The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

During my self-declared sabbatical, I had the luxury of re-reading a book that I liked. And the chosen one was The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.

The plot intrigue is set around a well-known European folklore, and I shan’t reveal that here. That was not what drove me to read the book, and honestly, if I had known beforehand that this particular folklore was involved, I wouldn’t be half as interested! The publisher must have guessed that there were readers like me, for the book’s back cover (at least on the edition that I had read earlier) too, does not give away an iota of hint. No, what attracted me initially were the novel’s first pages – “A Note to the Reader” – the narrator’s symbolic and elegant bequest of the story she is about to tell. And what a story it is.

A young woman discovers a book stashed in secret on her father’s bookshelf. The pursuit of that secret peels away the layers of another story. The multi-layered narration is probably labourious to construct but effectively evokes the sense of history that the novel conveys from the start. As the stories – for there are several – unfold further, we travel with the characters across the Iron Curtain from Western to Eastern Europe, and venturing beyond the borders of Occidentalism into Turkey, where one glean bits of the Ottoman empire history, as well as the tensions between Islam & Christianity that are present even till today, all inextricably interwoven with the centrepiece of the plot intrigue.

The plot revolves around mystery, romance, blood-spill, horror, brutality, courage, loyalty and kinship. These elements – together with the atmospheric Gothic setting skillfully evoked by the author – provide for an entertaining read. But more than that, they are also thematically relevant for being the same elements that shaped the history of humanity. It would be a shame to compare this book with the likes of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.  The Historian simply conveys depth, atmosphere, intrigue and thoughtful imagination.

Re-reading a book merely for pleasure is probably the biggest compliment one can pay to the author. That is, apart from actually spending money to buy a copy even after having read it already. I now own my copy of this book. But if you feel like getting your own copy after borrowing mine for the first read, who would object?


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