Let Fiction Be Your Passport to the World
By Ellis Shuman
I recently finished reading The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker, an inspirational love story set in Burma. Admittedly, I don't usually read love stories, and I'm not too keen on inspirational novels either. What fascinated me most about the book was its setting. Burma! Burma - a land of impoverished villages, superstitions, and Eastern values. I really know nothing at all about Burma, yet I was swept away by this novel's descriptions of the country and its people.
This is what I enjoy most about reading. Whenever I pick up a book set in an unusual location I find myself traveling there in my mind. I dive into the customs, history, and cuisine of a place that I imagine based on the narrative and the way the characters interact in that setting. Reading a good book is the perfect way to see the world. I don't read science fiction or fantasy; there is enough in the real world to keep my interest for a long time.
I love to travel, and luckily I've had the opportunity to explore many parts of our fascinating planet. I live in Israel, which has enough history, religion, and culture for a thousand books. I've been to London, Spain, Serbia, the Philippines, Macau, Las Vegas, and Rome, but all of these visits were short, too short to really experience the culture of the local population. And for two years, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of living in Bulgaria.
Bulgaria is a country trying desperately to shed its communist past and catch up with the rest of the modern world. On the roads there are shiny Mercedes competing for space alongside horse-drawn carriages. There are luxury shopping malls next to graffiti-covered tenement buildings. Cobblestone streets, fancy resort hotels, picturesque villages, Roman ruins, and colorful monasteries. The Black Sea coast attracts sunbathers and the Balkan mountains offer amazing skiing. Bulgaria, a country most definitely off the beaten track, has something for every type of visitor, and it's all very affordable.
When I wrote my book, Valley of Thracians, I wanted to give readers a sense of what I experienced in Bulgaria. There are many suspense novels on the library shelves where the author barely describes the cities where the action takes place. My book is different. It tells a suspenseful story, but alongside that, the country of Bulgaria, its customs, people, and history, are presented to the reader. Some have described the book as a combination between mystery and travelogue. I think my book is more fun to read than a Lonely Planet guidebook.
If readers come away with a sense of understanding about the country of Bulgaria, I will have fulfilled my mission as an author. Like the exotic locations I've learned about in works of fiction, my book will have opened readers' eyes to yet another wonderful land in this amazing world of ours.
Ellis Shuman was born in the United States but moved to Israel as a teenager. He served in the Israeli army, was a founding member of a kibbutz, and now lives outside Jerusalem. For two years, 2009-2010, Ellis and his wife lived in Sofia, Bulgaria. During that time they maintained a very active blog, Ellis and Jodie's Bulgarian Adventures, detailing their travels. Ellis writes frequently about Bulgaria, Israel, books, travel, and other interesting things on his blog.
Valley of Thracians
Suspense novel set in Bulgaria
The Virtual Kibbutz
Short stories about Israel's unique society
A Peace Corps volunteer has gone missing in Bulgaria and everyone assumes he is dead, everyone except his grandfather, who refuses to give up hope. Retired literature professor Simon Matthews launches a desperate search only to be lured into a bizarre quest to retrieve a stolen Thracian artifact—a unique object of immense value others will stop at nothing to recover.
Matthews travels through a Balkan landscape dotted with ancient tombs and fortresses, unaware that his grandson has been confined to an isolated mountain cabin, slowly recovering from a severe head injury. Nothing can be taken at face value, as the woman assisting Matthews in his quest and the nurse caring for his injured grandson may have ulterior motives in helping the two reunite. Even when Matthews succeeds in joining up with his grandson, departure from Bulgaria is only possible if the missing relic can be found.
Ellis Shuman was born in Sioux City, Iowa, and immigrated to Israel as a teenager. He completed high school in Jerusalem and served for three years in the Israeli army's Nahal branch. Along with his wife, Jodie, he was a founding member of Kibbutz Yahel in the Arava Valley in Israel's south. On the kibbutz he worked in agriculture, industry, tourism, the dairy barn, and served as the kibbutz's general secretary.
After moving with his wife and three young children to Moshav Neve Ilan in the Judean Hills, Ellis received formal training in the hotel industry. He worked in a variety of positions at the Neve Ilan Hotel and later was Food and Beverage Controller at the Jerusalem Hilton. He served as the moshav's general secretary during a period in which the community underwent major social changes.
As a hobby, Ellis began writing on the Internet. He wrote extensively about life in Israel in his position as the Israeli Culture Guide at About.com. He designed and maintained websites for the Neve Ilan Hotel and for Indic--Independent Israeli Cinema. For two years he was webmaster for Yazam, an international financial firm that provided support for technological start-ups.
Ellis served for three years as Editor in Chief of Israel Insider, an online daily newsmagazine that developed new technologies as it posted the latest news and views, from and about Israel.
Starting in 2004, Ellis began working in a marketing company servicing the online gaming industry. In the years 2009 - 2010, his job was relocated to Sofia, Bulgaria. During those years, Ellis and Jodie traveled extensively in Bulgaria as well as in the countries of the region. Today Ellis continues working at this job, based in Ramat Gan.
Read about Ellis and Jodie's Bulgarian Adventure at their blog:
Ellis writes regularly on his blog at: http://ellisshuman.blogspot.com/