Book Review: The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova

It’s been 12 years since Elizabeth Kostova’s debut novel, The Historian, was first released. It was an instant best-seller, received with much acclaim. For me, it’s been one of those books I’ve picked up many times and yet never read. The same went for her second novel The Swan Thieves. Sometimes these books just pass you by, don’t they? Maybe it’s your mood when you’re in the book store, or where you are in life.  More often than not it’s simply a matter of time – a lack thereof.

Elizabeth’s latest release however, caught my eye almost immediately. The blurb suggested a mystery, a coming-of-age story and historical fiction, and this book is all of those.

The Shadow Land is the story of Alexandra Boyd, a young woman who travels to Bulgaria from the U.S. to come to terms with the loss of her brother in her early teens. Bulgaria fascinated them both as children, so Alexandra has lined up a job there teaching English. The day she arrives, mere moments after she’s been taken to a hotel from the airport, she helps an elderly couple into a taxi and inadvertently holds onto one of their bags.

Alexander discovers that the bag contains human ashes, which the couple was surely taking to bury somewhere. The only clues she has are a photograph she took, the name on the urn – Stoyan Lazarov – and an off-hand comment that they were travelling to a nearby monastery. She enlists the help of a grumpy young taxi driver who insists she call him Bobby. Like Stoyan, Bobby turns out to be so much more than what he seems at first.

Alexandra and Bobby embark on a journey that takes them across Bulgaria in search of a family whose lives had been so impacted by Bulgaria’s communist-era past that, decades later, they’re still running from it.

To be honest, before reading The Shadow Land, there wasn’t much I could tell you about Bulgaria, except that it was somewhere in Eastern Europe and was, for a period of time, a communist country allied with the Soviet Union. I have a vague memory of Bulgaria being involved in the Cold War from my International Politics unit during my university days. Something like that anyway.

The Shadow Land opened my eyes to the impact of communism more effectively than any university unit. It brought it to life for me through the eyes of Stoyan Lazarov and those he loved. Isn’t it just amazing the way fiction can do this? So many times in my life people have tried to tell me you can only truly learn from non-fiction, from text books, criticism and first-hand accounts. Fiction, they say, is just a story, an escape from reality. But fiction brings history to life in a way non-fiction often struggles to do. It brings depth, context and emotion to what could otherwise be dry facts spouted monotonously by a bored university professor.

I’m grateful to Elizabeth Kostova for bringing this aspect of history to life for me in a way that’s engaging, beautifully detailed and rich with emotion.  I’ll be going back to look at her other books now for sure.

Amanda x

 

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On The Trap by Melanie Raabe

On The Trap by Melanie Raabe

Wow! If those two lines don’t get your attention I don’t know what will.

What attracted me to The Trap was the cover and the sentence above. Then I noticed it was published by Text Publishing. I’ve found so many great reads from the Text shelves. When I saw the little (t) on the front cover I thought: this book must be good otherwise Text wouldn’t have published it, right? The answer is yes! It was great and Text has once again published an impressive debut novel.

I was reading outside my comfort zone with The Trap (I’m not one who normally reads psychological thrillers) but I was immediately drawn into Linda’s world – it was just so cleverly revealed in the first few pages and had me wanting to know more.

Linda is a famous novelist and a recluse who hasn’t left her home in years. Her sister Anna was murdered 12 years ago and Linda saw the murderer. Now twelve years later she sees him again on TV, and begins to set her TRAP.

Why did I enjoy this book so much? It’s a little hard for me to explain. Linda was easy to like, although she was a very confused and lonely person. I was invested in her story and wanted to see how it would end.

There was also a very clever plot line – a novel within a novel – which was interesting and gave you more insight into Linda’s character and how she ended up a recluse. At no point in the book did I even begin to guess what was going to happen, in fact I was just as confused as Linda, not knowing what was real or imagined, so much so that I even reread passages to see if I missed something. It was also refreshing to be pulled along in the natural flow of the story without worrying too much about the outcome. It didn’t matter to me, what was important was that Linda got a chance to work through her emotions and find some sort of closure.

The Trap is described as a psychological thriller but there was so much more to the novel than finding out who killed Linda’s sister Anna and why. There was Linda’s story and that was what I found the most enthralling.

Normally when I write a review I have the book beside me so I can flick through and reread bits, it somehow makes it easier to write. This time however I don’t have the book with me. I quickly passed it along to a friend to read because I enjoyed it so much!

Anyway, I hope you pick up The Trap for yourself and read it because it was definitely 5 stars for me!

Jody