This blog is now retired. My new site is at: Predictably Irrational.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Book Review: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

This book has been on my library wish list for a good long while and since I'm trying to adopt a First-In-First-Out plan for my list, I finally chose it. And another reason is that BFF Audrey has already read and posted her book review, and I have yet to read it, that this gave me more incentive to put it on my list of "now" reads.

I was surprised when I picked it up. Another tome!! 673 pages!! Oh well. It seems to be the way of the world now: big books.

As I began to read, the prelude mislead me into thinking that the author herself was writing about a real life experience from her family. This was extremely intriguing because there was a lot of innuendo of something tragic, eerie, and discovery and I couldn't wait to read her story to figure out what they learned.

Upon reading the novel, I discovered that it may not be the author's introduction, but the protagonist of the story's introduction. But once I read the first few chapters, I found that I was wrong about this being directly about the author because....the book is about Dracula!!

I had no idea, until reading those chapters, what the book would be about. Based on the title, I assumed it would be about something that might deal with historical fiction: war, kings and queens, etc.

NOTE: I have mentioned before, but I read recaps/reviews/whatever of books then add them to my Amazon and/or library wish list. I know I want to read them but then forget what they were about and use a "spin the wheel" approach and grab a book, then read it to be surprised to see what it's about. And this book is one of those reasons why I love this approach.

But it took about halfway through the book to decide that this was a cumbersome effort to read the book.

It's not bad, but it's certainly not great. It was, however, very frustrating for me.

I soon nicknamed this novel "the book that never ends". I could not make a dent in the reading. For me, the novel was much like that friend who tries to tell a short story and just goes on and on, with details that you care little to hear.

The details weren't that detail oriented, but it was just on and on and on and on. I believe so much of this book could have been cut in half and still lead me to the same story.

The premise is: Vlad the Impaler, ruler of Wallachia (now Romania) was an evil man who became Dracula, the undead who roams the world in the 20th century, still wreaking havoc.

The tale encompasses several eras. We first meet a teenage girl in Amsterdam, who discovers one of her father's books that is empty of any writing except for a picture of a dragon in the middle. She discovers letters written to her dad from a Professor Rossi -- although indirectly addressed to 'an unfortunate successor'. These letters allude to the eerie story of Dracula...

...we move on to the girl's dad, Paul, and his time as a young man and how he came upon this book. We learn that the book has also been given to Professor Rossi, his college advisor, after Paul brings the information to him.

At that particular meeting, Professor Rossi disappears under mysterious circumstances and Paul decides to search for him. His search brings him to meeting Rossi's daughter, Helen and they unite to find Professor Rossi.

So there are several eras we read about: going to Professor Rossi as a younger man who finds this book and researches it, to Paul and Helen as youthful seekers for Professor Rossi, then the narrator -- the daughter of Paul and Helen, who searches for her father (who also disappears).

The story unfolds in a series of letters: Professor Rossi (and his era), Paul (in his era) and Helen (in her era).

And boy, these letter writers go on and on and on. I cringed every time I got to one of the letters and I thought: gee, the author (Kostova) must be a true and true PhD. person, because these letters are dissertations and/or manuscript material.

The crescendos were far and few between. Mostly few. When Professor Rossi disappeared and the circumstances after that, there was a chill in my bone. That chill never came back until a moment with the narrator (who, BTW, remain unnamed) who encounters a little drama...very little.

And within the last 100 pages, I thought: finally! this is where the drama begins!! And it was ended quickly with a few sentences and suddenly, I have 100 pages of air.

I think this book will become required reading for someone's class. Whether it be high school or college. The writing is that of what you would expect in boring classics. And yes, this bored me but had enough in it to have me continue to the end. But I could not WAIT for this one to end.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, it surprises me that you were bored by it. I found all the letters really interesting, and in fact, i was the exact opposite of you - i was more interested when we were reading letters than when it was "real time."

    I do agree that there was a lot more spookiness in the beginning. I thought there would be more to do with the "unfortunate successor" - like, if you come across one of the dragon books, then you have been Chosen in some way. That concept was danced around, but never fully explored.

    It is very interesting how different storylines grab different people. I was intrigued to read your reactions and how different my reading experience was. I read it in 3 or 4 days (to be fair, i was on vacation at the time).