The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova

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From the publisher: “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 third novel, The Shadow Land, is another epic tale of Eastern Europe. I remember reading Kostova’s The Historian years ago when it first came out. I know that a number of people were less than thrilled by that book, but I, on the other hand, found myself enjoying the intricate details, the weaving of storylines, the whole drama. The Shadow Land employs many of the same techniques – multiple stories from the present and the past intertwining to create a heart-wrenching saga of love, loss, pain, and secrets with that one golden thread of hope woven throughout. And rather than having the plot driven by smarmy sex scenes and foul language, The Shadow Land is moved along by mystery, history, wonder, and hope.

While I enjoyed the story, I do admit that there were times when I wondered just how much more Alexandra and Bobby could stumble into and if the drama would ever come to a conclusion. There were moments when I thought that plausibility was stretched beyond its reach (as when Alexandra happened to find an English-speaking cab driver willing to drive well outside the city for very little money), but Kostova somehow managed to make everything that happened make sense (when we get to know Bobby and his history better, we can maybe understand why he was willing to help Alexandra). And in amongst the plot twists and long car rides, she embroidered in some desperately beautiful images and stitches of wisdom to keep me reading on.

This was definitely not a one-sitting book for me. In fact, it took me quite a while to get through it. But I’m glad that I did. I feel like I grew alongside Alexandra in this book. It gave me both a new respect for the survivors of the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe and a broken heart for all they endured at the hands of those who were in power. Worth the read.

Many thanks to Ballantine Books and NetGalley for the copy of this book. I was not required to give a positive review. All opinions are my very own! 🙂

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