Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Book Review: The Historian

Another Dracula Book?
Elizabeth Kostova’s novel The Historian stays with its readers long after the last words of the novel are read as questions still remain about the price of immortality, who might want to achieve it, and the dangers of studying and researching evil deeds of the past. Elizabeth Kostova’s Dracula figure remains close to the historical view of Dracula, Vlad the Impaler, whose sobriquet, Dracula as son of Dracul ( Dragon) was given for his participation in the Order of the Dragon, an order created for Christian rulers fighting the Turks during the 1400’s. Vlad the Impaler was the Dracula on whom Bram Stoker based his undead (nosferatu) character.

Kostova’s Dracula is evil incarnate, a Devil, not a cape swishing seducing count/vampire as portrayed in some movies, and this Dracula seeks to seize certain unwary librarians or historians and infect them with his own undead properties. So why librarians and historians? That is one of the central questions of the book. Why choose academics whose main purpose is chronicling events of the past, researchers meticulously reconstructing the past? Kostova gives an interesting comment on these catalogers' fascination with man’s past.

The story begins with the finding of a book with a woodcut picture of Dracula and the symbol of the Order of the Dragon. The book is discovered by a sixteen year old girl living a sheltered life in Belgium with her father, and the book she finds is among her father’s things. The girl learns from her father, a diplomat, a remarkable tale about her parents and their pursuit of Dracula. As a young scholar, her father had “found” the book with the woodcut which sent him on a quest for the historical Dracula. During his journey, he meets a woman researcher, Helen, with direct lineage to Vlad the Impaler with whom he shares his quest for Dracula and her missing father, who was the young man’s friend and another finder of a book with the Dracula woodcut. The couple are led to Istanbul when searching for Dracula’s tomb and Helen’s father who has disappeared. In Istanbul, they meet a Turkish counterpart who is trying to stop the Impaler’s further seizure of souls for his squadron of undead minions.

Kostova’s style is slow-moving and descriptive of food, people, and local culture of the East European countries her characters visit. There is a sense that one is reading a novel from the 19th century. The descriptions are graphic but restrained, and the book is written in places like an historical account although the central mystery teases the reader onward. The Historian will take its place as a more philosophical and thought provoking tale of Dracula.

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