Sunday, April 05, 2009

"The Historian" by Elizabeth Kostova

Why I read it: I was hearing a lot about this book a couple of years ago. I think it was reviewed on Salon. There were a couple of mentions on Language Log. So, I asked for it for Christmas. My sister bought it for me, but lost it in her driveway or something, so she gave it to me at my other sister's wedding in January of 2008. I started reading it just before Christmas 2009, and used it as my carry-around book until this last week, when I did the final push and finished it.

Bookmark: Promo for Rick Blechta's new book.

Tastes like Chicken: Probably that Katherine M. Valente book I read last week, because of the story-within-a-story nature of this, and those other three vampire books I read back in January.

This story is written from the perspective of present day, and follows a young woman's quest to learn her father's history, and this is entwined with his faculty advisor's history, which is entwined with a pack of monks travelling around in Romania, Turkey, and Bulgaria (among others), back in the 15th century. They are all wrapped up with Vlad the Impaler/Dracula. I would describe the story as telescoping, much more than "In the Night Garden". Different characters embellish the same story, from different perspectives. We see the story of Rossi meeting Helen's mother, for example, first from the mother's eyes (being translated by Helen, if I recall correctly) and then through Rossi's eyes through the letters he left, and then find out critical bits of missing information later on. There are lots of different first-person descriptions, different characters following the same paths at different places in history. It's also tied up in the history of repeated conquest throughout the region.

To some extent it reminded me of Dickens, also.

What I liked: This was a good carry-around book, because I could pick it up and put it down and be able to find my place because everything was covered so thoroughly from so many perspectives, and also because it paid hommage to Bram Stoker's Dracula, and because there was so much history and research involved. I found it very rich.

Not so much: It was sort of long. If I had read it in a couple of weeks, I might have found it to be boring. Also, as I was doing my last push to finish it, some of the plot twists seemed sort of obvious. Though, considering what it was based on, I don't think the author was intending to surprise the audience, really. This isn't a horror novel, or anything like that.

Lesson learned: Certainly research can always be put to good use. I was reading a couple of days ago a website about writing fantasy, and the writer there said not to go over a piece of writing too much, to just revise once. I think if you're the sort of person who can go over something lots of times, you might wind up with something like this, very dense and crafted.

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