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The Historian
Once past the marketing barrage (10 years in the making; $2 million advance), Elizabeth Kostova's new Dracula novel is an absorbing, if overupholstered, reimagining of the bloodsucking genre. In layers of flashbacks and epistolary narrative, The Historian relates a young woman's trans-Europe quest in 1972 for her missing father, who, 20 years before, made a similar search for an academic father figure. The driving force is the myth and reality of Vlad Tepes, the Impaler himself, a historical monster turned into a fictional boogeyman by Bram Stoker. Kostova's count makes himself visible mostly in lovingly described parchment texts and rare books squirreled away in musty archives. It's obvious that the author's own studies at Yale and beyond seduced her into permanent bibliophilia, and after much meandering, the story climaxes with a scarifying visit to the eternally undead count's own library, where he is assembling a universal bibliography of horrors, ancient, medieval and modern. Kostova also astutely gives the Impaler his due as the thin red line of Europe's defense against the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century (Transylvania lying between Istanbul and Vienna, where the Turkish armies were finally stopped), while cleverly linking remote history to the near past of the Cold War. (By Elizabeth Kostova; Little, Brown; 642 pages; $25.95 cloth)

The Last Expedition: Stanley's Mad Journey Through the Congo
It is no wonder Tony Blair wants to spend money on Africa—England has a lot to make amends for. The imperialist carving up of the continent reached a tragic-comic nadir with the last expedition of explorer and Livingstone finder Henry Stanley from 1887 to 1889. The purpose of the arduous journey through the Congo Free State was to relieve one Emin Pasha, a German Jew raised as a Protestant who had converted to Islam and ended up running the province of Equatoria for the English. After Gen. Charles George Gordon was killed by a Muslim jihadist called the Mahdi (a.k.a. Laurence Olivier in the 1966 movie Khartoum), Pasha become a cause célèbre for the English, who demanded that "Gordon's last lieutenant" be rescued. In their brisk new version of this deadly farce, Daniel Liebowitz and Charles Pearson skewer Stanley as an egomaniac who left doomed officers and African bearers in his wake as he waded through malarial forests in pursuit of the enigmatic Emin Pasha. Stanley's hoped-for triumph turned into an ugly war of words with the other survivors of the misbegotten mission, while Emin Pasha himself ended up in the hospital after a fall from a balcony and never made the lecture circuit with the PR-minded explorer. According to some literary scholars (although not mentioned here), this sorry if utterly fascinating tale of colonial excess ended up as fodder for Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. (By Daniel Liebowitz and Charles Pearson; W.W. Norton; 355 pages; $25.95 cloth.)

—Michael S. Gant

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From the August 3-9, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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