I had forgotten how much I loved this book. (And am amazed that somehow I never added it to my books here.)
In the early 1970's, a young woman finds some old papers and a mysterious book in her father Paul's study; getting up the nerve to ask him about them (she shouldn't have been poking around in there in the first place), he reluctantly begins to relate to her the story of how he met and fell in love with her mother 18 years earlier, in 1954, as the two of them embarked on a trip across Europe and into Turkey in search of *her* father, Bartholomew Rossi, also Paul's academic advisor, who suddenly went missing and was feared dead. As the story unfurls, Rossi's tale of having also made virtually the same trip in 1930 (featuring his own, nearly identical copy of the mysterious book) is revealed via his journal from the time. At the center of the puzzle of Rossi's disappearance, and Paul and Helen's journey, is a shared interest in the 15th century noble Vlad Tepes (whose legendary cruelty and bloodthirstiness in part inspired the legend of Dracula.)
It's quite easy to get a bit confused about "where" you are in this book - after all, it takes place in (at least) four timelines, with intertwined/overlapping narratives, in which several different people all become involved with the same investigation over the course of more than 40 years. Rossi's record from 1930 is shared with Paul's daughter as he recounts his own version of the story. Later, Helen's mother produces a packet of letters that Rossi had written to a colleague during his travels but been unable to mail, and they describe events Rossi had not recalled due to traumatic amnesia. Paul's own recollections of his 1954 journey are eventually written down to be read by his daughter when he leaves to continue his investigation, and as she makes her own unsanctioned journey following his trail, she encounters some of the same names and places as her elders. I kept having these little moments where I'd think, wait, was that something we already learned about from Rossi? Or from Paul?
I don't know whether I've become more aware of such things since I started doing reviews on GoodReads, but one thing I noticed this time around was this little trick Kostova pulled re: Paul and Helen's trip to Istanbul - any explanation of how they managed to acquire visas, make travel arrangements, etc. very conveniently was skipped over by changing the manner in which the narrator (Chloe?) got her information, causing a somewhat-understandable gap in the storyline. In this instance, her father had been telling her personally about his 1952 investigation into Vlad III - when he unexpectedly left before completing the tale, she found he had written out the remaining parts and left it for her to find; however, since he was writing it out in advance and was unsure how much he would have gotten around to telling her, there was a small disconnect between the two segments, which included the piece detailing how they were able to make such apparently difficult arrangements. A similar gimmick is also used to sidestep any complications involved in their travel arrangements for Bulgaria. One such ploy I might have overlooked - twice, and I can't help but wonder if Kostova couldn't figure out how her characters would have accomplished either trip, given the Cold War era difficulties of travel between the West and the Soviet bloc; or else it might just be that the nuts and bolts would have been too tedious and she opted simply to omit the details.