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The book ‘ The Historian‘ was hailed as a thriller, a splendid debut by Elizabeth Kostova. Every time I read a review of this book, I felt I would adore this book which was steeped in history with apparently a daughter in search for her roots. The summary appealed to me but unfortunately, the book did not live upto my expectations.
The story begins with the daughter proclaiming about the legacy her father left her behind. Then the 1st chapter goes on to how she stumbled upon this legacy. The story then continues with the father, Paul, narrating stories from his past that are connected to his horrific legacy. Paul had happened to come into possession during his university days, a book with only a single woodcut of a dragon. His curiosity led him to his academic adviser, Barthlomew Rossi, who infact had the same book! Rossi’s curiosity and his own book had led him deeper into a mystery of vampires, of Vlad Dracul, the inspiration behind Bram Stoker’s novel, ‘Dracula.’ Rossi’s disappearance, soon after this meeting plunges Paul into a wild goose chase across most of Europe where he is being watched and followed by either vampires or communist party members. The story keeps shifting from past to present as and when Paul narrates. In the present, Paul’s daughter, after Paul is finished narrating his story, sets out to find more of this intriguing brutal, medieval legacy.
Firstly, the book’s exploration into history is brilliant. It is obviously well researched. Of course, not all of it is true. But simply the fact that Elizabeth Kostova has put history in the forefront of a way to delve into past mysteries makes the subject, often hailed as redundant, quite relevant. This historical aspect that suffuses the book is superb. One of the few good points of this novel.
The negative points however are a long list. Firstly, the story is rather slow paced. For a thriller, such a pace can do nothing but disappoint the reader. The pace picks up only after 200 pages or so and then slows down again.
Secondly, the book seems more like a tourist magazine in the initial pages. Kostova spends many pages describing each place that Paul goes to in great, rich detail. While there is nothing immediately wrong with this, it however does hamper the story’s pace.
Kostova tries hard to use shock tactics to enchant the reader. They do work initially but later on she reiterates the same tactics- like ending the chapter with an appearance of a man who looks gaunt, scary with fangs or having Dracula’s or the dragon’s image at the end of the chapter. These do elicit shock in the beginning but they soon become monotonous and the shock wears off. The reader can even easily predict when she will use those same tactics.
Another disappointment was the discrepancy in the simultaneous narration of the father and daughter’s story. Kostova tends to run away with the former’s story as if she has forgotten about the latter completely. She also seems to have a penchant for libraries and librarians because there are descriptions of several of them and form a major part of the story but somehow it seems a bit inappropriate. The book should have been called ‘The Librarian’ instead of ‘The Historian.’
To conclude, ‘The Historian‘ is not a completely pathetic or ridiculous book. It is worth reading once. It has a unique scholarly touch to it, a great historical novel but in terms of literature or writing skills, ‘The Historian‘ could be a great disappointment. It is also not exactly a thriller, does not pump the reader with jabs of excitement. It is a rather careful narration of a different perspective on one of the most cruelest rulers of the middle ages and his alluring legends that draws writers to pen down stories about him!
OK, so I have read only two Lonely Planet Indian editions till now and it doesn’t put me in a position to pass remarks on these magazines but I can’t stop myself. I am itching to write a review on the newest travel magazines to hit India even though I have read only two out of a total of 8 editions. So you can call me whatever you like but you can’t stop me from scratching my itch away and so I will blissfully proceed to write this review.
Firstly, I have read the May and the September issue of the Lonely Planet India magazines. And they were worthy of the money. Every bit of it.This of course means that the review will by and large be a positive one! I would suggest to everyone to buy theses magazines and even get a subscription for it! (You also get some gifts too).
Secondly, both the issues were well organized. From the cover itself the reader could understand the main feature and some other articles elaborated in the magazines. Sometimes some travel magazines can bombard you with too much information of what’s inside. Lonely Planet does none of that. It has a simple cover with the basic information and a stunning picture in the background. The index further gives you a concise info on what’s inside.
