Friday, July 22, 2005

Book Review: The Historian

One of the reviews of THE HISTORIAN by Elizabeth Kostova called this novel a more intellectual version of THE DA VINCI CODE, which to my mind was a very accurate and fair description of the novel. The protagonist is a teenage girl who finds a packet of documents in her father's study in 1972. The documents are a record of the research done by her father and his mentor into the provenience of books they had received under rather mysterious circumstances. In this excerpt the father relates how he received the book:

One spring night when I was still a graduate student, I was in my carrel at the university library, sitting alone very late among rows and rows of books. Looking up from my work, I suddenly realized that someone had left a book whose spine I had never seen before among my own textbooks, which sat on a shelf above my desk. The spine of this new book showed an elegant little dragon, green on pale leather.
I didn't remember ever having seen the book there or anywhere else, so I took it down and looked through it without really thinking. The binding was soft, faded leather, and the pages inside appeared to be quite old. It opened easily to the very center. Across those two pages I saw a great woodcut of a dragon with spread wings and a long looped tail, a beast unfurled and raging, claws outsretched. In the dragon's claws hung a banner on which ran a single word in Gothic lettering: DRAKULYA.

Thus we are off on a chase across five centuries, ranging from Amsterdam to Istanbul, Oxford to Perpignan in the Pyrenees-Orientales with stops in Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria.

At times Kostova's storytelling device of having the protagonist experiencing most of the story through the letters and notes left by her father and others can be disorienting. The reader is eventually dealing with letters from four or five different sources that were written anywhere between the 1930's through the 1970's. While the letters are presented in the order most appropriate to the story, there where times where I would forget who wrote the letter I was reading, therefore being a little jarred when the letter ended and the story reverted to a different era.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this book and found it very difficult to put down. The pacing was perfect and the "facts" of the story are presented in such a way as to be very believable. Kostova's evocative descriptions of the various settings intrigued me. She even managed to lend an air of mystery to settings I am familiar with in passing. Finally, she was able to work the vampire myths into something familiar to the modern reader but refreshingly distant from the Anne Rice or White Wolf vampire concepts that seem to have dominated the genre for the past fifteen years. All in all, I highly recommend this book.

No comments: