The Shadow Land

The Shadow Land

by Elizabeth Kostova


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From the #1 bestselling author of The Historian comes a mesmerizing novel that spans the past and the present—and unearths the troubled history of a gorgeous but haunted country.

A young American woman, Alexandra Boyd, has traveled to Sofia, Bulgaria, hoping that life abroad will salve the wounds left by the loss of her beloved brother. Soon after arriving in this elegant East European city, however, she helps an elderly couple into a taxi—and realizes 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.

As Alexandra sets out to locate the family and return this precious item, she will first have to uncover the secrets of a talented musician who was shattered by political oppression—and she will find out all too quickly that this knowledge is fraught with its own danger.

Elizabeth Kostova’s new novel is a tale of immense scope that delves into the horrors of a century and traverses the culture and landscape of this mysterious country. 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.

Praise for The Shadow Land

“A compelling and complex mystery, strong storytelling, and lyrical writing combine for an engrossing read.”—Publishers Weekly

“In The Shadow Land, Elizabeth Kostova, a master storyteller, brings vividly to life an unfamiliar country—Bulgaria—and a painful history that feels particularly relevant now. You won’t want to put down this remarkable book.”—Claire Messud, author of The Woman Upstairs

“In this brilliant work, what appears at first a minor mystery quickly becomes emblematic of a whole country’s hidden history. Lyrical and compelling, The Shadow Land proves a profound meditation on how evil is inflicted, endured, and, through courage and compassion, defeated. Elizabeth Kostova’s third novel clearly establishes her as one of America’s finest writers.”—Ron Rash, author of The Risen

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780594922100
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/11/2017
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 33,705
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.70(d)

About the Author

Elizabeth Kostova is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Swan Thieves and The Historian. She graduated from Yale and holds an MFA from the University of Michigan, where she won a Hopwood Award for Novel-in-Progress. She is also co-founder of the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation for Creative Writing in Bulgaria.

Read an Excerpt


Excerpted from "The Shadow Land"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Elizabeth Kostova.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

1. Consider the opening passage, which begins “This book is a train with many cars, the old kind, moving clumsily along a track at night.” What do you think the author meant by this? How does it affect your reading of the novel? What is the significance of the train car door that is nailed shut from the outside?

2. Why do you think Alexandra goes to such great lengths to return the bag to the Lazarovi? What would you have done in her position?

3. What do you think motivates Bobby to stick with Alexandra from the start? What are some of the main differences and similarities between the two characters?

4. Discuss the theme of guilt in the novel. How do the different characters experience guilt, and what are some of the ways they seek redemption?

5. What does the novel have to say about the importance of history? What are some of the ways we see the past impacting the present over the course of the book?

6. On page 369, Bobby tells Alexandra “In your country, you don’t care about history, and in my country we cannot recover from it.” What do you think he means by this? Do you agree or disagree?

7. Compare and contrast Alexandra at the start of the novel and at the end. What are some of the ways her experience changes her? What do you imagine might happen next for her?

8. Chapter sixty-nine is stylistically very different from the rest of the novel. Why do you think the author chose to tell this part of the story in this way? How did you react to reading that chapter?

9. What is the significance of the story of The Wolf and the Bear? How does it relate to the larger story of this novel, and what do you think the lessons that can be learned from it are?

10. Many of the characters in this novel are artists – musicians, painters, poets – or else have a great love for and appreciation of art. What do you think the significance of this is? What does the novel have to say about the importance of art and creative expression?

1. The Shadow Land begins with the protagonist finding herself in the midst of a startling dilemma. What would be your first instinct if you found yourself in Alexandra’s situation—-in possession of cremated remains belonging to a stranger? How far would you go to -return the ashes?

2. Alexandra and Jack love to pull out the map and dream about the distant lands they hope to one day explore. Likewise dreams of someday traveling to Venice. Is there a place you’ve always wished to visit? Where, and why that place?

3. What do you think happens to Jack? What do you think of the blame Alexandra places on herself for his disappearance? Do you think she makes the right choice in keeping the details of her last conversation with Jack a secret?

