Review: The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova

Review: The Shadow Land by Elizabeth KostovaThe Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova
Amazon|The Book Depository
Pages: 496
Published by Ballantine Books on April 11th 2017

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.

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

Elizabeth Kostova dazzled once again for me in The Shadow Land. As a fan of Kostova’s The Historian and The Swan Thieves, once again I am transported to Kostova’s lyrical landscape of history, culture and intrigue.

Alexandra Boyd arrives in Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital city, seeking the solace from her past in America. After losing her brother, Jack, in a hiking accident for which she feels immense guilt, Alexandra becomes quickly embroiled in another mystery. She attempts to hail a taxi at the same time an old woman, a sick, elderly man in a wheelchair and a tall, dark-haired man attempt to do the same. They smile and exchange conversation in limited English. Alexandra snaps a photo and wishes them well as she helps them and their baggage into a tax.

Shortly after, Alexandra realizes the traveling party has left behind a black bag. Upon opening it, she finds a hand-carved box containing an engraved urn filled with the ashes of Stoyan Lazarov. With the help of her cab driver, Bobby, Alexandra sets off to locate the Lazarov family and return the ashes.

Kostova’s talent is in full force throughout the story. She presents a storyline imbued with Bulgarian history that highlights the political unrest of the past and present through the story of Stoyan and the story of Alexandra. The emphasis is on the journey of Alexandra to find the Lazarov family and return the ashes. She refuses to leave Stoyan behind, like she did Jack on the mountain. Her guilt concerning her brother’s disappearance is the driving force in returning Lazarov’s ashes.

Kostova hands over a weighty novel. This should not be a surprise if you’ve read her other works. She is a stellar storyteller by her very nature. She crafts an expert narrative of what drives humanity in this world. Is the essence of kindness in the likes of Alexandra or is it something far darker and more menacing below the depth of blackened hearts?

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