Monday, March 07, 2011

The Historian

It took me some time, but once I got into The Historian, I didn't want to stop reading. Each time I closed the cover, I had the urge to read just one more chapter (I gave in on more than one occasion, and it didn't stop at one chapter). The story was so riveting that I seriously sat at work and contemplated what little white lie I could concoct just so that I could leave early and crack the cover once again. I suppose I could have brought it to work, but it is a bit of a monstrosity -- and in hardcover! Besides, I slack off enough as it is - adding a good book to the equation would be very bad.

I've read a little fantasy (mostly
Terry Brooks), Philip Pullman, and, of course, the Harry Potter series, but that's about as dark as I've gotten. I've never read Anne Rice, so the whole vampire genre was new to me. I don't think that this would really fit into that group, however, as it is more about the historian himself (or herself, depending on the character). Kostova grabbed me right from the start with her descriptions of these historians as well as librarians, and I found myself remembering the rather recent days of researching in a dark library or a dusty archive. It is really the thrill of the chase - wanting to find something that you just know is out there, but haven't quite discovered the best path.

Finding the correct path in research is the heart of this book. At the risk of making this sound like the dullest book ever written (I know that many people find the idea of research tedious at best), it is a thrilling, suspenseful novel that rarely drags - an impressive fact at 656 pages.

It is a story of a young American girl living in Amsterdam with her father: a loving, caring man, concerned only with her well being, and just as overprotective as any father, really. With him gone on a diplomatic trip, she discovers a book while snooping around in his study. Along with the mysterious book and hidden from view for years, she also finds yellowing letters addressed to, "My dear and unfortunate successor." Soon after, while traveling with him in Eastern Europe, she confronts him with her find, and he slowly weaves a painful tale set twenty years in the past. A tale of his search for his graduate school mentor in the darkness of Europe's past: A search for Dracula.

Kostova is a brilliant scribe, and I never once found myself skipping ahead or skimming paragraphs - something I am wont to do while reading, especially when the book weighs half a ton. Probably a remnant from my own days as a history student. (She's also a fellow alumna!) I loved her writing style and her ability to recognize when detail was necessary and when to hold off. Her intimate knowledge of historians and their quirks comes from direct experience, and her descriptions of those archives and libraries made me want to renew my reader's card at the Library of Congress.

Oh, and I did encounter a slight problem in that I couldn't read The Historian too late at night, or I would end up having to watch something mindless before I could even think about going to sleep.

But I
like to be frightened, and I think that I am not alone in this feeling! One only has to look to
Stephen King's sales figures to see our desire and need for our hearts to race and our brows to sweat. Perhaps the most chilling part of Kostova's carefully woven tale was the reader's realization that Vlad Dracula - the Impaler - could be alive today.

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