4. What do you make of the irony of Alexandra’s inability to find her brother’s remains, and yet her stumbling upon the remains of a stranger? What do you think the author is trying to illustrate through this irony? Are there more instances of irony that unfold throughout the novel?

5. Compare the Bulgarian world of Stoyan’s days to the Bulgarian world Alexandra enters. Although much time has passed, what cultural values and traditions seem to persevere? Why do you think these have stood the test of time? Are there cultural values in your own life that have persisted through generations?

6. The arts seem to hold a special place in this book—-Bobby writes poetry, Irina paints, and Stoyan is a master violinist. Art even becomes a tool of survival for Stoyan and Nasko in the work camp. Why do you think the author places such an emphasis on the importance of fine arts in this novel? What other functions do the fine arts serve for the various characters?

7. Stoyan believes he deserves to pay a penance for causing the murder of Velizar Gishev and his family, and for keeping the truth a secret. Why do you think he later inflicts self—punishment by rebuilding Baba Yana’s house even in his weakened condition? Hasn’t he suffered enough at the hands of the Bulgarian government?

8. Several times, Momo offers Stoyan freedom in exchange for reporting to the Commissioner from Sofia that the prisoners of the work camp are treated well. Each time, Stoyan firmly refuses, and dooms himself to a longer sentence. Do you think he makes the right choice? Do you think Momo would really have released Stoyan if Stoyan had agreed to the deal?

9. Storytelling is an important element in The Shadow Land. Why do you think it is important that we hear the many pieces of Stoyan’s story told from each speaker’s perspective, rather than only from Alexandra’s narration?

10. What do you make of the interconnectedness of Stoyan’s and Alexandra’s lives? What was your reaction when the vision Stoyan creates for himself of his son and a young woman sitting by the river together is played out with Alexandra and Neven?

11. Do you think Vera betrays Stoyan by having a child with another man while Stoyan is in the work camp?

12. Were you surprised to learn that Momo and the Minister of Roads, Mikhail Kurilkov, are the same person? Did you suspect this at any point before it is revealed? If so, how did you know?

