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Friday, February 29, 2008

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

I finished reading this book last weekend. This book was popular when it came out in 2005 and I finally got it off my TBR (To Be Read) shelf and read it. I doubt I would have read it if I had known it was about Dracula. I'm not into that sort of thing.

Kostova took a very roundabout way to tell this story. She is a master of the tease. She eked out clues on almost every page and I had to finish it. She told the story from the perspective of several generations and it was a little confusing for me. A young teenage girl in 1970's Europe is learning about her father's college years who is following his middle aged mentor's search, etc. And we get to switch back and forth between all these time periods and characters. It's an unusual direction to take but it made things confusing for me so I can't particularly say I liked the approach.

Let's see if I can summarize a little. A 16 year old girl in 1972 finds a book and envelope full of papers in her father's study. She begins to read them and asks her father about them. Over a period of some time and multiple conversations he slowly explains what the papers and the book are about. I'm not sure why one conversation wouldn't have done it but Kostova dragged us through some time and different trips with multiple "confessionals" from her father. So let's switch to him...In 1950's he was a graduate student working on his thesis and his mentor is a middle aged professor. One day at the library he recieves a book with nothing but a woodcut of a dragon on the middle page. He can't get rid of it and he asks his mentor about it. Professor Rossi begins telling him about how he also found a book like that and how he had done some research on it back in the 1930's. In the end of the book you find out that Dracula has had these books made and gives them to the best scholars. I'm still shaky on why he used the books and how he controlled the scholars for his own purposes. Rossi disappears after one of his talks with the girl's father and her father decides to find him. He meets up with a Romanian woman named Helen whom he eventually marries and she is the girl's mother. It turns out that Rossi is her father and she joins him in his search. They use Rossi's 1930's research to try and find the real grave of Vlad Tepes from Wallachia (whom we now call Dracula). So the story jumps from the girl, the father, Rossi, and back again as they go all over Eastern Europe.

Would I recommend this book? Frankly, no. Kostova writes well but I didn't like the jumping around and the lllloooonnnnggg tease. You couldn't skip any of the pages for missing something vital to the story and yet the book is long. I did learn some things so I guess it was worth a read but, otherwise, I thought it was a waste of time. The ending felt a little flat compared to the long anticipation.

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