When I had finished reading the last of Rossi’s letters, my father said, I felt a new desolation, as if he had vanished a second time. (119)
In this opening sentence to Chapter 15 of The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova captures the gist of the genre of ‘biographical quest’ or ‘romance of the archives’. People from the past come to life again in the pages of the documents they have left behind. The quester comes to know them, only to love them again when the trail goes cold, when the last document is read.
It is an experience many of us know in part from reading letters of dead people, perhaps our family who we knew, or our ancestors who we didn’t. It is also the thrill of a kind of life beyond the grave, and the sophistication of a plausible ghost story. Perhaps this is part of the genre’s attraction.