Customer Reviews

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The Shadow Land 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was well written interesting story. I was glued to the book and did not want to put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book from beginning to end. It stays with you when you are not reading it and you are sad when it is finished because you have been so involved in the characters. This author's other books are also very well done, especially The Historian. Highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Engaging and beautiful
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A hundred pages into the novel and I stayed up all night reading (as if I could have finished the book lol). The stories of the different characters were compelling, the land of Bulgaria enchanting and sometimes frightening. Loved The Shadow Land even more than the Historian I think.
cloggiedownunder More than 1 year ago
“The photos were mainly black-and-white, some brown or yellowish sepia. Several of the images looked very old; these were wedding groups in stiff clothing with something Eastern about it, young people staring transfixed into futures now long past” The Shadow Land is the third novel by American author, Elizabeth Kostova. In May, 2008, Alexandra Boyd leaves her North Carolina home and her job as a librarian to take up a teaching position at the Central English Institute in Sofia, Bulgaria. But on her very first day in the country, through a mix-up, she ends up with a bag not her own, one that contains an urn of ashes. Alexandra is distraught at the thought that Stoyan Lazarov’s family are heading to the Velin Monastery in Rila without his remains. Her taxi driver, Asparuh Iliev (just call me Bobby) obligingly returns her to the spot where the unfortunate mishap took place, to no avail. A visit to the Police Station sets them on a path that becomes almost a quest: a quest to see the urn returned to the family. In the process of this far-from-straightforward mission, they learn a great deal about the life of the man whose remains they are carrying with them. As well as the third person narrative of present day events from Alexandra’s perspective, there are some chapters describing her motivation for travelling to Bulgaria. Stoyan Lazarov’s story is told to Alexandra and Bobby, both by others, in anecdotes often second- or third-hand, (usually translated by Bobby) and by Stoyan’s own account, written as a confession, that details the important milestones in his life from 1940 onwards. Kostova gives the reader a tale that has it all: mystery, romance, history, politics and corruption, a secret compartment, labour camps, violins and a faithful, heroic dog. All this rendered is gorgeous descriptive prose. The protagonist’s quest takes the reader on a tour of Bulgaria while subtly informing about a shocking history not commonly known. Kostova’s original plot has several twists that even the most astute reader is unlikely to anticipate. Tension-filled pages build up to a very exciting climax, and several of the multi-faceted characters are not what they at first seem to be. Kostova’s extensive research and her familiarity with Bulgaria, her politics, her history and her customs, are apparent on every page, as is her love for the Bulgarian people and the landscape: “On every horizon Alexandra saw mountains, some of which were blue and very distant, beyond a great plain. Others were closer and rubbed with darkness, like long smudges of soot”. This inspirational story demonstrates what one will do to endure. The Shadow Land is intriguing and informative, but also moving and very uplifting. A superlative read.
CPAC2012 3 months ago
In her first 24 hours in Sofia, Bulgaria, where she has travelled to teach English, Alexandra Boyd, a young American, meets briefly a family before they are about to board a taxi to leave the city. Soon after, Alexandra—who had helped one of those people with their luggage—realizes she has kept one of their bags. On closer inspection, she realizes it is an urn containing what seems are human ashes, and a box engraved with the name ‘Stoyan Lazarov’. Using her own taxi driver as a guide, Alexandra tracks down the Lazarovi family, through space and time, as she completes the puzzle of who Stoyan Lazarov was and what happened to him and his family during Bulgaria’s Communist era. In doing so, Alexandra’s life, and of those who come in contact with the information, will be in danger. I found Alexandra's burst of crying at the start of the novel a little too much. The chase to catch Alexandra and Bobby was also a bit unbelievable because despite the signs left by the persecutors were a bit disturbing, they never actually saw someone trying to prevent them from reaching their destination. I liked Stoyan Lazarov's story a great deal. His shattered hopes and dreams made for riveting fiction, more so than the contemporary aspects of the story. I learned a great deal about Bulgaria's geography and contemporary history, as the characters traversed the country while looking to piece together Stoyan's life story. I will be reading more of Elizabeth Kostova for sure.
Anonymous 12 months ago
Couldn’t put it down. Thanks for an informative and suspenseful story that captures the beauty of a country and its people as well as the horror of its past.
wordsandpeace More than 1 year ago
