Dracula Lives -- in Literary Form; Novel Could Be Destined to Be a Classic

Article excerpt

Title: The Historian

Author: Elizabeth Kostova

Data: Little, Brown & Co., 642 pages, $25.95

Review by JENNIFER FISH DECAMP

The Times-Union

There's something refreshing about picking up a book perfectly suited for a night of quiet reading while lightning brightens the August sky and thunder shakes the house walls.

First-time author Elizabeth Kostova's modern Dracula tale The Historian has the plodding prose and Gothic horror that harkens back to old tales such as Dracula (of course), Frankenstein and The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. There's no resemblance to its contemporaries -- Dan Brown's fast-paced, popcorn drama The Da Vinci Code or Lifeguard, another of James Patterson's assembly-linelike novels.

The Historian begins in Amsterdam in 1972 with the 16-year-old unnamed female narrator discovering an odd book in her father's library. The black book contains only blank pages and a fantastic woodcut of a dragon with the word "Drakulya" at its center. Stuffed inside is a cache of letters, and the narrator decides to sneak a peak. The first letter is dated Dec. 12, 1930, and begins like this:

My dear and unfortunate successor:

It is with regret that I imagine you, whoever you are, reading the account I must put down here. The regret is partly for myself -- because I will surely be at least in trouble, maybe dead, or perhaps worse, if this is in your hands . . . If you are not my successor in some other sense, you will soon be my heir -- and I feel sorrow at bequeathing to another human being my own, perhaps unbelievable, experience of evil.

Guilt drives the narrator to hastily return the letter and the book back to its spot on the shelf. During a diplomatic mission with her father to the Slovenian Alps, she asks the question that her father most dreads and fears: What is that book? And who is the successor mentioned in the letter?

Her father, Paul, explains that the book mysteriously appeared in his library carrel at Oxford. Even stranger, he found that his mentor and fellow historian Professor Rossi owned a similar book. Rossi declared that "Dracula -- Vlad Tepes -- is still alive" and then disappeared, leaving behind an empty office, a dark smear on the ceiling that could be blood and that cache of letters explaining his study of Dracula.

Determined to find his mentor, Paul returned to the library to continue his own research and met up with another Dracula scholar, Helen, a Romanian student who claims Rossi is her father. …