The Shadow Land: Book summary and reviews of The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova

The Shadow Land

by Elizabeth Kostova

The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova X
The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova
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Book Summary

From the #1 bestselling author of The Historian comes an engrossing novel that spans the past and the present - and unearths the dark secrets of Bulgaria, a beautiful and haunted country.

A young American woman, Alexandra Boyd, has traveled to Sofia, Bulgaria, hoping that life abroad will salve the wounds left by the loss of her beloved brother. Soon after arriving in this elegant East European city, however, she helps an elderly couple into a taxi - and realizes too late that she has accidentally kept one of their bags. Inside she finds an ornately carved wooden box engraved with a name: Stoyan Lazarov. Raising the hinged lid, she discovers that she is holding an urn filled with human ashes.

As Alexandra sets out to locate the family and return this precious item, she will first have to uncover the secrets of a talented musician who was shattered by 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.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

BookBrowse Review
"The setting and characters are intriguing, but the plot shifts back and forth in time without seeming to have a good reason for doing so which bogs down the action. Also, there's too much unnecessary mystery surrounding Bobby; and Alexandra does not feel fully developed." - Mollie Waters

Other Reviews
"Starred Review. A slight hint of the mystical will appeal to readers who enjoyed Deborah Harkness's 'All Souls' trilogy, while the mystery and thriller aspects will keep fans of Dan Brown and Umberto Eco reading. A fantastic book club pick." - Library Journal

"A compelling and complex mystery, strong storytelling, and lyrical writing combine for an engrossing read set in the former Soviet-bloc nation of Bulgaria." - Publishers Weekly

"Recommend Kostova's latest to readers seeking outstanding and suspenseful historical fiction." - Booklist

"Those who enjoy a deep dive into the complicated lives of people both historical and contemporary will love this book." - School Library Journal

"Kostova's passion and tragic sense of history, along with jewellike character studies, almost make up for the overplotting and repetitiveness as she drums her points home." - Kirkus

"In The Shadow Land, Elizabeth Kostova, a master storyteller, brings vividly to life an unfamiliar country - Bulgaria - and a painful history that feels particularly relevant now. You won't want to put down this remarkable book." - Claire Messud, author of The Woman Upstairs

"In this brilliant work, what appears at first a minor mystery quickly becomes emblematic of a whole country's hidden history. Lyrical and compelling, The Shadow Land proves a profound meditation on how evil is inflicted, endured, and, through courage and compassion, defeated. Elizabeth Kostova's third novel clearly establishes her as one of America's finest writers." - Ron Rash, author of The Risen

"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, author of Everybody's Fool

"Transporting ... draws us into Bulgarian history and character revelation like an elegant, mysterious labyrinth. Page-turning, evocative, and richly imagined." - Dominic Smith, author of The Last Painting of Sara de Vos

This information about The Shadow Land shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

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Cloggie Downunder

A superlative read
“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.

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Author Information

Elizabeth Kostova Author Biography

Elizabeth Johnson Kostova is an American author best known for her debut novel The Historian.

She graduated from Yale and holds an MFA from the University of Michigan where she won the Hopwood Award for the Novel-in-Progress. The Historian took her ten years to write, and was inspired by the vampire stories told to her by her father, a professor of urban planning, during the year they spent in Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia (where her father taught at the university) when she was seven, and as they traveled through Europe.

Her second novel The Swan Thieves was published in 2010.

Author Interview
Link to Elizabeth Kostova's Website

Name Pronunciation
Elizabeth Kostova: kos-TOE-va

Other books by Elizabeth Kostova at BookBrowse
  • The Swan Thieves jacket
  • The Historian jacket
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