With hauntingly beautiful prose accompanying a suspenseful plot, Kostova captures the soul of Bulgaria: both its enchanting landscape and its horrifying past, ready to resurface at any moment. The reader travels a lot in The Historian, following the characters in a fascinating quest. Bulgaria is featured there, but now, The Shadow Land is mostly set in that country. There’s a story, even a mystery, with endearing characters, but for me, the main character of the book is definitely Bulgaria itself, with its majestic landscapes, and dark and troubled history. The author traveled to that country in her youth. She fell under its charm and knew that one day, she would write a whole book on it. The plot is simple: Alexandra Boyd, a young American woman, decided to go to Bulgaria, to find healing after the disappearance of her dear brother (Bulgaria was a special connection between them). When she arrives to Sofia, she helps an elderly couple into a taxi and realizes too late that she accidentally kept one of their bags. When she opens it, to see if she could find the identity of the owners and return them their belonging, she realizes it’s an urn containing with human ashes. The whole book is her quest to find the owners in order to return them the urn, and to know more about the life of the deceased. On the way, she makes friends and discovers a world very different from her own back in the US. She also realizes that the horrors of Bulgarian history are not healed yet, and they could lead to major dangers for herself as well. I was a bit frustrated at first, when I realized the plot pertaining to her brother fizzled out. But once in Bulgaria, I was totally captivated by the country (though I’m not sure it’s safe enough to travel there even today), especially by its stunning landscapes, so well evoked by Kostova. Her historical descriptions are just as powerful – warning: tough passages! If you have loved The Historian, or want to know more about Bulgaria, you absolutely need to read The Shadow Land.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I also read her other book, The Historian. Both were outstanding examples of intermixing history with story-telling.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sam1219 More than 1 year ago
I am voluntarily submitting my honest review after receiving an ARC of this ebook from NetGalley. After reading The Historian, I had high expectations going into this book. While I wasn't precisely disappointed, I can't say that The Shadow Land was better. Still, I did enjoy this book a great deal. In this work, In this work, the protagonist, an American tourist fleeing her own grief following the death of her brother, ends up with an urn containing the human remains of a stranger when she helps an elderly couple into a cab in and accidentally keeps one of their parcels. As she tries to return the urn to the rightful owners, we are taken on a exploration of the Bulgarian police state with all of its attendant horrors. But Kostova also weaves in elements of the sublime as she describes the landscape, culture and heart of Bulgaria and her people. This juxtaposition of brutality and beauty illustrates the tension created by the attempts to oppress a people who despite knowing loss, fear and evil, have found a way to endure, survive and even triumph through courage and compassion. The only flaw for me was that the ending rang false in that it was just a bit too bright. Otherwise, this was a great read that provided much insight into Bulgarian history and culture even though it is a work of fiction.
JLYoung More than 1 year ago
The language of this book is great. It reminds me of books like the Nightingale. The story is intriguing. It caught my interest from the beginning. It's fast paced and suspenseful. I had no idea what was going to happen next. I hate when books are so predictable that I know what's going to happen from the beginning. This is not one of those books. It time hops a little from Alexandra's younger life to the present. There is tons of culture and historical information throughout which is super interesting. Loved that part of the book. Descriptions are vivid and beautiful. But... oh you knew there was a but coming... the switching tenses from 1st to 3rd person drove me absolutely nuts. Why couldn't the author just pick one and stick with it? It was incredibly annoying especially in places where the switches were quick. Read 3 pages in 1st person and then all of a sudden 3rd person. Ah! I kind of think the author might have done it to separate the past from the present in an obvious way but oh my goodness not worth it. Other than that the story was amazing. I received a digital copy of this book from netgalley and the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
SecondRunReviews More than 1 year ago
I first encountered Elizabeth Kostova when I tackled The Historian ages ago. The tome still sits on my bookshelf. I was less than thrilled with her second novel, The Swan Thieves and as a result, I approached requesting The Shadow Land with a bit of trepidation. Within two chapters, I was sucked into The Shadow Land. Within two days, I was 50% complete with a close to five hundred-page novel. The story, the characters and the scenery were magnificent. Kostova does a beautiful job describing the scents and sounds of Bulgaria. I could see, feel, hear and smell the country. By the end of the novel, I want to visit Bulgaria and experience it for myself. So score one for Kostova for taking me mentally to a country I never before considered visiting. The story itself takes two paths. In the present we follow Alexandra, a troubled American travelling to Bulgaria for a teaching job when she is unexpectedly thrown into a life threatening situation. Her journey, from page one to the last, pulls her out of her shell and helps her to see life in a new light. Her journey and her forced reliance on strangers to complete her journey teaches a