Saturday, June 21, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

First line: "The story that follows is one I never intended to commit to paper."

The Historian is the interweaving of three stories. One from the 1930s, another from the 1950s, and the main narrative from the 1970s. The common denominator for all three stories is the quest for answers to the truth about Vlad Tepes (the Impaler), also known as Dracula. These interweaving stories involve mysterious old books, castles, crypts and a realization by the characters that the undead do exist.

Kostova provides plenty of atmosphere and uses a rather old fashioned way of revealing her story that reminds me of Bram Stoker. I'm sure this was intentional. Her novel could have easily devolved into mere cliche, but Kostova put her own twist on the vampire legend. She also avoided too much focus on the grotesque and instead created tension using the sinister. There are plenty of castle ruins, secluded monasteries, underground crypts, sinister librarians, and ominous Eastern Bloc secret police to hold the reader in suspense.

Kostova was able to use her characters to promote the idea that history is not dead and it is not just a story to be told. People actually lived and experienced the events from which we feel so removed. The horrors and the joys of the past were real to someone. Kostova also brought the historical research process to life and showed it as something active and exciting and even dangerous. The map of Cold War Europe on the front and end pages of the book was extremely helpful and gave some sense of place to the story.

At 642 pages (hardback version), the book is a commitment but I found it a good read that held my attention throughout.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Note to other reviewers: If you have written a review of this book, please leave the permanent URL to your review in the comments section and I will be happy to add your link to my post.

Also reviewed at:
Bookworms and Tea Lovers (Samantha)
What Kate's Reading
Musing of a Bookish Kitty (Literary Feline)
The Written Word (Stephanie)
Things Mean a Lot (Nymeth)
Out of the Blue (Alessandra)
ReviewsByLola's Blog (Stephanie)


  1. "The horrors and the joys of the past were real to someone."

    So true, and so easy to forget. I'm really looking forward to reading this one.

  2. Your review is very well stated, Terri! This was one of my favorites the year I read it. I was so taken in by the story that it stayed with me even when I had to set it aside to work and take care of real life sort of activities.

  3. I'm hoping to get to this one before summer is over. Great review!


  4. Wasn't this a great book!?! I absolutely agree with this statement: "Kostova also brought the historical research process to life and showed it as something active and exciting and even dangerous" and I found myself doing my own research while reading this book--looking up Vlad the Impaler for more depth and understanding.

  5. Hello, I followed your link over from Semicolon's roundup!

    I read and reviewed this book back in January of this year:
    (I'm sorry, I know know how to do html in comments - I'm a bit behind the times.)

    I overall enjoyed it, but I did think it was a bit - bulky? - for what it was, though I understand apparently the author spent ten years or some crazy amount of time researching it, and put her foot down about trimming it to a smaller size. I'm still of the opinion that it could have used some editing, but I'd read her next book with only a little reservation.

  6. nymeth AND lezlie: I look forward to your thoughts when you read it. I'm so glad I did.

    literary feline: I was a bit surprised that it held my attention so completely without seeming to drag at all. Quite an accomplishment for so many pages.

    trish: I almost went off on little research jaunts myself! The only reason I didn't had to do with some restrictions on my time lately.

    kate: Thanks for the visit! And just leaving the URL is fine. It is a bit clunky to put html coding in the comments. I didn't realize Kostova spent 10 years with this!

  7. I think I'd read that somewhere - she spent an insane amount of time writing and researching, and I honestly think it was upwards of 10 years. I wish I could remember where I saw that.

  8. I'm hoping to read this this fall for Carl's R.I.P challenge. I've heard so many good things about it.

  9. tanabata: This would be a great book for that challenge!

  10. I read this book back in October, and it took me almost the whole month to get through, though I found it very enjoyable!