Review: The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova

Title: The Shadow Land
Author: Elizabeth Kostova
Pages: 496
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Free ARC from Ballantine

Rating: A

Note: As stated under the Source (above), I received this book for free from Ballantine via NetGalley. I pride myself on writing fair and honest reviews.

Summary: 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.

Review: 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?

2 Replies to “Review: The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova”

    • What’s funny is, I can’t stand any kind of sound or background noise when I’m reading usually, but for the life of me, I don’t know why it never occurred to me to pause my reading when a music reference came up, and listen to it for a few minutes. Definitely something I’ll do again in future.

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