For many readers in United States, Bulgaria is a strange and mysterious land. A small European country with around 7 million population, most of them speak Bulgarian, a major Slavic language after Russian and Ukrainian. Only recently attain its democracy 20 years ago, joined the European Union at 2007. For most American readers, Bulgarian would probably perceived as just an insignificant country in Europe.
Yet, Mr. Shuman,Yet, Mr. Shuman, former Editor in Chief of Israel Insider and About.com’s Israel Culture Guide, told us how false our perception can be. In “Valley of Thracians”, we are guided into a wonderful journey into ancient Bulgarian history, a thrilling crime story and a memorable adventure.
“Valley of Thracians” starts with the quest of a retired literature professor , Simon Matthews, to find his missing grandson, Scott Matthews, in Bulgaria. He met Sophia, an attractive archeology professor who assists him through whole journey. Sophia vaguely remind me cryptologist Sophie Neveu in Robert Langdon’s “Da Vinci Code’. As a device, Sophia serves both as a romantic interest of Prof. Simon and provides reader much information of the historical knowledge of Bulgaria.
As the story unrolled, Shuman hints us Scott’s disappearance is related to a stolen Thracian treasure. This is when the plot thickened, more characters were introduced – the crippled, cunning and memorable Boris, also the patriarch of the host family of Scott. His sister, Katya, a pharmacologist with a mysterious motivation to protect Scot. The cruel and relentless gang boss, Nicholay. All of them are portrayed in detail and believable.
There were several surprising twists in the plot. For example, the readers were hinted early on that Scott’s disappearance was related to a Thracian treasure. But it leaves the readers wondering for 150 pages on why Scott was imprisoned. Shuman also cleverly camouflage the true motivation of Sophia of why she helps the Matthews by establishing a ersatz mutual attraction between Matthews and Sophia. Of course, we are all left to wonder a deeper question: Does the Thracians really has an advanced civilization? And what would the Thracian treasure connects to this civilization?
I found the Bulgarian history, the plot and the characters make the whole book a page turner. Furthermore, the reader could feel a genuine grandfather-and-grandson relationship throughout the book, it was rare to see such a portrayal in modern day novels. It is perhaps even rarer to have a glimpse on Jewish Bulgarian lives in a foreign land. Shuman, as the editor of Israelite magazine, one online, one offline , and as a resident of Bulgaria for two years, he is in a unique position to tell us stories of Jewish Bulgarian.
All in all, if you like Dan Browns’ work such as “Da Vinci Code” or “Angels and Demons”, you will also like Mr. Shuman’s “Valley of Thracians”. I found it a gripping read and wish to see more work from Mr. Shuman in the future.