I've been meaning to read The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova for over two years. A good friend entrusted her copy to me, I admit for far too long. I have to say the nearly 650 pages of the hardcover edition were a bit off-putting. However, being a vampire-aholic - Twilight, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, etc., I knew it was about time for me to sink my teeth into this one.
Surprisingly, what stood out for me wasn't the modern day retelling of the Dracula myth, it was Kostova's description of European travel that enticed me as a reader. I loved following Paul and his daughter as they journeyed from one city to another taking in the architecture, culture and personalities of each locale. But what really whetted my appetite was the indulgent food imagery. Picnics of fine wine, aged cheese and homemade bread. Taking tea at quaint, out-of-the way cafes. Sumptuous dinners at French restaurants or the home of an Italian friend. For me, Kostova nailed setting the culinary scene to get anyone's taste buds watering.
In terms of pacing, I think the novel could have been trimmed by half. The novel progresses through at least three time periods: the 1930s, the 1950s and the 1970s with sprinklings from the modern day as well as the 15th century of Dracula's domain. These different eras are bridged in the novel mainly through a character's correspondence via letter or diary entry. However, this writing style becomes overused. For example, we get our first glimpse of Dracula through a recorded account. We never get to meet him in real time. This takes away from the inherent build-up of his much anticipated arrival.
Where Kostova excels is her look at Eastern Europe under the throes of communism. For an American historian, the freedom to follow Dracula's trail through Bulgaria and Romania is impeded by these governments. It is only through the insider access provided by Helen, Paul's traveling partner and native Hungarian, that these insular societies are breached. The closer the two get to Dracula, the more they are put under surveillance by these Communist regimes. It creates an interesting push-and-pull dynamic within the hunt for Dracula.
The novel asks the ultimate question: Can the legend of Dracula be real? Kostova does an admirable job of delineating his back story. The Transylvanian noble who held back an Ottoman invasion through the depravity of his barbarity. Out of a perverse sense of enjoyment, he even impaled thousands of his own people. At a time when the printing press was in its infancy, the tales of his atrocities spread wildly throughout Europe.
And they live on to this day. The current spate of vampire induced frenzy indicates the level of attraction the myth still fosters in our creative subconscious. Kostova's tome was released in the summer of 2005, while Stephenie Meyer's Twilight was published in the fall of that same year. You would think a film adaptation of The Historian would be a no-brainer. Here's hoping this New York Times best seller makes its way to the big screen - just for the European scenery alone.
Overall, The Da Vinci Code meets Twilight.
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova is available for $25.95 at Amazon.com and at TheSwanThieves.com.
Review copy provided by a personal friend.