The Blood Countess

Book review by Thomas M. Sipos




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The Blood Countess by Andrei Codrescu  (Dell Books, 1996, 453 pp.)






First off, The Blood Countess is not a horror novel, not a vampire novel. Instead, it's part morbid biography, part political tract.

There are two stories, told in alternating chapters. One is a fictionalization of the true-life Elizabeth Barthoy's depravities (no supernatural vampire stuff, just torture). The other story is set in the present, as Barthoy's Hungarian descendent returns to Hungary to come to terms with his past.

Codrescu has a dense, turgid writing style that makes for slow reading. And it's boring. Hard to imagine that Barthoy's life could be rendered dull, but Codrescu manages, despite his discomforting torture scenes. There is too much "inner life" as his characters ruminate or philosophize about this and that, and not enough dialog. And when there is dialog, it's not crisp or pithy.

Furthermore, Codrescu strikes me as dishonest and bigoted toward Hungarians.

Dishonest, because the dust jacket for The Blood Countess claims that he's Hungarian, yet Codrescu is a Romanian name. This is supported by his book about Romania (The Hole in the Flag), which claims that Codrescu is Romanian.

So which is he -- Hungarian or Romanian?

Maybe it's just a case of publishers trying to slant Codrescu's bio to fit his book, but it's not an idle question. Hungarians and Romanians have long suffered ethnic tensions and hostility toward each other, so one needs to know which side Codrescu is coming from to critically assess his books.

Reading The Blood Countess, I get the sense that Codrescu is a Romanian who doesn't much like Hungarians. His present day Hungarian character does much ruminating about the national crimes and sins of the Hungarian people. In fact, his Hungarian character sounds like a Romanian who dislikes Hungarians.

I'm not saying which ethnic group has more to complain about (I'm of Hungarian heritage). But I think readers should be aware of the animosity between these two groups, so they can take The Blood Countess's Hungarian-bashing with a grain of salt.

Codrescu has also written a book on bigotry (The Devil Never Sleeps). But instead of preaching tolerance to others, he should do a reality check on his own animosity toward Hungarians.



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