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review 2017-05-19 17:56
The violinist from Bulgaria
The Shadow Land - Elizabeth Kostova

Because I loved The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, it really wasn't a difficult decision to pick up her newest novel, The Shadow Land. This book takes place in Bulgaria which is a land I am not at all familiar with beyond Viktor Krum and his Quidditch teammates. (I hope you know what that references because if you don't...let me know so I can review them for you.) You couldn't get further from witches and wizards with this book. The main character, Alexandra, is an American who travels to Bulgaria with emotional baggage (which I honestly could have cared less about) and an intent to teach English. Instead she stumbles into a mystery and a lot of dramatic intrigue. The cast of characters includes but is not limited to a wily taxi driver, an elderly artist, a menacing statesmen with flowing locks, and an intelligent street dog. I was expecting a lot from this novel and I have to admit that I came away disappointed. The characters weren't nearly as compelling or detailed as those in The Historian. **Possible spoilers ahead** The entire backstory of the main character turned out to be pointless. I had thought that there would be some kind of twist at the end but that did not turn out to be the case. For the most part, it was pretty predictable. **No spoilers beyond this point** Kostova still remains impressive when it comes to describing setting and events but as mentioned above the characters felt flat and one-dimensional. However, if you're a fan of historical fiction that is chock full of detailed descriptions then you're probably going to be a fan of Kostova's writing and if you're particularly interested in Bulgaria then you couldn't go amiss with this one. For me, I'm sorry to say, it's a 5/10.

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2016-10-01 03:56
Auto Da Fé - Elias Canetti .
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review 2015-09-10 04:37
Street Without a Name by Kapka Kassabova
Street Without a Name: Childhood and Other Misadventures in Bulgaria - Kapka Kassabova

Kapka Kassabova grew up in Bulgaria under the Communist regime, immigrating to New Zealand in 1991, at the age of 19. In the years after her departure, she returned to the country several times to visit older relatives and to sightsee. The first part of this book is a solid 4-star memoir about her childhood; the rest documents her travels and earns 2.5 or 3 stars. Unfortunately, the travel section is the longer.

 

The memoir immediately captured my attention with stories of life amidst hardship. Although Kassabova’s parents were well-educated, the family lived in two rooms in a shoddily constructed concrete apartment building, surrounded by mud and thousands of other, identical buildings; the chance to buy anything new was so rare and even dangerous (when shoppers physically fought over merchandise) that the author’s mother had a breakdown on a visit to a Dutch department store; and interactions with anyone from the other side of the Iron Curtain were fraught, as they truly came from different worlds. One escape was music; in a twist of irony, as a teenager Kassabova enjoyed protest music from the West. The censors allowed it through because the lyrics raged against the capitalist machine, not realizing that teens reversed the meaning, raging instead against the only machine they knew.

 

The writing is clear, descriptive, and a little self-deprecating, and so combined with interesting material, the first section succeeds. But then we get to the travel. Kassabova initially presents her trip in 2006 as a return to Bulgaria after many years away, but it soon becomes clear that she has traveled in the country as an adult on several occasions, and she splices these trips together, cutting back and forth between different visits to the same or nearby places, which is disorienting.

 

There doesn’t seem to be much direction to Kassabova’s travel; the organization of this section felt scattershot, and the reader gets little sense of why we should be interested in these particular places. I’m not sure what the author was looking for on this trip, but don’t believe she found it; the whole book is rather melancholy. Certainly Bulgaria doesn’t seem to have improved much with the fall of communism; the overall picture Kassabova paints is one of foreign investors getting rich while regular people struggle to get by without a safety net and smaller towns continue to decay. But I was interested to read about how the country has changed, as well as a bit of its earlier history, and the author’s conversations with the people she meets are often entertaining.

 

Ultimately, this one is a cautious recommend: certainly worth reading if you are interested in the subject matter, but not the first book I would urge on an armchair traveler.

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text 2015-06-12 01:31
When an Israeli Author Leaps into the Unknown

Last week I signed a contract with an American-based literary agent. My new book, a suspense novel set in both Israel and Bulgaria, is on submission.

I describe myself as an American-born, Israeli author who writes about Bulgaria. My first novel, the self-published Valley of Thracians, was set entirely in Bulgaria. InThe Burgas Affair, the action takes place in two countries I love - Israel and Bulgaria.

You probably have guessed why I write about, and love Israel. I was born in Sioux City, Iowa, and made aliyah with my family at the age of fifteen. I finished high school in Jerusalem, served for three years in the Israel Defense Forces, was a founding member of Kibbutz Yahel in the Arava Valley. I married Jodie, who had moved to Israel from Ithaca, New York, and together we began raising a family. We eventually moved to Moshav Neve Ilan, outside Jerusalem, where we continue to live today.

But why Bulgaria?

My wife and I received an amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we made the most of it. My position at a Ramat Gan-based marketing company was relocated to Sofia, Bulgaria, on a two-year contract. My company markets online gaming websites and software – only in countries where it is legal to play these games. Our primary market is Europe, and therefore certain management positions needed to be physically located in Europe.

We immediately fell in love with Bulgaria. The food was different and very tasty. The culture was fascinating. The history, both the ancient glory of the Thracians that led me to mention them in my novel, and the more modern dark years of Bulgaria's communist regime – it was captivating. We traveled all over the country, from the Black Sea shores to the mountain villages. We made many Bulgarian friends. I could talk to you about Bulgaria for hours.

