Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

I anticipated disliking this book. After all, another vampire book? I thought that phase had passed with Anne Rice, but apparently it is back in full force (cough cough Stephanie Meyer) - and with Dracula no less. Surprisingly, I enjoyed this book quite a bit, and not at all because it was a vampire book. I would honestly say I liked The Historian, despite the fact that it was another vampire book.

Kostova has woven a detailed story together around a small group of academics who are chasing the historical roots of the Dracula legend. Quickly they realize that the legend is in fact true which creates tension as their lives are now in danger. The main character is a woman who is reminiscing about her teenage years when her father began the Dracula quest. Most of the story takes place in Eastern Europe in the 1950s and 1970s.

People's individual stories and letters appear from time to time as the Historian traces the lineage of the legend. The change in point of view can be a bit distracting. I like the way Kostova tells the story because it is reminiscent of historial research. Tracing the story through illogical means, making connections that don't appear obvious at first, finding snippets of unexpected treasure in unlikely sources: all of these details give credence to the book. However, as a reader, it slowed me down a lot. It was difficult to get into the right frame of mind and to remember whose story I was reading each time I picked up the book.

Anyone with an interest in Eastern Europe through the era of the Soviet Union would be intrigued by Kostova's work. The characters travel through Soviet satellites in the 1930s, 50s, and 70s. They encounter different political resistance and response depending on the era of their travels, which I thought Kostova covered extremely well. I feel like I have a better understanding of life in that region - completely independent on Dracula.

Two small nitpicky comments:

At one point I found Kostova's attempt at writing as a historian flawed. The way the character wrote his historical narrative did not ring true. I understand Kostova was trying to impart information for her reader, but a historian pre-1800 would not have been writing about national identity.

The other is a plot point. Kostova worked towards a big climax and she set up this incredible idea: I was hoping... And then, she didn't follow through. It seemed like 600 pages in, she was ready to wrap up the story. I so wanted another 10 pages of description and decision making for the main character. But, alas, she didn't.

Vampire lovers this book takes a novel approach to vampire lore that I enjoyed. And, vampire are bad again. Which oddly enough was refreshing. Fans of historical fiction written in a very true to life way will also enjoy this book, if they can get past Dracula. All in all, a good book. But 650 LONG pages. Pick this up if you're willing to commit some time to reading.

No comments: