Maurean's Reviews > The Historian

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
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Feb 20, 2008

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Read in November, 2007

It took me the better part of three weeks to complete this 642-page novel – that, I believe, is the longest it has ever taken me to complete a book that I was reading strictly for pleasure. Not that this is, necessarily, a bad thing, that is just to say it is not a “light” reading.

As a reader, did I enjoy it? Well…yes, I think so, but I’m still debating myself in just how much; either I found it rather mediocre, or utterly brilliant, I just haven’t settled on which..

The storylines contain all of my favorite fictional elements – suspense, mystery, historical bits, Dracula lore, a wonderful story concept, and well-defined, interesting characters…

The story begins in 1972 Amsterdam, when a teenage girl discovers a medieval book and some old letters in her father’s library. The book pages are empty, save an intricate woodcarving of a dragon and the word “DRACULYA” in its center pages; the letters are addressed “to my dear and unfortunate successor,”. When she confronts her father, Paul, about these, he confesses to a search, some twenty years previous, for his graduate school mentor who disappeared from his office only moments after confiding to Paul his certainty that Dracula – Vlad the Impaler – was still alive. Paul's collaborator in this search was a fellow student named Helen Rossi, the unacknowledged daughter of his mentor and our narrator's long-dead mother, about whom she knows almost nothing. Shortly after revealing all this, Paul, leaving only a brief note, disappears also.

Kostova has three basic story lines for the reader to follow: one from the 1930’s, when Professor Bartolomew Rossi begins his dangerous research into Dracula; one from the 1950’s, when Paul and Helen take up the search; and the main narrative from 1972, when our narrator sets out to search for her father. On top of these, we are also transported to the 1400’s to Dracula’s beleaguered homeland and the battles of the Byzantines and the Ottoman’s. Kostova does a wonderful job of interweaving these tales, and the noir, gothic atmosphere was almost palpable, however, somewhere in the middle I got bogged down with the migration patterns of 15th century monks and the feeling that I was reading textbook material or an academic paper. The story DID pick up, but unfortunately concluded with a contrived and disappointing ending.

Having said all of that, I did find this an engaging and entertaining tale, however, the book was not the sort of page-turner I had expected, and that was a bit of a disappointment. Overall, I’d rate this one a 7 on a scale of 1-10
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