The one thing I must mention is the special role Bulgarians played in rescuing their Jewish citizens during World War Two. Although Bulgaria sided with the Nazis, its entire community of some 55,000 Jews survived the Holocaust. Because of the bravery of Bulgarian politicians, clergymen, and ordinary citizens, Bulgarian Jews survived. Unfortunately, this amazing story has a sad element – over 11,000 Jews from the Bulgarian-controlled territories of Macedonia and northern Greece were sent to the camps and died.

Most of Bulgaria's Jewish community made aliyah shortly after the establishment of the State of Israel. There is a small, active Jewish community in Sofia. The synagogue there is an amazing building. Bulgaria is a strong supporter and ally of Israel. Living there, we felt very comfortable and never hid the fact that we were Israelis or that we were Jews.

We visited Bulgaria this month. Our trip to Sofia was like going home. We saw our friends. I spoke a bit of broken Bulgarian that the locals understood – they appreciated my efforts to speak their language. And we drove into the Rhodopi Mountains, a beautiful area near the Greek border that I will be writing about for months to come.

I am not a travel guide – I am a writer. I love to write about Bulgaria in efforts to convince western tourists to visit that country. Bulgaria is stunning, different, and totally affordable. I wish I could show you the country personally. I love Bulgaria!

Coming back to Israel from our two years abroad, I became inspired to write, and in particular, I wanted to write about Bulgaria. But, I also love to write about Israel, the Jewish holidays, and I review books written by Israeli authors, especially those just translated into English for the first time.

I can proudly say that The Times of Israel became my first home for articles, book reviews, and even humorous pieces. My debut blog appeared on these virtual pages on July 12, 2012. This is my 77th article to be published at The Times of Israel.

I now write for the Huffington Post, the Jerusalem Post, the Oslo Times, and a number of other online media sites.

If you want to know more about my upcoming novel, or the identity of the agent who will help me find a home for that book, you can read the short announcement here on my personal blog. This article is not about that, and it's not an attempt to get you to buy my first book. (Although I won't complain if you do.)

This article is about the sky. This article is about how far someone who studied English in a Jerusalem school, and who served in the IDF, and who raised three young children on a very young kibbutz, and who continued to dream and dream for years and years – how far that person can go with his writing.

The sky's the limit.

Source: ellisshuman.blogspot.co.il
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review 2014-09-16 10:35
From Bulgaria to the Promised Land, Brazil

Escaping from internment in a Bulgarian labor camp during World War Two, a Jewish man makes a better life for his family in the Amazon.

One of the earliest memories that Licco Hazan retains from his childhood is the assassination attempt on Bulgarian ruler Tsar Boris III, a bombing which destroyed the Sveta Nedelya Cathedral in downtown Sofia in 1925. Licco, a member of a proud Jewish family, traced his origins to Toledo in Spain, five hundred years earlier. His grandfather was the cantor at the Sofia Synagogue, a profession which gave the family their name. Life was not easy for the Hazans at the beginning of the 20th century, nor was it an easy time for Bulgaria. Things would get much harder.

In 1941, Bulgaria joined the Axis and officially entered World War II. Under pressure from Germany, the fascists who took control of Bulgaria planned to deport the country's Jews to the concentration camps in Poland. Bulgarian citizens and clergy rose up in protest,thwarting these plans. Still, Licco Hazan and his brother were rounded up and interned in a labor camp, where they were given back-breaking tasks.

In the novel As Flowers Go by Ilko Minev, Licco escapes from the camp with help from quite an unusual source.  Albert Göring, brother of Luftwaffe commander and leading Nazi Party member Hermann Göring, was a businessman notable for helping Jews and dissidents survive in Germany.  Göring arranges transport to Istanbul, and it is during this journey that Licco meets Berta Michael, a young girl who would become his wife.

Licco first considers going to Palestine, where there was already a sizeable Bulgarian refugee population, but the British were restricting immigration to the country. Instead, learning that Brazil was expediting visas for engineers and other technicians, Licco and Berta decide to travel there.

What follows is the Hazans' introduction to the colorful nation of Brazil. Upon arrival in hot and muggy Belém, they naturally head to the Shaar Hashomayim synagogue, where their knowledge of Ladino helps to make friends among members of the community. It is there that Licco learns of the contribution of Moroccan Jews to the Amazon's development. The instability of life back in Morocco led them to consider Brazil as a new Promised Land.

Brazil was built upon "the principle of a free and unsuppressed miscegenation, the complete equalization of black and white, brown and yellow people". Licco and Berta choose to be part of this "colorful chaos", and they joined the "streams of humanity [who] desperately sought to better their lives in the promising Amazon."

Reading almost like a memoir, As Flowers Go is a family drama which blends true facts with a bit of fiction. The saga of Brazilian author Minev's own family was the inspiration behind the story. Originally written in Portuguese, and recently published in Bulgaria, As Flowers Go will soon be available in English as well, translated expertly by Diane Grosklaus Whitty.

 

Source: ellisshuman.blogspot.co.il/2014/09/from-bulgaria-to-promised-land-brazil.html
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