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The Historian and A Time of Gifts

At last, some free time to catch up on reviews. I'm behind for a variety of reasons but hopefully when I've done these two I'll be able to keep up a bit better.

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I read The Historian as part of my Halloween book challenge, almost straight after I read Dracula. It's a book that compliments Dracula very well, imo, but I'm aware that not everyone would agree.


The story concerns a young woman - I'm not sure we ever learn her name - who comes across a book in her father's library. It's empty apart from an illustration of a dragon in the centre. Disturbed by the drawing the girl questions her father, who is upset to learn that she has found the book... or rather that the book has found her. Over weeks and months she gradually draws from him a very long story, despite his obvious reluctance. The story concerns the disappeareance of the father's tutor, Rossi, when the father was a student and how he went searching for him across Europe. And thus how he met the girl's mother and how the quest tied in with the history of Count Dracula.

This is not a quick read. It's a story to be read slowly and savoured, not least because several histories run parallel to each other and you need to keep your wits about you while reading it. I think for me one of the best qualities of the book is that it doesn't treat its reader like an idiot. It's unashamedly about a book about people who love books and who are very well educated, and I like that a lot. Another plus for me was all the wonderful travelling depicted. I'm such an armchair traveller and lover of travel books that all the too-ing and fro-ing around Europe was definitely part of the book's attraction, imo. And it was nicely creepy - not all the way through, but enough to make it something other than a travel and history narrative and book about books.

One other curious fact for me is that the BBC are currently showing Michael Palin's new travel show and where should he be exploring but Eastern Europe where much of The Historian is set of course. I call that an odd coincidence. And it's making me enjoy the series even more than I would normally.


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A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor has been sitting on my tbr mountain for a couple of years. I believe it and its sequel, Between the Woods and the Water, are classics among travel books and I can easily see why. The reason I picked this one up now was because of The Historian... I just wanted to read some more European travel stories and this one fitted the bill nicely.


The book is actually about the author's walk from Amsterdam to Constantinople in 1933. He is only 18 and not well off so he stays in cheap places or with friends he makes along the way. This first book takes him through Holland, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and into Hungary. Germany at this time was just entering its Nazi period and the author had one or two experiences of that but not as much as you would have thought. Basically, he found nearly everyone to be very kind regardless of nationality - their's and his. But Europe was changing and it was very odd reading about a way of life that would only continue for a few more years until the start of The War.

This is another book which assumes a certain amount of intelligence on behalf of its reader. The language was something else. Nearly every page had a couple of words I'd never heard of, but then I was expecting this as I'd heard about it on LibraryThing. The writing itself was beautifully descriptive especially when dealing with the winter landscapes the author travels through. 'Possibly' I would have liked more in the way of human stories instead of so many descriptions of architecture but that's a small quibble. I enjoyed the read and will certainly read its sequel very soon.

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