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Keeping up with the past

I bought this back when I was still at school.  I knew I'd have to wait for summer before starting it - otherwise I would've got a headache.

It took me a little over a month to complete, as I wanted to read Dracula beforehand.

We begin in Amsterdam, where our narrator - a quiet, intelligent teenage girl - is living with her single father, a celebrated historian and scholar named Paul.  One day she stumbles across a mysterious book in Paul's library - not to mention a letter of warning addressed to her father - and asks Paul to sate her curiousity.  With a sorrowful air, he begins to tell her of his past and the past of his college advisor, Professor Rossi, and how they both tie into the myth of Dracula.  It is revealed that a malevolent force seems to be working against the research of the two historians, resulting in Rossi's abduction.  When Paul abruptly leaves his daughter, he gives her a series of letters detailing his search for Rossi as well as Dracula's grave, while also revealing his own growing infatuation with the tough, no-nonsense Helen who claims to be Rossi's daughter.  Propelled into action, the narrator takes a journey of her own that mirrors the one her father took years ago to track down a living monster.

There is something incredibly old fashioned about the way The Historian tells its story, and I mean that in the best way possible.  Largely plot-driven and loaded with information, it is by no means a drag to read.  Kostova writes with a kind of quiet authority; her prose is elegant and comforting in a way that I can't put my finger on, and although this book reaches volumes of epic porportions, it never loses sight of the story.  With its many detailings of the sights and emotions of 1950s Eastern Eurpoe and the passion of its studious characters, it is a pleasure to read.  Along with expert storytelling, we are given a few characters that leave a mark: Helen's straightforward approach and strength of character will be long remembered after putting the book down, and Turgut - a literary lover-turned-historian - offers an all-encompassing kindness to our weary travelers that will win readers over.  The narrator, although she doesn't make as much of an impression, evokes a feeling of weary sorrow whenever it is her turn to tell the story, and subsequently that sadness infuses the entire book.  But as I said, it's the plot that demands the most attention and is the most rewarding, with its twists and its dangers and a few moments of sweet respite.

Another element of the book is its serious portrayal of the threat posed by Dracula, ostensibly a subject for Gothic horror novels and angst-filled pithy romances.  This is achieved by creating a strong link between him and 
Vlad Ţepeş,a.k.a. Vlad the Impaler, an Ottoman royal whose love of violence has - in part - kept him alive.  This ties in closely with the theme of the past, specifically how past horrors cannot easily be forgotten - how they can have power over the present.  Kostova's novel works so well because she makes Dracula into a tangible threat by weaving together history, folklore, and legends from sources that our characters trust.  Although it is technically fantasy, the vast amount of research Kostova includes is enough to convince you otherwise.

Last of all, the ending holds some surprises - you may be wrong about who lives and who dies.  Additionally, you might be surprised as to who the titular historian really is.  It's a fantastic read, as long as you don't let the page count overwhelm you.  Rating: 4 vellum-covered books out of 5.