Seven pages into The Historian there is an innocuous sentence that had
me chuckling out loud. The heroine, a lady who knows a thing or two, is
arriving in a certain East European city for the first time tells us: “Because
this is the city where my story starts, I’ll call it Emona, its Roman
name, to shield it a little from the sort of tourist who follows doom around
with a guidebook.” Not an obvious rib-tickler, I’ll grant you,
but it is a cheeky dig at the people who set out with The DaVinci Code
in hand to retrace Dan Brown’s investigative footsteps around Europe
and back to his book’s ultimate revelation. These people, of course,
were to find out that where history didn’t conform to Brown’s
plot, he just made it up.
The above quoted sentence announces that this author, Elizabeth Kostova,
really has done her research, has not made up any of the history, and knows
what she is talking about (I’ve done my background reading, honest!).
Her quip is not mere hubris because The Historian is everything that the
DaVinci code is supposed to be but isn’t; it’s a mystery and
a horror story, a glorious fiction, set lovingly in a frame of real figures,
real history and real locations.
Emona, in case you are the kind of person who likes to follow doom around
with a guidebook, is Lubjanja, the capital of modern Slovenia, and a city
with links to the historical figure Vlad the Impaler who through local
myths and the febrile imagination of one Abraham Stoker became Dracula.
Yes, there are vampires in the story, and Kostova’s achievement is
to make them spring from the history and the landscape without faking either,
as if they were a necessary part of both.
Kansai Scene, March 2006
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