Thirdly, the writing of the articles is exceptional! They don’t just tell the reader that this is a tourist spot, one should see this and that, and stay at this hotel and that hotel. They beautifully convey the experience of traveling. Once you start reading, you get drawn into this magical, marvelous, splendid world that the Lonely Planet writers put together for you. It is by far a great way for vicarious traveling. The reader gets transported to the place that they are reading about; such is the power of their writing. It is a wonderful feeling when one can imagine these myriad places in front of ones eyes as one is reading about them. It is much better than bland tourist books that do not allow one to experience the pleasure of imagination.
Since these are sold in India, they have a mixture of Indian and foreign places to go to. The magazine will have a section called ‘5 Easy Trips’ that usually deal with Indian places and gives a brief yet vivid summary of a particular place with info on places to stay, places to eat, when to go, what to pack etc. Then there will be the features which will have longish articles giving a broad, concise, remarkable description of various places.They also give out info on budget,mid-range and luxury hotels, shopping destinations and places to visit along with the usual, essential info. Thus these articles cater to all categories of travelers. Then in the end there is also an aspect which I liked best mostly because of its uniqueness. This section is called the ‘Mini Guides’ which as the name suggests presents quick, to the point, precise info of great places. What’s more, the reader can actually pull them out and fold them and keep them neatly for future use! They are therefore also called the tear-out or pull out guides. I think that this part is really cool. In this way, the Lonely Planet articles help the readers in planning their trips to a particular place but if one doesn’t intend to go there anytime soon, just reading them will be enough to take the reader a thousand miles away without the hassles of actually planning a trip!
The other aspects such as the editorial, letters to the editor, key to the magazine, travel news, travel queries, travel book reviews, articles by guest writers also are an integral part of the Lonely Planet magazine. All in all, the magazine has a wide variety of articles that are thoroughly researched and well written. The theme, the general ambiance of the magazine is comprehensible and noticeable on the cover itself. The layouts and pictures are breathtaking and mind blowing. Of course, one must take the beautiful descriptions of the places with a pinch of salt(especially when they say that the place is unspoiled and remote and not on the tourists’ radar). It is one thing to let our imaginations run wild but quite another when we expect that same magic to remain intact when we visit that particular place.
So why must you buy this magazine when one can easily and inexpensively look up on the net to plan a trip? Simply because unlike the internet, Lonely Planet helps us experience places and travel well with an informed choice.
The magazine costs Rs. 100 with around 200 to 250 pages(though some pages just have ads) but they are better than those silly fashion magazines which promote nothing except a stereotyped image of beauty! Lonely Planet magazines are available at most newspaper vendors and shopping malls, and bookstores.
P.S. I also read the Conde Naste India Traveller Launch Edition. It really did not impress me. It focused only on luxury travel. Its main page was not organized well. Its index was distributed around 4 to 5 pages that makes a reader confused. It didn’t give a good idea of the contents in the magazine. Moreover they had an overdose of ads which is simply unacceptable. The first 10 pages only had ads. Some of their articles made it look like Conde Naste was not a travel but rather travel cum fashion magazine. However, the pictures under the section-‘Ode to India’ were brilliant. The writing was as stellar as that of the Lonely Planet articles. But I still prefer Lonely Planet and our Indian magazine ‘Outlook Traveller’.
‘Outlook Traveller Getaways: Weekend Breaks From Mumbai’ is a marvelous little book highlighting the great tourist spots in and around Mumbai and Maharashtra. It is no doubt a great book for any travel lover in Mumbai.
The book screams out that there are numerous small, quick, hidden getaways right here in Maharashtra and that there is no need to travel far. The book is a comprehensive guide. It is divided according to regions like North and Central Konkan. Under each division are tourist places that come in that region. For eg. Daman in North Konkan or Karnala in Central Konkan etc. Each division has a map with a mention of the distance from Mumbai. Each entry of a tourist place had good, eye catching photos, an excellent overview of the place that includes places to see, eat and stay there as well as a small column listing quick facts about when to go and tourist office(MTDC) numbers. The book also has a special section dedicated to Goa and places to go around Mumbai like Vasai, Uran etc.
All in all, worth all the money, a great guide for a Mumbai traveler who wants to spend a weekend away from the hustle and bustle inexpensively.
MY VERDICT-Highly recommended for travelers!