wonderful lesson. Sometimes we get wrapped up in our own problems and issues that we forget that others might be able to offer some comfort or share in an experience that will allow us to understand ourselves and/or the world better. The second path is in the past following a doomed violinist in an Eastern-Bloc country post World War II. And I couldn’t help but compare this novel with The Last Lament and since both novels take place during a similar time period. For some reason, I have more of a connection to Stoyan’s story in The Shadow Land than Aliki’s story in The Last Lament. Stoyan’s story is only told in the present tense as it happens to him. Perhaps this, coupled with the fact that Stoyan is an adult vs. Aliki’s being an adult reflecting back on the past provided a “real-time” connection with The Shadow Land. Stoyan understood more (or as much as you could during the Communist rule in eastern Europe) the implications of his actions or inactions at the time. There were also more breadcrumbs in the story to lead to the resolution of the mystery. Only two things stand out as issues. What was the point of Alexandra’s brother’s disappearance in the opening chapters? The ending, compared to the rest of the book, was just a little perfect, somewhat lackluster and not as strongly written as the rest of the novel. The book, as a whole, was well written as Kostova managed to pull me running through a rather lengthy emotional novel in less than a week. Since the rest of the story was so tightly woven, I was hoping for a bit more punch at the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tarri More than 1 year ago
The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova was hard to put down. It was one of those books that kept me up until 4:00 a.m., two nights in a row, because I just had to know what was happening next. Like her book, The Historian, the author wraps the reader into the pages and leaves us wanting more. In The Shadow Land the author melds the past and the present into one story and tells the tale of a dark time in Bulgaria's past. A past (in the not so distant time) when a person could be taken from their family, with no warning or trial, and sent to labor camps until someone decided to let you out. Chilling and masterfully related to the reader by relating the experience of concert violinist Stoyan Lazarov. Alexandra is a young woman who has come to Sofia to teach when she accidentally picks up the box holding the ashes of Stoyan Lazarov. In her quest to return the remains to Mr. Lazarov's family, Alexandra is aptly aided by Bobby, the Bulgarian taxt driver with many secrets of his own. When they are followed to where the family is supposed to be, they discover that not only is the family in peril, but so are Alexandra and Bobby and they people they meet along the trip. I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in return for an honest review. I honestly loved this book and highly recommend it to other readers. I also recommend The Historian, which is on my top ten list.
MerryWifeofWindsor More than 1 year ago
I've never actually read an Elizabeth Kostova book before, so this was a first for me. I am sad to say that I didn't enjoy "The Shadow Land" at all. Alexandra Boyd is a young woman who visits Bulgaria in the year 2008. Still haunted by the thoughts of her brother, Alexandra reminisces about him and their childhood and adolescence continually. On her first day in Bulgaria, something strange happens to her. While at a hotel, she spots a handsome and charismatic tall young man who is accompanied by an elderly couple. When the elderly woman takes a stumble while climbing into a taxi, Alexandra reaches out to assist the woman. Eventually, the trio drive off and mistakenly leave behind a bag. In that moment, Alexandra, becomes involved in a mystery surrounding an urn full of ashes and she teams up with a taxi driver to find the trio. "The Shadow Land" is more of a travelogue with descriptions of Bulgaria than anything else. While it had such beautiful, rhapsodic prose, it had very little of real substance to really entice me as the reader. Moreover, it entirely lacked a much-needed plot and the pacing was otherwise painfully slow. If it had a faster pace and more of a climax, I would have given this book a higher rating but it was sadly underwhelming. All throughout the story, I failed to develop an emotional connection with any of the characters who I found to be one-dimensional. The general tone and atmosphere is thoughtful with a hint of mystery. In conclusion I would like to say that I really wanted to like this book. It was the book cover and the description that really captured my attention initially. **2.5 Stars** Reviewed by the Merry Wife of Windsor. I graciously received a copy of "The Shadow Land: A Novel" by Elizabeth Kostova" from Ballantine Books in exchange for an honest review.
brf1948 More than 1 year ago
I received a free electronic copy of this historical novel from Netgalley, Elizabeth Kostova, and Ballentine Books in exchange for an honest review. Thank you all, for sharing your hard work with me. I had to keep reminding myself of the years this tale covers - all after the end of World War Two, in Bulgaria. These were atrocities one wants to put to the blame of Hitler and the Nazi troops - but no. Revolution - years and years of revolution and the effect of same on the general populace. It was a book I had a hard time putting down. And the first thing I did when I finished The Shadow Land was order copies of Kostova's other novels. This is an author I will follow. This was a book that will live in my brain for a long time to come.
Myndia More than 1 year ago
