Book Review: Baltic Shadows
Reviewed by Tomi Alo
A captivating historical mystery that centers on the lives and struggles of a Latvian community
Baltic Shadows is an enlightening novel that provides a fresh look at history. It is set in the 1980s and takes place in both Riga, Latvia and Toronto, Canada. It tells the story of a small-knit Latvian community working behind the scenes to support an independent movement—fighting for freedom and independence from the Soviet Union’s occupation.
The politics, prejudices, and ethnic relations of the time are explored in sharp detail. You can see how things change dramatically in response to the Soviet regime’s political oppression.
The story follows Gustavs Ziedi, an English teacher and director of Parkdale English Academy. Gustavs plays only the role that fate has in store for him. He has never been one for émigré politics—always been adrift from social circles just to avoid being roped into it. But after the death of a leading activist and childhood friend, he finds himself drawn into an underground resistance network, entering an unforgiving world of conspiracy and deception.
More questions arise as Gustavs unravels the dark secrets of his community. But the answers he seeks set him on a path across the ocean to the bleak Soviet fog of Eastern Europe. There, he risks his life to uncover a traitor in their midst.
The reader wonders, Will he be able to find the answers he seeks? Will these pursuits cost him his life?
I love this novel’s ability to transport us to a vivid time and place. It’s an important foundation for a historical novel to have—to appeal to our interest to explore and learn from the past. Matejs Kalns, through evident research and skillfully crafted descriptions, accomplishes his task—he entertains us while educating us on the history, culture, and traditions of this Latvian community.
Kalns’ writing style is unique and engaging with a tone both casual and serious. It’s hard to believe that there are so many pages because it reads so smoothly and nonstop like a good short story. His language is complex, and the vocabulary is wide. Anyone who appreciates smart writing is going to like this prose. The only thing I felt was missing was a glossary at the end of the book—it would have helped to understand some of the more native terms used in the novel.
Baltic Shadows is a beautifully written historical novel with a perplexing mystery and startling discovery. A must-read for all those who enjoy reading through the past.
Publisher: Friesen Press
Genre: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense / Historical
Print Length: 366 pages
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