Posted on Monday, October 17th, 2005 at 1:01 pm under Fiction, Science Fiction / Fantasy

Title: The Historian
Author: Elizabeth Kostova
Genre: Fiction

Why I liked this book: This is the perfect book for a cool autumn night, with the wind blowing ourside your windows and leaves skittering across the sidewalk.

A review on Salon.com describes The Historian as a “languorous gothic travelogue”, and I can’t argue with that description. This is the most suspenseful and engaging book I’ve ever read in which essentially nothing happens, and it also made me want to visit eastern Europe like nothing else ever has. Kostova’s descriptions are simultaneously subtle and lush, and everyone I’ve talked to about this book agrees that it makes you want to see the sights she describes firsthand — Istanbul, Budapest, the mountains of France, Vlad the Impaler’s Romania.

The book is a series of first-person narratives, starting with a teenage daughter telling her story, linking into her father telling her his story, and then leading to the telling of the father’s academic mentor’s story… and since the father and his mentor are both historians by trade, their narratives lead to the discovery of more ancient narratives. All of those stories, told by academically trained but emotionally involved narrators, slowly build the (startlingly believable) premise that Vlad Ţepeş found a way to cheat death, and did indeed become the Dracula of our legends. The intertwined narratives also tell several very moving human stories, stories of families and friends, stories of relationships begun and relationships torn apart — which build just as much suspense and emotional engagement as the vampire storyline.

Kostova also intentionally builds her narratives around convincing (sometimes authoritative and sometimes fictional) historical research, visiting a multitude of fabulous and fascinating archives and libraries all over Europe (hey, I am a librarian!), all of which add to the sense that this history is real, these stories are real, and that we should all be very careful what we research…

This book may not scare you, and it probably won’t make you believe in vampires, but it left me jumping at small noises and feeling like someone was watching me — perfect for Halloween.

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