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Review: The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova

This novel offers an interesting, fresh look at the infamous legend of Dracula. Covering a period of more than 500 years, this book takes its reader from the Ottoman conquest up through the Cold War.
In 1930, a British graduate student named Bartolomeo Rossi recieves a strange old book with blank pages and an imprint of a dragon in the centerfold. One evening, a close friend at the univeristy shows up at his door, dead, and with two strange marks on the back of his neck. The book takes him on a journey that takes him to Eastern Europe: to Romania, where he meets a young woman who is descended from Vlad the Impaler, also known as Dracula; and to Istambul.

The book jumps forward twenty years, to when Rossi is a professor at an American university- probably Harvard, though the author never names the university. He has a graduate advisee named Paul, who finds a book that strangely is similar to the one his advisor recieved. One evening Rossi goes missing, and Paul teams up with a young woman named Helen Rossi (daughter of the professor) in order to find him.

The book jumps again, to 1974. Paul and Helen have married, as one would have suspected from the outset. They have a daughter (unnamed), who is the narrator of part of the story. Helen went missing when the daughter was very young, and now her father believes that she might be alive. Paul goes to France, where Helen was last seen alive, and his daughter follows close at his heels. There, they face Dracula, and predictably vanquish him. The book is confusing, because it jumps back and forth in time. The first part of the book is dovoted to Rossi's letters to his "dear and unfortunate successor-" which Paul appears to be. We get bits and pieces of Paul and his relationship with his daughter, and then we get Paul's accounts of his travels through Eastern Europe.

However, the story is excellent and this book is a joy to read. It is different from Bram Stoker's tale (though it borrows some things from it), which makes it so appealing. Don't look for any Anne Rice references here, as her vampire tales postdate the setting of this book by at least ten years. Don't expect this book to be full of action; it's a "thinking" book, which is why I think that other reviewers found it to be so disagreeable to them.


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