The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

Let me preface this by saying that historical fiction is, by far, my favorite genre for novels. (The same is not necessarily true for poetry and film though.)

Elizabeth Kostova’s novel, The Historian, is in the upper echelon of the historical fiction genre; the story is woven together with strands of psuedo-historical and anthropological research of folklore.Couple this approach to story telling with an array of eastern European backdrops  and the resulting novel is quite mesmerizing. However, before I delve too far into the accolades of this novel,  I must admit that my expectations for this novel and what it actually is proved very different. I was outraged that just a well-written historical novel could bridge so quickly from a study of eastern European folklore to a fantastical story of vampirism. And yet, despite this jarring merger, the convincing characters and impeccable pacing lulled me back into the grips of this riveting tale.

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Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

Kitchen, Banana Yoshimoto’s first novel, encompasses the tumult of familial relationships and the immense ability of a home to comfort its inhabitants. This is a story that I first read in Japanese and only later in English, it is a story that I have turned to in sorrow as well as in jubilation, it is a story predominantly characterized by quietness, and  it is a story of defining oneself against a backdrop of loss and loneliness.

The brevity and lyricism of this novel, in both form and scope, echo the passing of grief. The opening pages introduce the narrator,Mikage, in a state of mind somewhere between waking and sleeping; she is quietly mourning the death of her grandmother and sleeping in the kitchen, next to the refrigerator, to ward of the loneliness creeping into the house. Even when Mikage is befriended and taken in by Yuichi and Eriko, she finds herself seeking comfort in kitchens, “the place [she] likes best in this world.”

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