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1 review about HISTORIAN / A NOVEL

Gothic Horror Meets Modern Balkan History

  • Sep 16, 2011
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Ever since Bram Stoker published "Dracula" in 1897 the vampire genre has had a healthy and uninterrupted ascension amongst the works of literature. "The Historian" is one of the latest more successful additions to the Dracula lore and legend. As the title may suggest, the plotline of "The Historian" centers on several generations of related twentieth century historians who are becoming increasingly convinced that the myths and legends behind the historical figure of Count Dracula may in fact have some basis in reality. However, by pursuing several leads in their historic research they thread on thin ice as there seem to be several centuries old conspiracies that aim to keep the truth behind the legends permanently hidden.

One of the book's greatest strengths is the detailed and largely accurate portrayal of various Balkan socialist countries from in the middle decades of the twentieth century. As someone who has grown up in one such country I was able to relate to many aspects of the story that touched upon that historical period. Kostova has a great command of the Balkan history, both modern and ancient. She blends many aspects of that history skillfully in creating a novel that is exciting to read, yet does not go overboard in unnecessarily sensationalizing certain events. This is especially remarkable considering novel's very pronounced supernatural themes.

A great deal of space is dedicated to the character development, and most of the story's tension and poignancy stems from the complex and evolving interpersonal relationships of its protagonists. History is a much more interesting subject when viewed from the point of view of people on whom it leaves the greatest impact. However, because most of the story was told in a form of nested narratives that span three (and sometimes more) generations of historians, it is not always easy to keep track of the events as they enfold. The rich imagery and the fascinating pseudo-historical details can only go so far in sustaining reader's attention over the course of hundreds of pages.

The ending of this book was somewhat abrupt and not nearly as elaborate as all the chapters leading up to it. I got the impression that Kostova either got bored with the narrative and couldn't wait to bring it to a close, or was not all that interested in writing the scenes that involve actual physical confrontations. I wish that more space would have been dedicated to this aspect of the story. The chase and the mystery that push the narrative forward are wonderful, but if they are not reinforced with a powerful ending they leave the reader dangling.

Despite its few shortcomings, this is a very well written, literary and informative modern retelling of the Dracula story.

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