Thanks to Random House/Ballantine for approving my request and to Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest review.
sandrabrazier More than 1 year ago
As soon as our main character, and American, sets foot in Sofia, Bulgaria, her mystery begins. In this strange but beautiful country for a teaching position, Alexandra is expecting to do some sight-seeing before she begins her teaching assignment. But when she helps a young man and two elderly people who are struggling with their bas, her life changes forever. After settling the threesome in cab, Alexandra realizes that she still has one of their bags. Upon searching the bag for some id, she discovers it contains a beautiful urn filled with ashes, human ashes. Her hunt for the bag’s owners begins, revealing an unimaginable and complex mystery and leading to new and lasting friendships as well as unforgettable experiences. This historical fiction is very well-written and peopled with realistic and memorable characters. The mystery slowly reveals itself, as the story unfurls, leading the reader into Alexandra’s past, present, and future. Although this story is a bit overly-long and drawn out in places, it is excellent. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.