Friday, October 2, 2009

The Historian

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
hardcover, 656 pages
Little, Brown & Company, 2005
ISBN-13: 9780316011778
fiction, historical thriller
not recommended

From the Publisher
In this riveting debut of breathtaking scope, a young girl discovers her father's darkest secret and embarks on a harrowing journey across Europe to complete the quest he never could -- to find history's most legendary fiend -- Dracula.
When a motherless American girl living in Europe finds a medieval book and a package of letters, all addressed ominously to "My dear and unfortunate successor..." she begins to unravel a thread that leads back to her father's past, his mentor's career, and 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 that nearly brought her father to ruin and may have claimed the life of his adviser and dear friend, history professor Bartholomew Rossi. What does the legend of Vlad the Impaler, the historical Dracula, have to do with the 20th century? Is it possible that Dracula has lived on in the modern world? And why have a select few historians risked reputation, sanity, and even their lives to learn the answer?
So begins an epic journey to unlock the secrets of the strange medieval book, an adventure that will carry our heroine across Europe and into the past -- not only to the times of Vlad's heinous reign, but to the days when her mother was alive and her father was still a vibrant young scholar. In the end, she uncovers the startling fate of Rossi, and comes face to face with the definition of evil -- to find, ultimately, that good may not always triumph.

My Thoughts:

The review calls Kostova's The Historian a "long but beautifully structured thriller." I'll agree with the long part. While a few parts of The Historian were exciting enough to live up to the thriller label, other parts moved way too s-l-o-w and the story seemed to drag out. And I do agree it was a beautifully structured novel but it would have been much better minus about 300 pages. Some of the sections felt more like a historical treatise on Dracula, a boring treatise. This dulled the actual thrill of searching for a living Dracula. I'd keep at it, reading a brief exciting section and then reach long, boring sections that seemed to crawl along. By the time I finally reached the climax I'm afraid, between yawns, all I could say was, "Finally." If you are a huge fan of historical fiction you might enjoy this more. Me, I'm wondering why this book was ever so highly recommended.
not recommended.

Read for the RIP IV Challenge.


In 1972 I was sixteen-young, my father said, to be traveling with him on his diplomatic missions. He preferred to know that I was sitting attentively in class at the International School of Amsterdam; in those days his foundation was based in Amsterdam, and it had been my home for so long that I had nearly forgotten our early life in the United States. It seems peculiar to me now that I should have been so obedient well into my teens, while the rest of my generation was experimenting with drugs and protesting the imperialist war in Vietnam, but I had been raised in a world so sheltered that it makes my adult life in academia look positively adventurous. pg. 3

I can't say even now what made me pull them down. But the image I saw at the center of the book, the smell of age that rose from it, and my discovery that the papers were personal letters all caught my attention forcibly. I knew I shouldn't examine my father's private papers, or anyone's, ....But I couldn't help reading the first paragraph of the topmost letter, holding it for a couple of minutes as I stood near the shelves.
December 12, 1930
Trinity College, Oxford
My dear and unfortunate successor:
It is with regret that I imagine you, whoever you are, reading the account I must put down here. The regret is partly for myself-because I will surely be at least in trouble, maybe dead, or perhaps worse, if this is in your hands. But my regret is also for you, my yet-unknown friend, because only by someone who needs such vile information will this letter someday be read. If you are not my successor in some other sense, you will soon be my heir-and I feel sorrow at bequeathing to another human being my own, perhaps unbelievable, experience of evil. Why I myself inherited it I don't know, but I hope to discover that fact, eventually-perhaps in the course of writing to you or perhaps in the course of further events.
pg. 4-5

The binding was very soft, faded leather, and the pages inside appeared to be quite old. It opened easily to the very center. Across those two pages I saw a great woodcut of a dragon with spread wings and a long, looped tail, a beast unfurled and raging, claws outstretched. In the dragon's claws hung a banner on which ran a single word in Gothic lettering: DRAKULYA. pg. 10

Of course, the basic story of Dracula has been hashed over many times and doesn't yield much to exploration. There's the Wallachian prince, a fifteenth-century ruler, hated by the Ottoman Empire and his own people - both. Really among the nastiest of all medieval European tyrants. pg. 18

"What are you trying to tell me?"
"Dracula - " He paused, "Dracula - Vlad Tepes - is still alive." pg. 19


Ti said...

My book club chose The Historian one month and I was the only one that could not get through it. I like a thought provoking novel but this one seemed like too much work for me. Sadly, I gave up on it.

Heidenkind said...

Aw, I suggested this one for my book club this month. I'll feel horrible if it's boring!

Lori L said...

This really seems to be a love it/hate it book... It's really a polarizing kind of book. I still think those who like historical fiction will respond to it more favorably.

Heather G. said...

Sounds fascinating...I think I'll put on my TBR list, but for later...Great review!