A novel that blends past with present in a suspenseful journey that spans three generations and reveals the dark secrets of a family's - and a nation's - history
"This book is a train with many cars, the old kind, moving clumsily along a track at night. One car contains a small supply of coal, which spills out into the passageway when an internal door is opened... Another car contains grain, shipped for export. One car is full of musicians and instruments and cheap overnight bags, nearly half an orchestra sitting... in the seats of the second-class compartments. Another car contains bad dreams. The final train car has no seats but instead is full of sleeping men, who lie crushed together on their coats in the dark. The door to that one has been nailed shut from outside..."
Thus begins Elizabeth Kostova's spellbinding new novel about a young American woman, Alexandra Boyd, who has travelled to Sofia, Bulgaria, hoping that life abroad will salve the wounds left by the loss of her beloved brother. The year is 2003 and, soon after arriving in this elegant East European city, she helps an elderly couple into a taxi and realises too late that she has accidentally kept one of their bags. Inside she finds an ornately carved wooden box engraved with a name: Stoyan Lazarov. Raising the hinged lid, she discovers that she is holding an urn filled with human ashes.
Setting out on a journey to track down the Lazarov family and reunite them with their precious package, she finds ever more obstacles in her path even as her determination grows greater, and the mystery behind the significance of the urn deepens. Soon she will realize that this object is tied to the very darkest moments in the nation's history, and that the stakes behind seeing it safely returned are higher than she could ever have imagined.
Kostova's tale of immense scope delves into the horrors of a century and traverses the culture and landscape of the mysterious country of Bulgaria. Suspenseful and beautifully written, it explores the power of stories, the pull of the past, and the hope and meaning that can sometimes be found in the aftermath of loss.