For years, Alexandra Boyd has carried a great sadness and guilt about her brother’s death. In an effort to both shake off the shadow of that loss and feel more connected to her brother, she travels to Bulgaria, a country her brother had wanted to visit. Immediately upon her arrival, she finds herself wound up in a strange situation that becomes even stranger as she chases after the answers, trying to right a wrong. She befriends a taxi driver (who turns out to be so much more than that), unravels the tragic past of a man and his family, and of the country she is currently traveling in. And along the way, she learns the cost of hanging onto the past, to pain, to guilt, and starts to let go of some of her own. One of the main characters in this story is a classical violinist who had a passion for Vivaldi. Though I’m not passionate about classical music generally speaking, my mother had Vivaldi’s Four Seasons on vinyl, and I used to play it over and over and over (that and Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf) growing up. Several times during the reading of this book, I put it aside and listened to parts of Four Seasons, and then resumed reading with a greater sense of connection to Stoyan. It was a wonderful thread that kept me tethered to the story. After I finished reading, I immediately started looking for pictures of Bulgaria, the individual cities mentioned in the book, and researching the history of the labor camps I never knew existed. Before this book, I couldn’t have picked Bulgaria out on a map, and I had no idea about the dreadful labor camps. Now I feel compelled to learn more, not just about Bulgaria, but about all of the countries that were involved in the World Wars, that were swept up in the Communist invasion, countries that we learn very little about in American schools. Again I say, historical fiction is a gateway to learning. Such a beautiful thing. The story itself unraveled very slowly. And it’s not such a short book. But it was methodical, thoughtful, purposeful meandering that deepened the story. And when things begin to become clear towards the end, the story doesn’t seem to have been that long at all. My favorite parts of the book were those written from Stoyan’s perspective, the flashbacks to his life. So heart-wrenching. But I loved him. His methods for keeping his mind intact during unimaginable suffering, they were genius, beautiful, inspiring. It was impossible not to ache for him. What can I say? A wonderful book. Informative, thought-provoking, beautifully written, and complex characters. What’s not to love? Note: I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley. I pride myself on writing fair and honest reviews.
Fredreeca2001 More than 1 year ago
Alexandra has just move to Bulgaria to teach English. She accidentally ends up with someone else’s bag. The contents of this bag send her searching throughout Bulgaria for the rightful owner. Alexandra is extremely naive in a new country. I sometimes wanted to pop her upside the head and say “THINK WOMAN!” As she is searching for the owner of the bag, she befriends a strange taxi driver. They travel through Bulgaria in search of the owner of the bag. Many learning experiences later…. This is a winding tale. It is beautifully written just very slow going. It took forever to get anywhere and believe me…we were all over Bulgaria. I enjoyed the historical aspect to the novel. I did not realize the communist history of Bulgaria. I learned a great deal. However, this story meandered way too much for me. Some people enjoy slow soothing reads. This book is for you if that is you taste in reads. I need more action! I received this novel from Netgalley for a honest review.
Deb-Krenzer More than 1 year ago
I think this book would have been a lot better if it was a lot shorter. For me, it was just WAY too long. I was 1/3 of the way into it and was still thinking why am I still reading this? It seemed like the girl and the taxi driver would drive for hours, get to their destination and either no one would be there or Neven would not be there. A relative would be there and they would have an address and then they would get back in the taxi and drive for hours again. The violinist led a very sad life and I was not aware that they had camps that long after the war, so I did learn that. However, the lead up, for me, was just too long. And then the ending was like three pages long and it was done. Thanks to Random House/Ballantine for approving my request and to Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest review.
sandrabrazier More than 1 year ago
As soon as our main character, and American, sets foot in Sofia, Bulgaria, her mystery begins. In this strange but beautiful country for a teaching position, Alexandra is expecting to do some sight-seeing before she begins her teaching assignment. But when she helps a young man and two elderly people who are struggling with their bas, her life changes forever. After settling the threesome in cab, Alexandra realizes that she still has one of their bags. Upon searching the bag for some id, she discovers it contains a beautiful urn filled with ashes, human ashes. Her hunt for the bag’s owners begins, revealing an unimaginable and complex mystery and leading to new and lasting friendships as well as unforgettable experiences. This historical fiction is very well-written and peopled with realistic and memorable characters. The mystery slowly reveals itself, as the story unfurls, leading the reader into Alexandra’s past, present, and future. Although this story is a bit overly-long and drawn out in places, it is excellent. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.