Kostova’s latest, The Shadow Land, is about an American woman named Alexandra who travels to Bulgaria to teach English. On her first day there, she accidentally comes into possession of an urn filled with human ashes. Inscribed on the urn is a name: Stoyan Lazarov.
Alexandra befriends a taxi driver named Bobby, and the two of them set off to return the ashes to Lazarov’s family. From there they learn more and more about Lazarov, who was a violinist who spent some time in a prison camp in 1949, as well as his family. They also find themselves embroiled in the current political scene in Bulgaria–and all the possible threat that could entail.
The narrative goes back and forth from focusing on Alexandra, who is still dealing with the death of her brother, to the stories of the people they meet, finally to Lazarov’s time in the labor camp. It’s an extremely rich and layered book, one that gives you time to absorb the characters and their stories. The examination of the prison camps and the dark background of Bulgarian politicians after the fall of communism is particularly heartbreaking. Kostova’s author’s note at the end is worth a read for the background she gives.
Kostova’s writing is elegant and immersive, but never gets bogged down, even with all of the storylines going on. Her word choice is perfect and each sentence is extremely well-crafted. The scene she sets is the next best thing to a trip to Bulgaria.
The Shadow Land is an engrossing, absorbing story with a rich sense of place. Give it a try if you’re in the mood for an enthralling read with lots of layers and a cast of fascinating characters.