An American teacher comes to Sofia, Bulgaria, to teach his mother tongue to students who hope to find a better life abroad with a good knowledge of the world language. While the work is satisfying, his love life has become a lot more complicated since homosexuality is not something that is openly shown in the eastern European country. In a Portuguese exchange student, he finds his love, but things are complicated with the countries’ economies struggling and offering not much to foreigners.
The narrator finds himself in a surrounding which differs a lot from his life before, he roams the streets of Sofia discovering and re-discovering old and mysterious places, being lost physically and emotionally. The political and economic situation aren’t easy either which makes it hard for him to fully enjoy his time in this country of wild nature and rich history.
Greenwell definitely has an eye for the details, e.g. the wind playing outside or hitting the windows and smoothly running over his characters’ backs and brilliantly captures his protagonist’s emotional state. Even though the chapters are often like independent episodes, together they form a complete picture. Just like them, all the narrator experiences are pieces of a mosaic that are unique when look at closely, but you have to take a step back to get the full picture.
Some very interesting observations put in a beautiful language, yet, the mass of explicit scenes annoyed me a bit, a lot of it could have been left to the readers’ imagination.
Two women kidnapped and forced to work in a brothel somewhere in Asia. A young Russian, trained to combat in hopeless situations and to defend her home country. A couple of superrich somewhere in the mountains in Switzerland with plans for the global economy. A man suddenly freed from a prison in the US. How do they relate? And how can those characters threaten the whole world and especially the global economy? A secret society has set their goal to take over the markets and to make masses of money. Different individuals as well as states try to hinder their doings, the result is a fierce fight for money and survival.
David L. Blond’s thriller The Phoenix Year is not just a hit and run story with the usual suspects. He goes deep into the international economic connections, shows how the markets work and how they can be manipulated and thus send us all to hell. At times, I found it a bit complicated to follow all those structures and the way single items and events are linked, but this made the novel outstanding from others. Apart from this highly demanding topic, we have all the ingredients of a classic thriller: conspiracy, US vs. Russia, hidden chalets in the Swiss Alps, people hold hostage, dangerous liberations, some unfortunately have to die etc. The story moves at a fast pace since we quickly shift from one country to another, from one line of action to the next. This keeps you reading on and on.
What I liked particularly was the role of women. Of course, we also have the one who is highly dependent on men and willing to subordinate, in professional as well as in sexual ways, but Blond also offers intelligent and courageous women who have found their place in their respective organisation and who can fight and assert themselves just as any man could. At the same time, they are not “wonderwoman”, but characters with flaws and weaknesses who appear quite likable and authentic. All in all, a demanding thriller with a clever plot.