Maira's Books

In January of 2005 I started this blog as a record of books I’ve read as I was afraid I would forget what I have read. I have often referred back to my own blog to remember a book's contents or see what I have read by an author. I have enjoyed passing my books on to friends or recommending books to read. I know I have missed recording some, but in general I try to keep up with what I have read or listened to.

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Location: Kalamazoo, MI, United States

I am a librarian at Waldo Library at Western Michigan University.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova (2017)

Kostova is one of the authors I always pick up when I see a new book and she didn't disappoint. I do have to say there was a bit of a pall over my lovely weekend up north, as I kept listening to this once again heavy story. You would think I am done with World War II and the Soviet aftermath, but now I got a new perspective - from Bulgaria.

Turns out Kostova herself went to Bulgaria and fell in love, so she has always wanted to write a book wholly located in the country. I would like to think that given a map of Europe with country outlines, I could identify Bulgaria, but without country lines - nope - until now. Between Greece and Romania with a coastline along the Black Sea.

Alexandra Boyd has done nothing special after graduating from college, so after a few years of shelving books in a library (couldn't she move up to more interesting jobs in the library?) she decides to spend a year teaching English in Bulgaria and arrives a bit early to explore the country before she starts working. The taxi from the airport leaves her off at a hotel instead of her hostel. She helps an older couple and a younger man get all their things into a taxi, but then realizes that one of their bags has stayed with her. She spends the rest of the book returning the bag that contains a box of ashes of Stoyan Lazarov.

The taxi driver Bobby (Asparuh) helps her out, brings her to the police as she requests, then follows clues criss-crossing Bulgaria to find the family of Stoyan Lazarov. The adventure takes her to Velin  Monastery(couldn't find it, maybe meant to be Rila), Bovech (maybe be Lovech), major city Plovdiv, Gorno in the mountains, Burgas on the sea.  She meets Bobby's aunt Pavlina, Lazarov's wife's sister Irina, Lazarov's wife Vera, their son Nevan, friend Milen Radev, his daughter and various other characters. 

As we meet these people, slowly the story of Stoyan Lazarov is revealed - a brilliant violinist, who studied in Vienna, but came back as the war was starting, met Vera, courted her, married her, but was taken away to a labor camp. These are the stories I have heard before, but this one just wrenches the heart even more than usual. How does one stay sane to endure the incredible hardships? Lazarov had his music and stayed sane by playing through all the pieces he knew. I have thought about how well I could endure something like this - I think I would lose it. What would I think about? Books? I've forgotten more than I remember. Songs? I've stopped singing them.

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