Author: Elizabeth Kostova
Release Date: June 14th 2005
Pages: Paperback, 734 pages
Genre: Adventure, Historical, Fiction, Mystery
Summary:Late one night, exploring her father’s library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters addressed ominously to ‘My dear and unfortunate successor’. Her discovery plunges her into a world she never dreamed of – a labyrinth where the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s mysterious fate connect to an evil hidden in the depths of history.
In those few quiet moments, she unwittingly assumes a quest she will discover is her birthright – a hunt for the truth about Vlad the Impaler, the medieval ruler whose barbarous reign formed the basis of the Dracula myth. Deciphering obscure signs and hidden texts, reading codes worked into the fabric of medieval monastic traditions, and evading terrifying adversaries, one woman comes ever closer to the secret of her own past and a confrontation with the very definition of evil.
Elizabeth Kostova’s debut novel is an adventure of monumental proportions – a captivating tale that blends fact and fantasy, history and the present with an assurance that is almost unbearably suspenseful – and utterly unforgettable.
The Historian is one of those books that completely blows your mind. Who would think that a book with such well crafted descriptions of some of the most beautiful countries, with such satirical comments about the communist regime, and with such historical subplots, could have vampires in it, and still seem believable? Well, before I read “The Historian” I was one of those people.
I really enjoyed the plurality of this book: sometimes it seems it is a non-fiction book about a Vlad Tepes, or the Mehmet Sultan, other times it seems like an old travel guide about eastern Europe or a social satire about the bureaucracy of the Eastern Bloc. This many subjects, some of them actually are subplots, create a fantastic book, that is able to appeal to all.
I truly enjoyed the writing style and the way Kostava managed to juxtapose several stories, all from different times, in a single narrative not making the book confusing at all. My only problem with this is that the voices from the different narrators (the old professor, Paul, and his daughter, who serves as the glue for the narratives) are very similar to each other, despite their age differences.
Like in “The Secret History”, the emotions that the characters fell: intrigue, fear, longing, nostalgia; transcend from the page, creating a fantastic atmospheres for this spooky book.
What I most enjoyed in the book, was not the mystery but actually the descriptions of several locations in Europe, like the description of how East meets West in Istanbul, or the description of a medieval Monastir in Bulgaria, or even the description of Budapest under the Soviet regime.
Now, about the vampire thing. Though the chase for Count Dracula is an important part of the plot, it’s not everything. There are vampires in the story but this is not a vampire book like the ones you can find in the supermarket. Actually, in my opinion the chase of the vampire in “The Historian” is a metaphor for the understanding and overcoming of fear.
A delightful read, that will make you travel for distant times and countries.
“Life’s better, sounder, when we don’t brood unnecessarily on horrors. As you know, human history is full of evil deeds, and maybe we ought to think of them with tears, not fascination.”
“The very worst impulses of humankind can survive generations, centuries, even millennia. And the best of our individual efforts can die with us at the end of a single lifetime.”
“Never before had I known the sudden quiver of understanding that travels from word to brain to heart, the way a new language can move, coil, swim into life under the eyes, the almost savage leap of comprehension, the instantaneous, joyful release of meaning, the way the words shed their printed bodies in a flash of heat and light.”