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by Elizabeth Kostova
Ballantine, April 2017
468 pages
ISBN: 0345527860

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

On her first day in Bulgaria, Alexandra Boyd, a young American who has arrived for a new teaching job, accidentally picks up a bag belonging to a family when she helps an elderly couple into a taxi cab. Inside, the bag contains an urn with ashes. Mortified by the mistake, Alexandra feels she must return the urn—and so begins a very long trip to find the family and return the ashes. She's aided in her search by taxi driver Asparuh "Bobby" Iliev, who isn't exactly what he seems.

With a name on the urn—Stoyan Lazarov—and the little she learned during a short conversation, she and Bobby start their search at Velinksi Monastery. From the beginning, they seem to have someone following in their footsteps. At the monastery, they are mysteriously locked in a hallway, escaping only by some quick-thinking on Bobby's part. As they continue their journey, Bobby's car is vandalized and government officials take a special interest in their task.

Although she could have easily left the urn with a relative, Alexandra persists, in part for personal reasons. She is still haunted by her missing brother, who disappeared years ago on a family hiking trip—just after he and Alexandra had an argument in which she told him to "get lost."

As they travel from the city of Sofia into the countryside, Alexandra and Bobby learn more about Lazarov, a famed violinist whose career was cut short by Communist oppression. The novel shifts back and forth between narratives—the present and Lazarov's story in the 1940s, in which we learn the horror that Lazarov endured. Still, as readers we wonder why the events of the past continue to haunt his family—and now Alexandra. Kostova masterfully reveals it, piece by piece.

The novel doesn't reach the heights that Kostova's debut book, THE HISTORIAN, achieved (then again, it is hard to compete with Dracula). But it is still a compelling read with a wonderful cast of characters and tension that ripples throughout. Kostova shows that bad guys don't always need to be blood-sucking vampires—and that history, unfortunately, does sometimes bleed over into the present.

§ Lourdes Venard is an independent editor who divides her time between New York and Maui.

Reviewed by Lourdes Venard, June 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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